Tamworth Country Music Festival isn’t just about country music: it’s about spectacle. Across ten days over the January long weekend, every square inch of the northwest NSW town is taken over by buskers, stalls, punters and artists. It’s the second-largest country music festival in the world after the iconic Nashville, with over 2,800 events, 800 artists and 120 venues, making room for everything from alt-country to yodelling.

In 2018, 50,000 punters will make their way to Tammy, placing it among the ranks of Australia’s other internationally-recognised regional festivals such as Byron Bay’s Bluesfest, Queensland’s Woodford Folk Festival, and the stalwart Falls Festival. Unlike these festivals, however, TCMF is open access and family friendly with plenty of free shows, making it accessible to audiences who might not otherwise be able to afford to travel the distance to an established music festival.

“It’s the social aspect of it,” Tamworth Country Music Festival’s founding father Max Ellis recently told the Northern Daily Leader about what makes the festival so special. “It seems to be improving [with] a lot more artists and a lot more fans.”

The town comes to life with street buskers and poets. Huge market stalls line the Main Street and everyone is there to have a good time

Born-and-raised Tammy local and heavyweight TCMF fan, Caitlin McInerney, similarly speaks to this social aspect, noting that “people come from all over Australia just to visit Tamworth for country music. All the gigs are up close and personal, and the bands and singers all have beers with the crowd after the shows.

“The town comes to life with street buskers and poets. Huge market stalls line the Main Street and everyone is there to have a good time; it’s one of the best celebrations of country music Australia has to offer. Not to mention [there are] way too many hotties in jeans and boots — a girl gets whiplash.”

There’s no bigger or better celebration of music in Australia than the Tamworth Country Music Festival

The festival’s DOB is often debated, but most point its inception back to January 1973, when local radio station 2TM launched the Australasian Country Music Awards, now known as The Country Music Golden Guitar Awards

While Sydney’s music venues have been knocked around by the state government’s lockout laws, as well as excessively expensive liquor licenses and the residential noise complaints that come with a rapidly gentrifying city, Tamworth Regional Council actively funds and supports TMCF.

It increases tourism. It increases city branding. It makes young people want to stay

In an article for The Guardian , Shain Shapiro, organiser of Sound Diplomacy’s Music Cities Conference, commented on the pros of having a healthy music heritage: “It increases tourism. It increases city branding. It makes young people want to stay.

To that end, Tamworth as an entire town has come together to pull off a festival that’s genuinely communal. Similar to what you might see in the organisational efforts behind a fringe festival, venues have the autonomy to curate their own lineups and events for TCMF; local artists are eager to play, and it’s relatively easy to get involved, no matter what stage you’re at, making for one of the most open-hearted celebrations of music you’re ever likely to witness.

New stars like Tori Forsyth join the legends of country music

The regional town’s 40-plus years of investing in its musical identity has positively impacted on its tourism and agriculture industries too, leading to the acquiring of new hotels, museums, and a major tourism information centre, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics noting that “Tamworth Regional Council’s Gross Regional Product is estimated at $2.86 billion, which represents 0.5% of the state’s GSP (Gross State Product).”

And while that isn’t all down to a single (albeit incredible) music festival, it goes to show what can happen to a regional town when it’s given the opportunity to develop its own musical identity, setting the standard for other regional venues who hope to replicate its success.

So, what standout country names can we look forward to this time around when the festival takes over the town in January? There’ll be shows from well-known local legends of country in Kasey Chambers, John Williamson, Troy Cassar-Daley, and (of course) Lee Kernaghan, but it’s also an ideal spot to hear Australia’s best emerging talent like Fanny Lumsden and Tori Forsyth.

All in all, it’s a show that every genuine lover of live music should experience at least once.

Tamworth Country Music Festival takes over Tamworth again from January 19-28 2018, bringing 2,800 events and 800 artists to 120 venues across the town – check

The 2017 lineup describe what makes Tamworth and its festival so unique