One stop we made on our Australian road trip was the Tamworth Country Music Festival. Having never been to a big festival with our little one and jumping straight into camping there for 6 days, we weren't really sure how it would all go. Here's our take on the festival, our experience and what it's like for a family to visit.
I should say to begin with that we're not huge country music fans and many others we chatted with told us they weren't either. This was a surprise but I think many people come for the variety of music and to enjoy the festival.
One of the main reasons we attended was that the camping was cheap! For us it cost $150 for the entire stay (which could have been 10 days). And during school holidays, that's definitely a bargain.
There are a number of places to stay in Tamworth during the festival and we chose the Riverside Campground. This is run by the city council during the festival and is walking distance to town and the main events. (Walking distance means 20 minutes or more of walking in this instance.)
What they've done is block off all of the sports fields and ovals and everyone camps all around the edges. A friend of mine recommended we go further toward the back and we were glad we did as there was less noise (from the main stage). It can be noisy at night and we went to sleep every night with the big concert in the background.
We arrived on the Friday of the first of two weekends of the festival and were surprised to see how many spots were already taken. Looks like people get there early!
Amenities were good but the showers did close between 8pm and 7am in our area. There are other paid showers ($2.50) - heard this from our neighbour - and numerous toilets set up around the place. I'd recommend not camping too close to them though. We could smell them walking by at times.
Overall, it was a good camping experience for us. Everyone knows how closely we're all packed in there and are conscious of keeping the noise down. So campers quiet, festival noisy.
There are a number of other places to camp and the best places to look is on the festival website to see where and how much.
You'll also find caravan parks and a number of hotels around. Many don't take bookings but if they do, be sure to book in advance.
There was a great variety of music at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. I think most of the “real” country music was at night and we didn't see much of that. Ricky made it over to the main stage the first night to see John Williamson which was a plus for him. We found the main stage (which was free – yay!) operated generally at night.
During the day there were a few bands / singers here and there on the main stage but generally it was sound checks. We sat through a number of them thinking something was coming up but nothing did. There's no schedule posted at the stage of what's happening so if you go, try and track down a paper one. It was a shame that there wasn't more music there in the day since it's such a big, grassy, shady spot.
We did get to see one fabulous act on the main stage as part of the family night and that was Justine Clark. In case you don't watch kids TV, she's on Playschool which is quite a big thing in our house so to see her in concert for free was fantastic.
There are a number of other stages around. We eventually started visiting the Fanzone stage which had a different act every half hour. There was a huge variety and our favourites were the Bango Girl and Murphy's Pigs (who play traditional Celtic type music in case you can't tell by the name). There are a few seats set up here but the stage is set in what is normally a street so if you don't want to sit on the ground (the road), bring a chair.
There are also Buskers everywhere! It's great because most of them are really quite good. Our main activity at the festival ended up being to walk downtown and listen to the different Buskers. Such a variety too. Our favourites included the Australian yodeling champ (she was sooooo good), a one man band, a family fiddle band, and a classical guitar and violin duo.
There are other stages, pubs, and paid venues but this is what we did and what's easy and free for families. I should point out that if you're visiting the festival, try and get an idea of where the stages are before you venture down to the festival area. Especially if there's someone you want to see. There is no one down in the festival area or the main stage to answer any questions you might have.
The family zone area at the festival consists of booths selling things – usually directly to your kids (yay, that's fun!) – and rides. The rides cost $5 each. So we avoided the area. To us, it's not really a family friendly area. If there had been any kind of child-friendly experience added in there along side the rides and toys, it would have been much better.
We did see a number of families enjoying the rides and the rides available were good choices for a variety of ages. So if you enjoy rides, this spot will work well for you.
We stumbled across something great a few days into the festival! A huge park! Just behind the main stage, there's a huge park. It's got very high slides, flying fox, little kids area, sand pit and there's also a splash pad. We saw kids there of all ages and it's a great spot for the kiddies to let off some of that pent-up energy.
The other main tourist attraction in the giant Golden Guitar. I say go here first because that's where tourist information is. Get a map, a program, any tickets you want, learn where things are and then head to the festival area. This was on the other end of town from where we entered but it still would have been good to go here first.
There is a festival HQ in the festival area where you can also get the information you need. We never went there and wouldn't have known how to find it to begin with. But we did walk past it a couple days in but we had learned our way around by then.
We had some beautiful days in Tamworth but we also reorganized our trip – twice – because of the weather. Tamworth is just down the range and a bit inland so it can get hot!
We had planned to stay 8 days in Tamworth but the weather on our planned arrival was 38C. So instead we arrived a day later and set up in the rain. We also left 2 days early to avoid days of 36C and another beautiful 38C.
Luckily, Tamworth is close to the range so you can easily run away and avoid the heat if you want. We stayed in Glen Innes and Armidale where it was 31C instead of 38C. A good trade-off I think.
There's lots of shopping on offer in Tamworth and it's all open along the streets where the festival is on. We didn't buy ice while in Tamworth. Instead we'd just pick something up to cook or eat while we were in the festival area. Worked pretty well for us. We were also able to get a new tent pole – we're already repairing things!
We met a family staying next the us wile at the festival and they were there actually to perform. So they've visited and played at the festival many times and they've also got a lot of kids – 7! Their opinion of the Tamworth Country Music Festival was that it is not family friendly at all. For them, with such a large family, it has been quite expensive to stay and eat there. And they also tried to avoid the Family Zone.
Another family brought 4 kids under 5 years old all the way from Western Australia just for the festival. I don't know how they did it but they all seemed happy. We did see them at the park a few times as well.
We're meeting many interesting people along the way on our journey so we thought we'd share that with you. In Tamworth we met The Buckleys. They are a family band with two of their teenage girls singing vocals and we were able to catch them on the main stage. Lovely family from over Lismore way!
For us, it was definitely worth visiting the Tamworth Country Music Festival. It was something very different from what we've been doing (and will do) on our travels, affordable during school holidays, and our little one wants to go back and listen to more music. She quite liked the buskers. So family friendly? Maybe not so much but you can make it work for you.
See you next in Armidale! (Time to cool off a bit.)