The festival begins – bring on Tamworth

IT’S my favourite time of the year of the year again, so I’m bringing back the daily blog. I hope that’s okay with everyone.

If we haven’t met before, in person, through my writing or digitally, I am a country music journalist who lives in Tamworth, Australia’s Country Music Capital. For 13 years I worked for the local daily paper and for the past decade I was the country music writer there. This is my first Tamworth Country Music Festival for more than 10 years that I haven’t been reporting on it for the paper, so here we are doing it electronically. The paper is still around, never fear, and a new team is bringing you all the news there.

I’ll be bringing you as much news as I can via The Country Journo website, Country News Snippets weekly newsletter and this daily blog.

For those visiting Tamworth, welcome, and for those who aren’t here in the best city in the world, then I hope I can bring a bit of Tamworth onto your computer screens during the 10 days of the country music festival.

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Country comes to town

THIS is just a quick blog to firstly apologise for being so slack of late. It’s been a long time between drinks for this journo and I haven’t kept up the blog as I’d planned, but we’re baaack.

It’s an exciting time for Australian country music as we gear up for the Tamworth Country Music Festival – it’s less than a fortnight away! Can you believe that? It’s always been my favourite time of the year and I haven’t missed one since 1991.

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CMAA Academy of Country Music director Lyn Bowtell. Photo: Rebecca Belt

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All good country things…

THE time that I’ve dreaded for months has finally come – the last day of Cruisin’ Country 6 on board The Legend of the Seas. It has been a whirlwind mini-Tamworth Country Music Festival at sea and I’ve loved every minute of the music on offer.img_9579
Last night Adam Brand rocked the boat with his flavour of country and left the audiences wanting more after both his shows. Although he hadn’t been feeling the best with rough weather making the ship a little more rocky than we would like, Adam put on a show like no other. A few highlights included when he brought Drew McAlister and Travis Collins on and, together with his bass player Matt Cornell, The Outlaws performed a track from their album and the crowd stood as he performed The Anzac, which was a beautiful moment.img_9633
I’m a big boot fan, as anyone who knows me is well aware, and Adam had my favourite pair of boots on last night. The special thing about these boots is that they look white, but under stage lighting they become silver! I know, I get excited about small things, but I love those boots.
Today is bittersweet as we continue our journey back to Brisbane and back to real life. However, real life just means more country music for me these days, so it’s not that bad, is it? My husband has just informed me there is 4060metres of salt water between us and the bottom of the Coral Sea right this moment… that scares me just a little! Anyway, I digress (again).img_9563
So far we’ve enjoyed the sounds of Roo Arcus, Jasmine Rae, Tori Darke, Lyn Bowtell, Innocent Eve, Aleyce Simmonds, Luke O’Shea, Paul Costa and Beccy Cole. img_0507Yes, that’s just today! It’s only 3pm and we still have a plethora of shows to go including the massive finale with all the headliners and a heap of other artists doing a song each and then a huge song at the end of the show.img_9433
This will be my last entry from the ship, but I’ll do a wrap up either Monday or Tuesday when I return to reality in Tamworth, the country music capital. There is so much country music news about to hit that it’s going to be like a cyclone.img_0533
If there are any topics you’d like me to cover, please send me an email: rebecca@countryjourno.com.au or contact me on social media. Thanks for reading.

Making musical memories

I DON’T want to bring the mood down, but would like to start by acknowledging the death of Hugh McDonald after his courageous battle with cancer. He passed today leaving a great musical legacy.
Another sea day for day seven has stretched before us after a night partying with Beccy Cole and other artists. img_8916
Beccy headlined day six with her show in the That’s Entertainment Theatre where she was joined by the Cruisin’ Country Orchestra or, as she renamed them for the night, Sexual Chocolate, featuring her partner Libby O’Donovan on piano. I haven’t laughed so much on board as I did last night. Beccy just knows how to put on a show. img_8984Her concerts are never just a country music concert; they offer something more and she pushes herself each time and you’re never going to get bored no matter how many times you see her perform. It featured plenty of wonderful country music, a duet with Melinda Schneider, show tunes in a musical face-off with Libby in her amazing boots (if they go missing on the cruise, I know nothing about it), and a healthy serving of humour and jokes. Laughter is the best medicine, after all, so we are all fit and healthy today after that helping of humour.img_9043
Today has been much smoother sailing which has meant I could get out and hear plenty of music. Paul Costa began the day in the Centrum with six decks of fans watching him. There was a massive line-up for the autograph session with all the artists this morning with fans meeting their favourite artists for two hours in the main restaurant. Following that I interviewed 8 Ball Aitken, The Hillbilly Goats, Lyn Bowtell, and Roo Arcus about the cruise and what they’ve got planned for the Tamworth Country Music Festival and beyond for 2017.img_9151
8 Ball then played the Centrum, which was packed and Jasmine Rae performed at the same time on the Pool Deck, which was bathed in sunshine today and the perfect setting for a show at sea.img_9270 A walk-up show uncovered plenty of wannabe artists and poets during the day in the Centrum and Libby O’Donovan took her powerhouse vocals to the Pool Deck for the afternoon.img_9316
Roo Arcus then provided the pre-dinner tunes in the Centrum and Adam Brand is headlining tonight as the end of the cruise draws closer and our thoughts turn to reality and life back on dry land… we are all going to miss our country music family.

Surprise sea day and large swells

CRUISIN’ Country is throwing up plenty of surprises and one of the aspects of cruising is that so much depends on the weather. So, imagine our surprise this morning when we woke not to Isle of Pines, but to the sight of Noumea… again. I like to think of myself as a glass half full kind of person (goes against all laws of journalism), so I got to thinking how good it would be to hit up the patisserie in town that I missed last time and taste test their macarons. It would merely be for research purposes, of course. Unfortunately we just dropped anchor in the bay and didn’t dock for the day. Bad weather meant large swells at Isle of Pines and we couldn’t proceed there safely, so we waited to Adam Brand to hop on board, via a small boat transfer, and off we went again for an extra sea day.
Now, I’m not the biggest fan of sea days, but when you’re living in a country music festival at sea for eight days, who cares, right? They just increased the entertainment on board for the day. However, I missed most of it due to the large swells not making me feel the best, so I saw the cabin for the most of the day, but all sorted now thanks to my ever-patient husband getting some magic tablets from the shop and the Simmonds family from Tamworth supplying me with some magic essential oil to dab on. It all seems to have worked and it’s back to partying. Oh, and thank you to those who asked about my earache – the perfect cure is a blue margarita, if you’re wondering. Fixed it overnight! Anyway, I digress, lets talk country.img_8851
Last night brought Melinda Schneider headlining the That’s Entertainment Theatre. She packed both shows with standing room only. Beccy Cole joined her for a song, as did her partner, Mark Gable of The Choirboys.
Today I caught up with Amber Lawrence and Aleyce Simmonds for chats about what they’re up to on the cruise and what they’ve got planned for the Tamworth Country Music Festival and beyond. I thought I’d put the extra sea day to good use and get some interviews in the bag for a new online TCMF project I’m working on… stay tuned.img_8838
I didn’t catch a lot of live country music today, but heard that Matt Cornell entertained those on the pool deck and was joined by his good mate, Adam Brand for a song and then he jumped behind the drum kit and supplied the beat. Adam headlines tomorrow night.
Beccy Cole headlined tonight and had the audience laughing until they cried – more on that tomorrow.
Tomorrow is our second last day at sea and there is a mass autograph session with all the artists and I’m catching up with Lyn Bowtell for a chat about all things country music including the cruise, Tamworth and the CMAA Academy of Country Music. Until then, we will continue to sail the Pacific and hope the rocking stops; it’s a country music cruise after all. I promise to bring you moe news and photos tomorrow and sorry about only supplying two today.

Mysteries and music

Day five, November 17, was all about mystery… well, Mystery Island, anyway. I love the laidback lifestyle of the Ni-Vanuatu people and I think it’s something we could all learn a lot from. Many of us on the island also got to experience the ‘security’ of Mystery Island Airport this morning when a small Air Vanuatu aircraft came in to land with little warning and then took off straight over the top of us. Got our hearts racing, that’s for sure. I tried to capture the full take-off, but chickened out when the plane was nearly on top of me… better luck next time. img_8611
The music has also had our hearts racing on board the Legend of the Seas. Cruisin’ Country has lived up to every expectation I’ve had and my only complaint is that I haven’t had time to finish my book because there’s been too much great music to catch.img_8522
Last night Shane Nicholson headlined the main theatre with an amazing show during which he was joined by Felicity Urquhart for Rattlin’ Bones. If you haven’t caught a Shane Nicholson show, you need to put it on your ‘to-do’ list. He takes you from all shades of light to dark and everywhere in between. He’s one of our top singer-songwriters and producers, so there’s not much he can’t do, really. His show was a highlight for me last night.img_8560 Today has been all about Mystery Island so far where everyone who went ashore enjoyed hours of snorkeling, shopping and/or swimming. This afternoon Simply Bushed and Aleyce Simmonds have both entertained and tonight Melinda Schneider headlines the That’s Entertainment Theatre and Paul Costa, Innocent Eve, Kristy Cox and Jasmine Rae perform through to the early hours… we’ll be keeping it country until we meet again on this blog tomorrow.img_8699

Mare and music on day four of Cruisin’ Country

Day four brought a few hours at Mare, New Caledonia. This is a small island that features a beach you can get a paid transfer to and a lot of beautiful residents. We stayed close to the pier and explored the market stalls.
Back on board the music never stops and that’s the reason we’re here, although I am very much looking forward to getting to Mystery Island tomorrow morning and seeing Vanuatu which, as anyone who knows me well knows, is a country I love and could easily make my home – they just need to improve their country music scene. Their country population will significantly increase for a few hours tomorrow.img_8151
Anyway, back to the music on board. Last night, November 15, we had a double bill of Drew McAlister and Luke O’Shea. It was HUGE! Seriously, no words could describe how these two singer-songwriters moved the audience. I saw people wiping tears from their eyes and people laughing – they covered the whole gamut of emotions through their stories and songs. That is truly what music is about; moving people. If you’re not feeling anything when listening to someone perform, they’re not doing it right. img_8240Again, we are so lucky in Australian country music to have the calibre of performers that we do. Luke and Drew are just two of them. The amazing Lyn Bowtell joined Drew for a song and Amber Lawrence joined Luke O’Shea for their duet, Catch You. img_8394
The cruise reminds me of Tamworth so much in that way as people stage hop around the ship and you’re never sure who’s going to appear at someone else’s show.
Before heading to bed, I caught the sounds of Travis Collins coming from Anchors Aweigh, so dropped in for a few songs and he had the room rocking with his brand of country.img_8431
Today I caught up with Paul Costa for a ‘quick’ interview that wrapped up two hours later as we caught up on what he’d been up to. It’s been a bit of a quiet music day for me as I’m struggling with an ear ache, certainly not brought on by the music. I’m using music and some medicinal alcohol to treat it, so should be back stronger than ever tomorrow 🙂
Tonight I wrapped up the oceanic festival with the immensely talented Shane Nicholson. Photos and concert report to come tomorrow after we explore Mystery Island.
If there’s anything I’m missing out or you’d like to know more about in these short blog entries, be sure to let me know.

Noumea goes country

DAY three on Cruisin’ Country and the music continues. We’ve been in Noumea for the day, but that hasn’t stopped the entertainment on board.amber-cropped
Last night Amber Lawrence lit up the main theatre with her show where she was joined by Amber Joy Poulton and Aleyce Simmonds for Cheers To The Girls. That was a special moment among so many special moments on this cruise so far.girls-cropped Amber is the ambassador for Cruisin’ Country and her love for the role shines through as she introduces the main acts each night. Monday night demonstrated why she’s a Golden Guitar winner and at the top of the country music game in Australia. As well as Cheers To The Girls, The Man Across the Street was an absolute highlight of the night for me and left few dry eyes in the theatre as she told the story of the war veteran who suffered PTSD and was forgotten by society, but saved her life.img_7525
Prior to Amber’s performance, I caught singer-songwriter and musician, Matt Cornell, in the Schooner Bar. It was packed to the rafters by an appreciative audience who hung on hi every word and soaked up Matt’s stories and songs.
I finished off the night with something a little different in the form of The Hillbilly Goats. If you have not seen this group perform, you must. Their shows are a little trip to the mountains of Tennessee through bluegrass and Appalachian music.img_7895
Today, most people got a taste of dry land again for a few hours, but back on the Legend of the Seas, it was all about the country music. We had Aleyce Simmonds on the pool deck until her show was rained out and I caught up with Jasmine Rae who is also on her first Cruisin’ Country and loving it as much as the rest of us. Aleyce wowed the outdoor audience with her powerhouse vocals and showed what talent Tamworth and Australian country music produces.
Inside, out of the elements, Bob Corbett and band were whipping the crowd into a frenzy with their music and a certain other country music artist was spotted ripping up the dance floor… she looked a lot like Felicity Urquhart, sources claimed.

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Tonight’s main show was Drew McAlister and Luke O’Shea, which I followed with Travis Collins, but more on them tomorrow. We are headed to Mare tomorrow and I’m just getting this blog published before the ship’s clocks strike midnight.

Day Two: Cruisin’ Country 2016

IT’S only day two on Cruisin’ Country and the music is heating up, along with the weather as we sail towards Noumea. The itinerary has been changed and we are hitting up Noumea for our first island visit followed by the smaller islands of New Caledonia and Mystery Island, Vanuatu. img_7282
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was encouraged to book on Cruisin’ Country 6, except I knew it would be good. Well, for me, this cruise has been like a small taste of the Tamworth Country Music Festival without the dry heat (it’s so humid outside, although not too hot today) and the frantic busy-ness.
It was a damp sail away party as a massive storm ripped through Brisbane on our departure, bringing the Hillbilly Goats’ performance to an early close. And, yes, the goat is on board with us much to my children’s delight.img_7381
Last night I caught the ever lovely and amazingly talented Felicity Urquhart whose voice continues to amaze. I have been watching her perform since she was… well, in school (which was only a few years ago, of course) and she just keeps getting better. Felicity headlined the first ‘Showtime’ performance in the That’s Entertainment Theatre with the Cruisin’ Country Orchestra comprised of Brendan Radford, Glen Hannah, Clare O’Meara, Jeff McCormack, Steve Fearnley, and Vaughan Jones. She even performed a few new songs that we might just see on her next album… I’ve been pushing her for years for a new offering, but her BBU album is still hitting all the right notes.
Felicity wrapped up a wonderful first day on the Legend of the Sea.
img_7492Today, Monday, November 14, has brought with it bush ballads from Dean Perrett and Jeff Brown, and a songwriting workshop with Lyn Bowtell, her BBU colleague, Felicity Urquhart, Drew McAlister and Shane Nicholson (who was a little late due to the time change between Brisbane and now, as we are back on Sydney time, which is Noumea time).img_7437
Those enjoying the pool in the windy weather had Libby O’Donovan to entertain them, along with Aleyce Simmonds and we’ve still got Amber Joy Poulton and the Holy Men, Matt Cornell and Amber Lawrence in the main theatre to come.
Exhausted yet? Yeah, me too, but no time to stop as there is much to enjoy. And a tip for those families thinking of coming in the form of two words – Kids Club. Best thing ever and my children are getting to know the children of my musical mates which is just a wonderful thing to witness.
Until tomorrow, enjoy and I hope you can live through these photos and feel like you’re on board with us.
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The adventure begins

The adventure begins today as The Country Journo takes to the high season Cruisin’ Country 6. This is my first time attending a country music festival at sea on Cruisin’ Country, but I did sail on the John Laws Country Music Cruise in 1999, which was an amazing experience with artists including Gina Jeffreys and Troy Cassar-Daley.
adam-brandThis adventure will involve many more artists, all headlined by the fantastic Adam Brand. My aim is to get around to see every artist performing at least once and I’ll be reporting back on everything.
The adventure began yesterday before we even spied the ship. We flew from Tamworth to Sydney with no dramas, then Brisbane was hit by storms and we circled for half an hour before we could land. Every storm cloud has a silver lining, though, because I had made a playlist on the in-seat entertainment system featuring O’Shea, Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Troy Cassar-Daley, John Williamson, and Jake Owen. The delay in the skies meant I could get through the 58 tracks and I love flying, so it was a win-win.
This morning we are preparing to head off with the Legend of the Seas already in port and awaiting the arrival of thousands of country music fans and the tens of artists we can’t wait to see take to the stage. Signing off for now, but I’ll be sure to inundate you with news as soon as I can.