As a Tamworth native and someone who knows a wee bit about the festival (I haven’t missed too many) – I am offering here a few words of advice for first timers and for those who have been but don’t know all the simple pleasures of the festival. I didn’t go last year as I had just moved and I had work commitments, so some things may have changed. This is not a gig guide, that will be separate. If you haven’t got your accommodation by now, you will be struggling, as Tamworth books out from year to year. I am lucky as I have friends in Tamworth, still. You may be lucky with last minute cancellations or somebody may put their house up for rent at the last minute, but it will be tough and/or expensive at this point. If you have a car, a suggestion may be to stay in a town a few hours away, and have day visits to Tamworth, but that can get exhausting.
- Tamworth was once a one venue, then two venue festival with 2 or three motels and a caravan park and it was just a long weekend. Now there are about 160 venues, it goes for 10 days, plus pre-Tamworth and there are motels that were specially built for the festival, originally. People get surprised with the size of Tamworth. It is a lot bigger than most people think. It is also spread out, which leads me to the first tip. There is a bus service that is designed specifically for the festival. This year, it is 40 dollars. It has gone up over the years, but 40 bucks for unlimited travel for 10 days is pretty cool. It goes to just about every venue or a stone’s throw away. It is even going out to events at The Dag and other places that are a bit further out, now. For those who don’t drive (like myself), or who are getting there by plane and won’t have a car when they get there, This is ideal. I don’t drink much at the festival – I get high on the music – but for those who do, if you catch the bus instead of getting into a car, it is a good thang. They run pretty late, so you won’t miss out on much. The taxi drivers are cool too. I have never had any troubles with them. One thing to remember when you are going to the gigs and catching the buses or even if you are driving/walking, give yourself some time to get to each venue. There is a lot happening in the centre of town, but if you need to get from the Cap to The Longyard or The Pub to City Sider, just make sure you give yourself some time and plan your gigs with a bit of time in between. To get out to Nundle to The Dag Events, it takes a while. It is not five minutes down the road.
- Apart from accommodation and getting there, Tamworth is quite inexpensive. You can go to a lot of gigs for free. The pubs and clubs and the parks and shopping centres have a lot of the big stars of country music and a lot of great new talent on show. You could really go to gigs for the whole 10 days which don’t cost you anything. Even the big gigs are inexpensive, compared to the prices in the city and you never know who might turn up, as a lot of artists appear on each other’s shows. You can go to the red carpet at the awards without actually going to them for free. Of course, there are the buskers in Peel Street which range in talent and style but I have often discovered some future stars there….blokes like very young Keith Urban and Troy C-D come to mind. If you fill in the gaps in the gigs with going to the hands of fame, the stars in the footpath in Peel Street, checking out the markets and the other entertainment in the streets and the museums dedicated to Country Music, you will have a good balance.
- A lot of places that you stay will have breakfast included, but Tamworth has a lot of eateries, including all of the usual fast food outlets, a great Chinese place and all of the pubs and clubs have good and reasonably priced food. One of the major things that I recommend to do when you get to Tamworth is to get yourselves festival memberships to the clubs. A lot of the gigs are in these clubs and a lot of them are part of a family, where you can use the card to one and it will get you in to the others. They are cheap. After living in Victoria for the last year and seeing that it costs 25 dollars a year to be a social member, a few dollars for a card at the Tamworth clubs are a bargain. You get discounts to food and drink and you don’t have to line up to get into clubs for ages, you can just flash your card and go through. I personally, have breakfast where I am staying. I have a light one of some cereal or toast and some coffee, which I purchase from one of the local supermarkets….yes, they have an ALDI! I usually pack myself lunch of a sandwich and some snacks and fruit and some water. I sometimes eat out for dinner, but really, the heat and the many gigs stops a lot of eating! If you like to eat a bit fancy, Carmen’s is wonderful and you may catch some music there too. Tamworth is quite rich with restaurants and cafes of all styles, so you will not go hungry. I particularly like the food at The Pub.
- Tamworth is hot. It tends to be more of a dry heat and I don’t actually notice it as much as I do the humid heat of the coast. Make sure that you drink a lot of water. Most of the clubs and pubs have free water and some of them have water coolers so that you can refill your flasks. Wear a hat, slip, slop, slap and be comfortable with your clothing. Apart from some of the more flashy events, like the ball and stuff, you can just wear your shorts and t-shirts and whatever makes you feel cool. This does not mean that you enter a club in your swimmers or your birthday suit, but you don’t have to dress in your Sunday Best, unless you really want to. They will think that you are a politician if you do. Tamworth is pretty casual. Most venues are air conditioned and very comfortable.
- Please, if you just want to socialise and have a drink, don’t go to a place where a gig is playing, or at least have the decency to just talk in the breaks or hang at the back of a gig. Most of us go to the gigs to see our faves and to HEAR them. It is disrespectful to talk loudly about your gall bladder or your neighbour’s affair when someone is singing their heart out for you. There are plenty of other places for you to go.
- As a lot of events are free, and some folks play for 2 to 3 hours a session for you, buy something. Buy a cd, join a mailing list, buy a stubby holder or a hat or t-shirt or sticker. They don’t cost much, you get to meet the artist and they sign it for you and it means a lot. Note to artists, bring everything. Sometimes, this is the only chance that the fans will get to meet you, hear you, and be able to grab your music as it is getting harder to buy hard copies etc. Any kind of merch and bring your old cds, some folks may have never heard them and will want them. Posters are good too and easy to pack for the trip home.
- Try a bit of everything. There are 79 types of Country Music. I have discovered so many folks by accident – a festival is a great place for finding folks that you have never heard of. Tamworth is one of the best places for hearing different styles and different levels of artists.
- If you haven’t got it already, the official guide is really cool, but you can also buy the The Northern Daily Leader every day, the free Tamworth paper, and the clubs and pubs have programmes as well. There are posters in the streets and the radio stations advertise heavily. The Tamworth internet site tcmf.com.au will help as well.
- Some gigs just pop out of nowhere, they are late entries and they are on late, sometimes. Tamworth is 24/7 now, practically, so whether you are a night owl or a morning person, you are covered. I am both! There are a lot of breakfast shows. There are late night/early morning ramblings and there is nonstop music all day. To be honest, the toughest thing is that you will miss out on one gig to see another. That’s Tamworth, you are spoiled for choice. I try to see folks that I don’t get to see during the year, and I try to go to ones that are new to me. Of course, I have my favourites. (see 7)
- Pace yourself, you can end up buggered and you won’t be able to go to your planned shows. Or, you can take the attitude that you will have plenty of time to sleep and rest when you get home.
- Get up to the lookout and check out the city of light from the best vantage point.
- Take the time to shake the hand of the people that bring you all of this wonderful entertainment. They work bloody hard to bring it to you. Even if you can’t afford to buy anything from them, thank them for being them and for giving you such joy.
- Be careful with your water usage. Tamworth and surrounds are suffering badly from the drought. It is nice to donate to the cause but make sure that you be careful with how you use their limited water supply and bide by the restrictions. Don’t whinge if it rains.
- Above all, enjoy. Support the local businesses, look after yourselves and appreciate being at Tamworth. A lot of people would kill to be in your shoes.