Done and Dustyed – Tamworth Country Music Festival, 2017

By Kaz Johnson

Tamworth Country Music Festival and Tamworth have a special place in my heart. I grew up there and I have many memories of the place and the people. If I sound biased in my reporting of it, then it is because it comes from the heart. I will defend both til the day that I die and probably from beyond.

I kick started my Tamworth by a lift from the Big Smoke from a dear country music pal, Kylie Adams Collier. We had a fun trip. We were loaded up with cds but never played any. We talked all the way from Hornsby to Tamworth and Kylie gave me an in car concert. It was a beaut trip.

We arrived in Tamworth and almost did a “Peely” down Peel Street before the road blocks. Spotted Phoebe Jay and Becci Nethery and crash tackled them with photographer legends Bob and Greg. Had some lunch then went up to the Lookout where Kylie yodelled and I pointed out local landmarks.

Booked into accommodation and then the big fun began.

Thursday, 19th January.

My first gig was a beaut way to start off Tamworth. Michael Bryers at the Servies. Ah, what a guy and what a star. I can’t think of a better way to kick off the festival.

I had to cut my time short as you do at Tamworth, a set here, a set there.

Despite the fact that I had been up since 4am, I thought that I would catch a Sal and Al random bit of time at The Albert Jam, pre festival style. My great Tamworth buddy, Sally-Anne Whitten was hosting, so that was enough for me to settle into a stool and put my groove thing on for a while. What a blast, more like a party than gig. Sal and Al and the band with some very cool walk up artists and some extra special guests: Anthony Taylor, Allison Forbes, Rae Beth, Mel, Jess Holland and a whole heap more plus crowd spotting with Sarah Byrnes, Dan Murphy, Tracey Davis, Kelly Crosby and Ethan etc. Hung with Sally-Anne’s friends and had a beaut time. My early night turned into early morning….I left about 1am and the joint was still rockin’.

Friday, 20th January – First Official Day of the Festival.

I had a few things to sort out. I did the walk….think that was the day that I caught up with Jo at her corner, could have been the day before. I bought Dad his cd and he is excited to hear more music from “his girl” and saw Tracey Davis again.  I caught up with Sal and Al again at the Servies with the Rumour Mill. Awesome gig, then headed to Tudor Hotel for a dose of good medicine with Allison Forbes, Tori Forsyth and Dana Hassall. Pretty good way to spend a couple of hours, hey….Three very awesome chicks. I have all of their music. Go buy some, they are fantastic. I wish that I could have stayed longer but onwards…..

On to West Leagues to catch up with standing room only Doug Bruce and the Tailgaters. As always, they were brilliant. Caught up with some mates and made some new ones.

Ladies of Country followed with Gina T hosting and a great line up including: Sandra Humphries, Aleyce Simmonds, Rebecca Lee Nye, Marie Hodson, and the wonderful Melody Moko…so happy to finally catch up with her officially. She is such a delight and a terrific performer. All the girls were great, it is one of those gigs to mark down each year and it is free.

Saturday, 21st January

This was always going to be a big day. Had a bit of a later start but I knew that it would be a later finish. I caught up with my best friend for morning tea and spent a couple of hours with her and her grandkids. We have precious few moments together these days.  I went to buy the rest of my tickets and then saw my God, Mike Carr, with Daniel Thompson, Anthony Taylor and Luke Austen.  I caught up with Lisa and lots of buddies. The boys did a great Legends Lunch and Mike even sang some Mike songs, including the exclusive that we played on 2GLF. Ahh, that man’s music just makes my heart feel good and he is a top bloke.

After that session, Ashleigh Dallas came on and blew us all away. I have loved the Dallas family since I was a kid growing up in Tamworth and each generation brings me happiness. Rex and us Johnnos not only have a Tamworth connection but also a Wang connection.  Ashleigh is funny, talented, and just a beaut kid. I can’t wait to listen to her album and review it for you all.

Anybody who knows me, knows how much that I adore Beccy Cole. As usual, she made us laugh, cry, think and walk away happy. With a great band of girls, she did it again. My 47th gig of Beccy’s was just as great as the first. She never lets me down. With her Mum, son and the delicious Adam Hubba Hubba Harvey, how can you go wrong. Her duo with Libby singing in two different styles was just awesome.

Off then to the Tamworth Opry. No time for the bus, some fellas at the taxi rank said you get the next one, hon, we aren’t in a hurry. (don’t you love those kinds of folks).

I arrived at the Opry at the Cap in good time. What a show. Some incredible folks, the cream of Aussie country music. Glad that I got to see Roo as I had a clash with his other show. Awesome to see so many wonderful acts on one show, including: Kristy Cox, Travis List, Roo Arcus, Dean Perrett, Jeff Brown, The Weeping Willows, Felicity Urquhart, Allan Caswell, Bennett, Bowtell and Urquhart and many others. Just an amazing gig.

Sunday, 22nd January

I got to see Gretta Ziller and Andrew Swift either this day or the day before…life can be confusing at Tamworth. No, it was this day, because I went on to Carter and Carter afterwards. This was a great impromptu gig. I have always loved GZ, and I am fast becoming a fan of Swifty, who I think got a bit ripped off, but that is another story…….then on to some gospel with Carter and Carter, Rebecca and Billy Bridge and the wonderful Brendon Walmsley. So glad to see and hear this incredible man again. The choir was an all star young cast.  Some great feel good music and a chance to pick up the new album from Carter and Carter, as I wasn’t going to be able to go to their launch. Review soon.

I was going to Ben Ransom and 8 Ball but the gig went overtime and I needed something substantial to eat. Note to Tamworth goers, sometimes it is hard to catch a meal between gigs. I got thrown a bread roll or an apple on the run a few times and always had a muesli bar and some water on me. Finally got to see a whole gig by Kerry Kennedy. Yeah!  So excited to finally meet the man, who has the biggest heart and the gig was awesome at the Servies. I will be reviewing the album too. Made some new friends who I turned into fans and they were going to check out some of my recommendations. Had a good chat to Kerry, he is just a great guy.

Monday, 23rd January

I caught a little bit of Allan Caswell and Angus Gill at the Atrium. Angus is a gem. I really like this guy.

Wandered to fanzone and caught a few acts as I drifted around. I got a tip from Sally-Anne that they would be at a cafe with the Crosby Sisters, so I dashed up there. Had a good chat to Jodie and Kelly’s Mum and also caught a bit of Mr and Mrs Minson there too. Sal sang some tunes and a few with the gals but I couldn’t stay for Jodie and Kelly’s set as I had to get up to see the French family at the Bowlo.

Stuie and Camille never disappoint. They were just amazing – playing to a full house with Andrew Clermont on sound and supported by Sonny French. It was a beaut gig. Picked up the new cd. Will review soon. Glad that Stuie picked up a GG.

Then on to the Songwriters, with Imogen Clark, Harry Hookey, Fanny Lumsden and the man, Kevin Bennett, hosted by Michael Bryers. Great gig just an amazing array of gifted songwriters and terrific stories. Met up with some more fans and  my dear young pal from Melbourne, Kate Naylor.

Wonderful to finally meet Imogen officially. I heard her sing a few years ago at the Tudor and she only had to sing two lines and I was hooked. I have since bought her music and reviewed it and I have been to a few gigs, but had never had the pleasure of meeting her. Just an amazing young talent. I think that she will be an international superstar, given the right breaks. She is just off the planet good.

Tuesday, 24th January

Started the day early with the Songwriters in the Round with 8 Ball, Phil and Lana and Mick Lindsay. I went to the session for the first 2, not knowing Mick but I have to say that he held his own with this amazing company. I meant to get an album off him, will have to do it online. He is a beaut young talent. 8 Ball was his amusing best and such a wonderful guitarist. Phil and Lana are always good. Glad that he sang the Spire song and Lana is just getting better and better, she had us all in tears. I got to sit next to 8’s  Mum, Heather and Luke O’Shea’s Mum. It was a festival for the Mums, for sure. Two lovely ladies and I got to meet Lukie’s now infamous Dad, Rick too. I met up with my mate Shirley, truly one of the most devoted fans in country music.

I then went to Southgate and caught Jen Mize, Imogen, Fanny and Megan. Wish that I could have had been able to stay for the full gig, these ladies were fantastic. I thought that just seeing Jen would be the bomb, but it was a lovely bonus having the other three there too.

Then I rocked up at the Diggers for one of the moments that I had been waiting for, Tracy Killeen’s return to Tamworth and Liz’s too for that matter. Caught Kazzie award winning drummer, Ali there too. Great band, girls and they sang some of the best songs from the 9o’s there. Lovely to catch up with Tracy and a bunch of nutters that I call my friends. On that note, good to see Donna G back at Tamworth.

I wanted to see Tracy’s other show but too many clashes.

Then off to see Michael Bryers, Luke O’Shea, Lachlan Bryan and Felicity Urquhart in a songwriters’ session. Oh so great….a night of humour, good music, hugs and swooning…..met up with Mel Robertson, my sister from another mister.  Just a wonderful night. Felicity handled the boys pretty well.

Wednesday 25th January

My day started with my Dad phoning and singing a very unique rendition of Happy Birthday to me. A massive amount of messages from my family and friends and heroes. Thanks very much.

Off to Songwriters in the Round with Col Finley, Sir Allan Caswell and Michael Waugh.  People cottoned on to the fact that it was my birthday after Al Slade made mention of it. I wore my Col Finley shirt and then changed later into Sir Allan’s shirt….to be fair. Michael Waugh was just wonderful. A talent to watch. Sir Allan sang my favourite Caswell song “Stolen Roses” and then Col and Allan started to sing Happy Birthday and realised that they couldn’t sing it at a songwriters’ session because it wasn’t their song.  Funny guys. With my secret out, the day was going to be interesting. It is hard to top one of your favourite people singing your favourite song for you on your birthday, what a gift.

Chatted to Col’s parents, Dee and Austie and to Maid Marian Caswell and Georgia, so it was another family day! The guys were terrific, once I went through a box of tissues with Michael’s songs. Meant to pick up his album too, but had to race off.

I went to see my buddy, Darren Colston at North Bowlo. He didn’t have a big crowd and that was sad, he deserves much better. With so much on, it is hard to get folks in. He was terrific as always and such a good buddy. I have made many friends through country music, he is one of the most special ones, despite the fact that he said that I must have only been there because Luke O’Shea wasn’t doing a gig that day in town!  I love them both.

He sang some of my favourite songs and we still managed a singalong and yes, he did sing Happy Birthday for me. I had some fun in the crowd with Dawn.

Darren is one of the most underrated artists in the industry. Please listen to his music. He has one of the most unique voices in country music and he is one of our best songwriters.

Caught Rebecca Lee Nye and Aly Cook at Fanzone and then off to my favourite gig of the festival. Country Cares is organized mostly by Allan Caswell and always gives the proceeds to a worthy cause. The farmers got the cash this year. It is held in one of my favourite places, Tamworth Town Hall and has an array of stars that the sky couldn’t even hold.

Dean Perrett, Paul Robert Burton, Allan Caswell, Mr and Mrs Bridge, The April Family (finally got to officially meet Michael Carpenter), Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes, Chad Morgan, Marie Hodson, The Bushwackers, Pixie and Ryan, Seleen, Michael Waugh, and the moment……The Weeping Willows, man oh man. In a place that has held so many childhood and adult memories for me, on my birthday, two of my favourite people in the world announce that they are going to sing a song for me (my favourite one of theirs) and for a special lady….wow…gees, I just burst into tears…happy tears. My beautiful friends did this for me. How much better can it get….I went to see them at half time…oh guys. Spoke to Maid Marian and Lachlan’s mum, too. Met the April Family….review soon guys. Michael Carpenter will be huge. I don’t know if he wants to be huge, but he will be.

What a day. Such an amazing birthday with lots of my favourite people….fellow fans and some of my all time fave artists. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Thursday 26th January.

First up was Amber Joy Poulton after a quick peek at Allan at the Atrium. Terrific show, and I won an Australian flag. I was tempted to give it to one of the kids, but it is a nice thing to have. AJ is one of the loveliest people in country music. I am glad that I got to catch one of her shows. It was my only opportunity and I was tossed between that and another show but I am glad that I went. There were some people there who were at the Town Hall the night before……I was reminded.

Then I raced off to Melissa Robertson’s showcase at South Bowlo and there were some beaut acts….the birthday continued with the Willows and Mel singing happy birthday to me…again! Such awesome people. Ian Burns, Lloyd Clarke, Becci Nethery, Whiskey Business, Rachel Summerell and the lady herself. Love the new song, Mel. Everybody was terrific. Great to meet Lloyd finally and yet another Victorian to shine. Review soon.

Off to The Pub to have one of their great meals…got some vegies!  Caught a few songs from the Bush Happy Band who were fun and we had some singalongs and even caught up with someone who knew lots of people that I went to school with. I also a bit of the Germien Sisters….pretty cool….and that Cello….wowzers.

Catherine Britt. Two of the most beautiful words in the World. Just an amazing talent and an incredible woman. Some great guests too. Started off with Tori Forsyth….thank goodness that I got to hear her again. Ditto for Melody Moko, singing with hubby, Michael. Just love these two to bits.  Music was just amazing.

Catherine had some beaut guests when she appeared on stage. Bill Chambers, Fanny Lumsden, the unique and always colourful, Henry Wagons, Melody and Michael just great. Catherine took us acoustically through her career and it was a wonderful journey. It was a late night but a great night.

Friday, 27th January.

Always the busiest day of the festival. It started with Bluegrass with Kristy Cox, Karen Lynne and co, Pete Denahy and The Weeping Willows (love it how they follow me around….) and Dean Perrett….you too, you stalker! Ha. Just a wonderful gig with some very awesome music. Little William just gets better and taller every time that I see him.

I caught a bit of Mike and the boys again while I was waiting to go into Amber’s gig.

Off then to Amber Lawrence, who I didn’t get to talk to at this year’s festival but I was there in the crowd. She always leaves us little gifts on our seats, just so like her. Strange without Lozza, but she was on the big screen. Ambs had one of the best shows of the festival in my opinion. Hosted by my Indie mate, Ian Burns who did a wonderful job. Homegrown were fantastic. I had heard of them but I hadn’t heard them sing. They were brilliant. Amber had some great guests, Catherine Britt, Aleyce Simmonds (my little buddy who I didn’t get to see in a full show, but caught her here and there), Travis Collins, Shane Nicholson, a choir of awesome girl talent…..but mainly just Amber….the woman is a dynamo.

I caught a bit of Dan Murphy in between Amber and Adam and he was beaut as always and sang my fave Dan Murphy song.

Adam Harvey….what can you say about Adam Harvey that I haven’t already said a thousand times before? He is and always will be one of my main reasons for loving country music. He’s a cheeky bugger and poor Andy must have a thick skin but his voice just melts me….even more than the Tamworth heat. He is one of the good guys. He sang with Beccy Cole….of course….and I can’t wait for that tour and album. His daughter sang with him too. A great show as always.

On to Steve Eales at the Cap. I couldn’t get into Aleyce’s gig as it booked out before I could. Many apologies to my little buddy, but I did get to hear a few songs here and there and I spoke to her Mum which was close…..

Steve deserved a bigger crowd, but we had fun. It was a nice trip down memory lane to one of my favourite country bands, Sovereign and James Blundell made a special appearance. The boys played the old songs and some new ones and the bonus was that you got the new cd with the ticket.

Saturday, 28th January.

My sister’s birthday and always the main day at Tamworth. I missed the cavalcade, knowing that I had a big day ahead and also because I had a few things to do. I juggled my options and decided on Kirsty Lee Akers, Neilly Rich and two New Zealand girls whose name escapes me. The gig was wonderful and I have two new relatives….Uncle Slim and Aunty Joy, a long and funny story…I will save that for another time.

The NZ girls were great. I had to rush off to something else, otherwise I would have bought their EP. I am sorry that I forgot their name, but they were great…will have to add later.

Neilly Rich were fantastic as always, great to chat to Amelia afterwards. They played with Kirsty too.

Kirsty took us through her career, 10 years since she won starmaker. She has such a big and beaut voice for a pint sized pocket rocket. So country and fantastic. Glad that I made this choice.

I caught a bit of the Long and Short of it in the Family open area. Glad that I did!

Off to the Longyard, had some Macdonalds and caught the bus to the TRECC for the red carpet. I am going to write up the Golden Guitars and the Red Carpet separately because they deserve a separate story.

Thank you Tamworth and all of my beautiful country music family, from the volunteers and fans to the bus drivers, cabbies and venue staff and right up to the big stars. I follow all types of country music, and I am proud to do so. Had to leave on the 29th because I was kicked out of my room (nicely) and had a train to catch. Missed a few good gigs and wished that I could have caught up with more friends but you can’t do everything.

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