The Bushwackers had never heard of Tamworth before they rolled into town for the 1981 country music festival.
The folk artists felt far more comfortable in the Melbourne pub scene when they won their first Golden Guitar award earlier this year.
“We were pretty conceited,” songwriter and guitarist Roger Corbett told AAP.
“We’re all from Melbourne, so we wear black t-shirts and we pulled up and we were like, ‘Where the hell are we going? It’s miles from our path.
The band, whose songs are overlaid with warbling violins, weeping accordions and the pounding of a tea-box bass, have led the country music kings to take their gong for Instrumental of the Year.
“We scruffy lads had to walk past the glitterati like Slim Dusty and they were all dressed to the nines.
“It was pretty wild, and we got hooked from there.”
The Tamworth Country Music Festival celebrates its 51st year when it kicks off on Friday, drawing tens of thousands of visitors to the NSW New England region.
Performers by score
More than 100 artists will perform in the main arena for 10 days, including Golden Guitar winners Shane Nicholson and Ashleigh Dallas, while other musicians turn the streets, pubs and clubs into stages.
The Tamworth Pub Group will host 135 shows across its five venues. It’s been in the making for a year, ensuring hundreds of extra beer kegs are ready for thirsty revelers.
Group spokeswoman Skye Smith said the tickets sold out quickly after years marked by COVID-19 and extreme weather.
“We haven’t had a proper festival in years,” Ms Smith said.
“Everyone’s coming back in droves and we have a feeling it’s going to be bigger and better than ever.”
Corbett said the festival is a source of hope for aspiring musicians.
“If you have a guitar and a dream, you can walk in from anywhere.
“Anyone can try, from an 8-year-old novice on the road to Troy Cassar-Daley and Lee Kernaghan.”
Four decades after his first trip to the state capital, Corbett runs the Country Music Academy, which hosts intensive songwriting and performance classes for aspiring artists.
“Americans are the keepers of the country music flame. We want to compete with them and continue to produce people like Keith Urban and Morgan Evans,” Corbett said.
young and old
“One of the great joys is to see people flourish and develop.”
Student Alison Clapson, a singer and guitarist, writes about the ups, downs, and mundanities of life.
“Some of my songs are about past experiences or sadness or trying to be perfect in an imperfect world, like stumbling in heels,” she said.
Ms Clapson, a 52-year-old accountant from the NSW south coast, is learning to play bass guitar and is determined to break with the instrument’s macho form.
“It’s the coolest instrument ever, and if you can learn it, nail it and be a woman — well, go me.”