Roy Payne on the pedal steel guitar
The real hands of fame.
Brian's Tamworth Tips for 2018

  • Previews of the Festival. Buy the latest issues of Country Capital News and Country Update in advance to read the preview articles about Tamworth. When you find artists you like, check out their official web pages or their Facebook pages, and also check out pictures via Google Images, and watch the short videos on Youtube. On Youtube, often very general searches will lead to a treasure trove of stuff, for example try "rockabilly 1956" or "tamworth 2017" or "aussie yodelling", or just search for the artist by name with the word "tamworth" added.

  • Buy the official programme as soon as you arrive. It's a bit overwhelming, but many of the major venues list what's happening, and many artists have display advertisements for their concerts. The free CD might be a reason to part with $15. Thousands of people get this in the mail before the festival. Or download the app for your smartphone from either Google Play or Apple's App Store.

  • What else is on. Try to get a programme for Wests Leagues Club, for The Pub Group of hotels and the Capitol Theatre. Also get sheets for the Post Office Hotel, The Albert, The Courthouse, Joe Maguires, the Family Hotel, the Oasis Hotel and the Balladeers Homestead. It's important to pay attention to all the posters in Peel Street and to pickup programme sheets from the pubs as you walk past. If you are staying in a motel or caravan park, there will probably be heaps of leaflets available at the office. Get some leaflets, and the free map as soon as you arrive. Be sure to get the rival free programme, since not all venues advertise in the official programme.

  • Buy the local paper. Each day The Northern Daily Leader has extensive coverage of the festival, with pictures from the day before, and an up-to-date programme for the day. Look carefully for any small print or gossip columns. There are red hot tips tucked away in the paper. The programme as published in the paper is most up-to-date.

  • Relax. Don't try to do too much. Just pick some things you really want to see, enjoy your food and relax. After all, you are on holidays.

  • Trial and Error. Go to a few different things that are a little outside your comfort zone. It might be a real surprise or a complete disaster for you, but that's the only way to discover something new. Perhaps even let your friends pick things for you to go to. Don't be afraid to make a mistake.

  • Enjoy. The reverse of trial and error is don't waste your time on something you simply won't enjoy. There is so much on that it's not worth the bother. If you don't like "world music" or "country memories" or whatever, then for goodness sake don't go to it. Save time when reading the programme - cross off stuff that is way outside your field of interest. If you don't like processions and floats, then don't go to the cavalcade, etc.

  • Rubbish. Leave immediately if it's absolutely not your taste or too loud or sounds like "doof-doof" or "hip-hop" music. Sad to report, but Tamworth is being invaded by incompetent sound technicians who think they know their job much better than you ever could, even when the sound is totally crap. Poor sound is a problem at the Blues Festivals too. When it's rubbish, there are plenty of other hotels and clubs in Tamworth that will make you welcome, so just leave as soon as you can. The best sound in town is at the Golf Club, followed closely by the Legends Bar at Wests.

  • Peel Street. At festival time, Peel Street is famous for huge crowds and the buskers. Every spare wall is papered with posters of what's on. It's all good fun, so allocate $20 in spare change to put in the buskers' hats during your visit. Otherwise they don't eat. Give extra points for effort and potential.

  • Daydreaming and Pottering. Limit the amount of time you spend walking up and down Peel Street looking at the buskers. They deserve your attention but only up to a point. The mainstream music is on at the big events, and the interesting and different stuff is on at the smaller pubs and clubs. When it comes to quality music, the buskers are not the festival.

  • Shopping. Like any regional centre, Tamworth has a huge array of shops and all the usual chains. Plenty of bargains and discounts. Buy some souvenirs, coffee mugs and postcards. Stock up on groceries, underpants, pet food, toilet paper, etc. For serious shoppers Tamworth has a Vinnies with plenty of "country" stuff, not to mention a Bunnings, an Officeworks and a Spotlight. There is a "factory outlet" shop that sells shoes.

  • Food. The main street is full of cafes and coffee shops. Every club and pub has some sort of bistro. Oddly, each place seems to stay much the same year after year. Some are really bad, others terrific. My favourite is the meatballs at Joe Maguires, and quite a few places do a good "roast of the day".

    And make sure you get fed by 8pm or 8:30pm at the latest. Wherever you are, check what time the bistro closes just in case. Remember Tamworth is a country town, not the inner suburbs of Sydney where you can order anything almost anytime. After 9pm, you might have to make do with chips or a hot dog, although the coffee shop at Wests has good light meals until about 10:30pm. There are great hamburgers at a small takeaway on Goonoo Goonoo Road.

  • Internet Access. Civilisation is not very far away. Most motels have free Wi-Fi so bring your own laptop, smartphone, tablet, iPad or whatever. There are still some internet terminals available at the city library, although they guard them like it's 1995.

  • Buying Music. A lot of country music CDs and DVDs are for sale in Tamworth. Even big shops like K-Mart stock up with country stuff for the festival. If you enjoy an artist, buy their CD on the spot and they will sign it for you. There is a huge selection of country CDs at the Golden Guitar gift shop. Also if you find shops selling discount CDs, it might be rare or old-stock country music that is not available elsewhere. Or it might be terrible.

  • Bus Services. Normally there are four regular bus routes serving the suburbs of Tamworth but during the festival there are four more to help you travel between venues.

    • Fares. A $25 wrist-band ticket for the whole festival is available. It's still a bargain. Otherwise normal fares apply. A one-day ticket is $5. Buy a ticket on any bus or at the ticket office on the corner of Peel and Brisbane streets.
    • Bus stops and timetables. You can "hail and ride" - the bus will pick you up anywhere, even if you are not at a bus stop. As far as I can tell, no bus runs better than once every half hour, which is awkward. Services end around midnight, but on the last weekend of the festival there are additional buses after midnight.
    • Bus routes. All buses leave and return from Brisbane Street. This is the cross street that leads up to the Imperial Hotel and the Railway Station. But the bus routes are quite difficult for visitors to understand and you might need to ask a local for help.
    • Nundle. This year (from Friday 19th till Saturday 27th) there are two trips a day out to Nundle and one to the DAG sheep station. For a pleasant day in Nundle, the bus leaves from Brisbane Street at 9:15am and returns by 4:30pm.
    • The Pub shuttle. This group of hotels runs a regular shuttle bus between their four hotels. One of the bus drivers seems to be a local identity who can answer all sorts of questions about country music.

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