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The last waltz

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THE Kilmore Country Music Festival – the event that had its roots in Wandong in 1972 – will boot scoot off into the sunset with the final event at the Kilmore Racecourse on Saturday, March 3.

Dwindling attendances and an even smaller group of dedicated volunteers (there are only five of them this year) has brought an end to the festival that has been a major part of the district’s music history for 46 years.

Described as ‘the last hurrah’, the organising committee announced on its website that 2018 would be the last festival.

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The other week, fate drove the nail further into the coffin with the announcement that Tim Farren, long-time favourite artist of the festival, would no longer be performing due to hand surgery.

“We wish him all the best for a speedy recovery. Tim will be missed, but health and wellbeing always comes first. Good luck Tim,” the website announcement stated.

Kaitlyn Thomas replaces Farren with the support of The Cartwheels and The Dalton Gang, Danny Stain, Bec Hance and Cameron Mason.

The day will start at the Royal Oak Hotel at 1pm followed by Mac’s Hotel at 4pm as a lead up to the final concert in the betting shed at the Kilmore Racecourse.

Harking back to Wandong in 1972, it was a different story then with 1800 people and twenty-one carloads of police turning up to the event at the LB Davern Reserve.

In 1979, the festival’s committee issued a two record set to mark the eighth festival by various artists, Wandong Country was the album’s name: the First Live Souvenir Recording of Australia’s Top Country Artists, via the R.I.M.S. record label, Melbourne.

Country music scribe James ‘Jazza’ Smith wrote the liner notes praising wonderful Wandong.

“Wonderful Wandong – with its hustle, bustle, sweat and heat, it’s hot dogs, pies and coke cola, toilet queues and honky tonk blues, berets and beanies, smilers and meanies, braless girls and topless blokes and truckies telling dirty jokes. Grinning grannies and crackling trannies, tapping feet, sizzling heat and a country beat.” Smith waxed lyrical.

However not all good things are meant to last and dwindling crowds in the early 1980s led to the festival closing.

It was not until 2000 that Wandong saw its return – for the next 11 years until 2012 around the time it was moved to Kilmore. A wet weekend in March 2000 saw the reborn festival with a hardy crowd welcoming festival icon Eureka Smith.

Two years later the festival seemed to be ticking along nicely and a Ute competition was added in 2003.

A highlight of that year was Coxy of ‘Postcards’ fame sitting in on drums with the Dalton Gang belting out some classic bluegrass.

The 2009, was held in the wake of Black Saturday as a CFA and bushfire benefit event. The day will perhaps best remembered for the debut of Premier John Brumby singing the Slim Dusty classic Duncan with words re written for Wandong.

“I love to have a drink in Wandong – because Wandong is great,” Brumby belted out.
Wandong, and to some extent Kilmore, was the ultimate experience for professional and amateur country music entertainers in Australia.

Wandong wrote Australian music history with a sensational peaks and even more sensational troughs over the years – but it put the town on the map.

Perhaps testimony to Wandong’s success was when Tamworth radio station 2TN ‘Country Music Capital of Australia’, urged visitors to head south to Wandong for the ’biggest country music show in the Southern Hemisphere.’

But now, as Kenny Rogers once sang – ‘you’ve got to know when to hold them, know when to fold them’ – and sadly for Kilmore, it’s time to walk away, this time the dealing’s done.

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