AS THE world worked to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, artists continued to create new content, keeping the beat alive and the music playing.
The cream of country music hit the high note on Thursday, when nominations were announced for the Golden Guitar Awards 2021.
Dreams came true for artists across the nation when the tunes and names were read out in a virtual ceremony, livestreamed from the Tamworth town hall.
Country music sweetheart Fanny Lumsden shone bright at the event, cleaning up eight nominations - the most of any artist this year.
Travis Collins wasn't far behind, with six nominations under his belt.
The star had a guitar slung over his shoulder at the hall on Thursday, one of the lucky few to perform live as part of the event.
"I started playing music here as a kid just behind this building, on the street in Peel Street, and my first indoor gig in this town was in this building," Collins told the Leader, as he stood under the lights on-stage and gazed out at the empty seats.
"I'm so grateful to be playing music still and making music and to have my peers put my work up on a pedestal up like they've done here today, and nominate me for several awards, that means so much to our little family, it's not something I take lightly and I won't forget it."
Collins' got multiple nods for his new album Wreck Me.
"I've certainly used music as an escape this year, when the world as we knew it collapsed," he said.
"It seemed like a year that made no sense to release an album commercially, but this was one that we didn't do for commercial reasons.
"I'm a big believer in that when society needs something for us to latch onto and to bring us together, then that's the responsibility of the arts. That's what we do."
Sister act The McClymonts also took home six nominations.
The intimate live event was brightened by a stunning performance from Allison Forbes, who was "blown away" to find out she'd been nominated for four Golden Guitars.
"I grew up here in Tamworth so the Golden Guitars mean a hell of a lot to me and so does the festival, it's been part of my childhood and part of my life and I've always dreamt I'd be in this position but this year has been really hard for everyone," she said.
The 2021 nominees were selected from more than 674 entries across 16 categories, and reflect a melting-pot of musical creativity that has characterised the year in Australian country music.
They were announced by Golden Guitar holders Ashleigh Dallas and Blake O'Connor on Thursday.
Country Music Association Australia (CMAA) chair Dan Biddle said there was a record number of entries in several categories.
"There is no other regional city in Australia that supports music of any genre, than Tamworth does with country music," he said.
"The number and calibre of entries is inspiring and truly showcases the passion, creativity and spirit that Australian country music cherishes."
Casey Barnes, Allison Forbes and The New Graces are up for four awards each.
Artists with three nominations include Brad Cox, Kristy Cox, Luke O'Shea and Melody Moko.
Dual places go to Adam Brand, The Buckleys, Charlie & Jensen, Jasmine Rae, Shane Nicholson, Warren Williams and The Weeping Willows.
- The full list of finalists in the Toyota Golden Guitar Awards 2021 can be found at https://www.tcmf.com.au/gga-finalists
The show will go on
Country music's night of nights cannot be stopped by the global pandemic.
Organisers have found a way to host a livestreamed and COVID-safe event.
Artists said the golden night meant far more to the industry than just glitz and glam, and were grateful it could go ahead virtually on January 23 next year.
"There are some things you just don't press pause on and when you look at the rich history of the Golden Guitar Awards, I'm really glad and grateful they've found a way to make them safe," Travis Collins said.
Blake O'Connor - who took out New Talent Of the Year award in 2020 - said it would have been a "kick in the guts" to see the awards canned, like the rest of the festival.
"As much as this year has been a bit of a bummer, it's so nice to recognise all the hard work the artists have put in to come up with the goods," he said on Thursday.
He said people are adapting to living in a more virtual world, and he said he was coming to terms with singing down a lens instead of into a crowd.
"It was a change of scenery to begin with, to look at the emojis of hands clapping on the screen," he said.
"But it's nice to still be able to do it and not be shunned off."
The Toyota Golden Guitar Awards 2021 will be presented on Saturday January 23, 2021, at the Tamworth Regional Entertainment and Conference Centre (TRECC).
Fans can catch all the action live via www.tcmf.com.au/live