Last week, during our annual pilgrimage to the rural mecca of music, the vibrancy and energy of Australia’s largest music festival was as evident as ever, and 50,000 odd country music fans braved the extreme heat to relish in the event that’s finding a fresh intake of fans on Australia’s cultural calendar.
There’s no denying that previous years once suffered from dwindling crowd numbers and a lack of youthful vibrancy, but this is something the past few festivals have carefully rectified, with fresh faces and a focus on new talent from the region and beyond driving a younger crowd to revel in the joys of Tamworth.
Finishing up yesterday, the 2018 Toyota Country Music Festival was another successful year of music, 4x4s, new talent, stars and fans, all coming together for the greater good. Here’s our wrap-up of how it all went down.
Toyota Star Maker
One of the highlights for us at Man of Many, and an institution for the good folks who attend each year, Toyota Star Maker is the competition that heralds the proper start of the festival, and has shot the likes of Lee Kernaghan, Keith Urban and Sam McClymont to fame in previous years. This year saw a return to more traditional country and western, with the decidedly American lyrical stylings of Brad Cox taking out top spot.
This is a big step forward for the competition, which in more recent years has championed female musicians that embody a true Australian twang in their vocals. Last year’s winner, Rachael Fahim, told us backstage: “The last year has actually have been very, very busy–lots of touring. Winning Toyota Star Maker, I got to do a lot of the festivals.
“They are such a supportive company, and because of how big they are and how much of a region they cover around Australia, they can give their support and push young artists, not just country, anyone. It does make a world of difference, because it means that we can get out and see new parts of Australia where they have events for us to perform at.”
Brad Cox, the hefty heartthrob from Jindabyne, was an easy pick for the judges, with his song Too Drunk To Drive impressing an audience which was dotted with those who already knew his talents. At 22 years of age, his win epitomises the reasons for the competition and just how much of a difference Toyota makes to the early careers of Australian musicians.
“Mate it’s really good, but don’t get me wrong, Jesus Christ, I’m bloody knackered!”
I’m talking to Cox over the phone the day after his win, the idea of interviewing him through post-win tears of victory backstage a futile prospect the night before.
“I didn’t really get into country music until I was about 16, 17 years old. I used to listen to a little bit of Garth Brooks with Mum and Dad when I was a real little kid but I grew up listening to a lot of blues and rock ‘n’ roll. I really got into country music when I was 16, 17. I just surrounded myself with the country community, as in like a rural community, and just seemed to find my little place in the social circle.”
I suggest to Brad that his American country influence, which shines through in his music, may have been just what the judges were looking for when they made their pick, but Brad’s not one to spend too long theorising, or looking a gift-horse in the mouth.
“I couldn’t really tell you the reasons why I won but I just wanted to have it out and play as good as I could on the night, and it seemed to pay off. American country is pretty much predominantly what I listen to–dudes like Sturgill Simpson and Tyler Childers, Brent Cole, the dudes that are not quite expanding country music into a pop scene, which is happening a lot.
“Being honest I still listen to that stuff; that raw song writing kind of feel. It’s almost old-school country, but still expanding the boundaries.
“And I think it’s a bit due to my personality and persona too mate, I’m a no-bullshit kind of fella, you know what I mean.”
That we certainly do.
You can check out Brad’s website here, make sure you watch this space, the bloke’s going places.
Rachael’s favourite part of the festival:
“Hanging out with the artists and drinking margaritas at the Pig & Tinder Box.”
Brad’s favourite part of the festival:
“Everyone is in the same place at once. Travelling musos don’t often catch up with travelling musos, and for ten days, everyone in the industry is in the same town and it’s a good catch up. It’s a good spot to learn and talk to people, and it’s such a captive audience too–every stage you play there’s always people sitting down listening. I’ve played gigs to four people, I’ve played gigs to 10,000 people, but in Tamworth you are pretty much guaranteed an audience if you sound half decent, and as a result I think everyone plays really well too.”
The Toyota 4×4 Track
Another year, another opportunity to unleash your inner Brad Paisley and get some mud on the tires. The Toyota 4×4 track is an annual fixture in Toyota Park (on Tamworth’s Kable Ave) which allows punters to select their favourite model of Toyota off-roader and try their hand at a proper off-road track.
Designed by Toyota’s in-house team of rally drivers, it’s a fair representation of what these machines can do in tough conditions, and a great chance to pick up some pro tips from some of the best 4×4 pros in the country. Just about everybody in this part of Australia drives a Toyota 4×4 for a reason, and here is proof why.
This year was particularly fun, as they brought along their now famous Tonka HiLux Concept, which was available for joyrides (albeit as a passenger only).
The Annual Cavalcade
Each year adoring fans line Peel St for the Cavalcade, just one of the many times that artists mix with their fans throughout the duration of the festival. The sun turned it up to 11 this year and left everybody grinning, in preparation for the Golden Guitar Awards, which are held the same evening. We’ll let the photos do the talking here, scroll down for more.
Goonoo Goonoo Station
Last year we stayed in the thick of it, right next to where all the action unfolds, so this year we mixed it up and stayed a half-hour out of town and the immaculately appointed Goonoo Goonoo (pronounced: guh-nah-guh-noo) Station. Originally a small village which served those who worked on the enormous cattle station, the property is now home to restored shearer’s sheds which are about as much luxury as you’ll find (or need) during your country escape, as well as Glasshouse restaurant, which serves modern (and a little bit fancy) fare to guests and those who travel just for their fresh and original menu.
You can book your piece of rural R&R here.
The Golden Guitars
Lastly, it’s the Grammys of Australian country music, and each year sees star after star–some new and some old, walk away with golden statuettes in the shape of the genre’s preferred instrument.
This year’s clear winners were The McClymonts, walking away with three new additions to their already-full trophy cabinet, of the six nominations they received. Among their wins was the coveted Country Music Album of the Year, for their latest EP Endless, which has seen huge commercial and critical success (including making it to #1 on the ARIA Country chart).
There was also a special moment for industry darling Kasey Chambers (yes, even though she used to be on commercial radio, she’s still 100% bona-fide country), who became the youngest ever inductee into the highly prestigious Roll of Renown. Half-way between a lifetime achievement award and a hall-of-fame entry, this is a particularly notable achievement for anybody who makes it this far. She’s been on stage with her dad Bill Chambers, of the Dead Ringer Band, since she was 10, before launching her hugely successful solo career, so despite the fact she’s young for an inductee, she’s sure put in the hours.
Visit next year
The Toyota Country Music Festival is about so much more than just the music. While country as a genre is the underlying foundation for the 10-day event, it’s the zeitgeist that engulfs Tamworth for a little over a week that makes it special. Free concerts everywhere you go, the broadest demographic you’ll find at any festival (literally – this attracts all walks of life), every taste covered from Bundy and coke to cocktails served up; it’s something that every Australian should try to experience at least once.
Although nobody ever really goes just the once.