Just a little over four years ago Australia’s country music scene appeared to be in the doldrums. Mayor of Tamworth, Col Murray was concerned by the decreasing numbers visiting the famous festival in his town and the future of Country music in Australia was not at all clear.
The turn-around for country music in Australia has been remarkable
Today the situation is very different. We reported recently on the obsession for country music on Spotify. Australia ranks as No. 3 among the most popular country music markets, and new audiences are discovering a wider range of artists that they might have in the pre-streaming era.
In fact, Tamworth Country Music Festival Manager Barry Harley, told TIO that despite the pressures on music over the years, the festival has experienced a “natural growth.”
“Tamworth has been able to continue its natural growth whilst also experiencing an increase in the 18-35 demographic who are discovering the many nuances of country music,” he said. “Tamworth continues to attract over 50,000 visitors per day across the 10 day festival making it the largest music festival in the southern hemisphere.”
Running right alongside and helping to drive that growth is a now vibrant live country music scene. As some were focused on a drop in engagement from fans, others including agent and promoter Rob Potts were looking for ways to spark interest and growth across the genre.
Potts who was widely credited with helping to establish a newfound popularity of country music in Australia was tragically killed in a road accident in late 2017. He passed away just as the festival he co-founded, CMC Rocks was hitting a peak of popularity following many years of hard work.
Staged in Ipswich, Queensland, this year’s edition of the festival sold its entire 20,000 tickets within an hour of going on sale.
A path of steady growth in CMC’s audience had been skilfully handled by Potts, his partner Michael Chugg and a dedicated team many of whom have worked on CMC since its first incarnation as CMC Rocks the Snowy. Attracting fans via the programming of new young artists such as Taylor Swift back in 2009 when she was still up and coming helped widen the base of people attending the event and discovering that country was not all cowboy hats and people going ‘Yee-Haa’.
The CMC Rocks 2019 lineup will be revealed tonight
Tonight in Sydney the CMC Rocks team is set to announce the line up for the 2019 event, and it’s not unreasonable for there to be anxiousness from some quarters.
The festival injects around 12 million dollars into the Queensland economy and the line up is the first programmed by the festival’s new co-director Jeremy Dylan and festival CEO Matthew Lazarus-Hall. So, whether the Southern hemisphere’s largest ticketed country music event can continue its growth will be on some peoples minds.
Dylan and Lazarus-Hall are backed by a strong team including Michael Chugg and Susan Heymann who work closely on the artist touring strategy around the festival.
Additionally a long-standing team including, Annie Phillips, Georgie Luxton, Nicole Stringer, and the other key staff and department heads back the executive team up. They are credited by Dylan and Lazarus-Hall for their hard work for making the event what it is.
Dylan told TIO whilst it was a shock to have to step up so suddenly, “when something tragic like this happens in your life, the world doesn’t spin any slower just because your part of it has been upended.”
Jeremy was keen to honour his dad’s legacy and says that having Michael Chugg as a partner and festival co-director made the decision to step into the role much easier.
Competition in the Country music festival space is increasing
Live Nation is rumoured to be aggressively bidding on country artists to tour Australia and the massive County to Country Festival which is currently staged in Europe across London, Dublin, and Glasgow is said to be wanting to make a move into Australia.
But Dylan does not see these as a threat. He told us that the team at CMC Rocks are just focused on finding new ways to improve the experience for the thousands of fans who make up part of the CMC audience and community.
One of the drivers of their success as mentioned above is how CMC Rocks have pulled new fans into loving country music. Many younger fans don’t think about a song’s genre when they hear it the first time, but they do pay attention to who the artist is.
The realisation that, ‘Oh, this is county music’ is one that many younger festival goers have when they attend the festival realising that the artists they have discovered such as Morgan Evans, Florida Georgia Line, Sam Hunt, Kelsea Ballerini, and Maren Morris are playing a style of music that they might not have previously identified with.
“We definitely have found the younger end of our festival fanbase growing and expanding in the last few years,” said Dylan.