User Review( votes)
I cannot lie: As the days drew closer to August 22, my secret dread grew.
Before this event, the closest I’d ever come to a “muster” was streaming a Vice documentary on the “Deni Ute Muster” (a video that portrays such events as Wake in Fright style celebrations of alcohol, motors, tits and arse).
How wrong I was. The gathering I found several kilometres down Amamoor Creek Road last weekend was a bastion of a particular type of Australian culture – one that’s remote enough to be forgotten by city-dwellers, strong enough to steal an election, and interesting enough to be celebrated for a whole wintery week.
Musical offering: ★★★★
Fans of all varieties of country music sing the Muster’s praises (literally!). With five stages hosting a programme packed full of internationally acclaimed artists as well as homegrown talent, this event is the big one for Aussies fans of Americana, bluegrass, folk, and just about everything in between.
Friday night on the mainstage saw Luke O’Shea & his band’s soulful melodies draw an enviable crowd. Planted near the stage, the bass reverberated through my chest as Luke crooned about a “Lonesome ranger, ready at the hint of danger, to keep the outlaws at bay”. His beautiful voice, clear and not overdone, captured both my attention and my spirit. I never thought I’d stand in wonder at country music, but there I was.
Soon after, hoots and hollers ripped through the crowd as Kasey Chambers and her dad Bill took the stage. Clearly the country scene’s darling, she enchanted the gathering with stories of how her songs came to be (Barricades and Brick Walls is all thanks to Worm, who only ever wrote one other song titled How I’d Love To Be A Woman’s Bicycle Seat) and regaled the enthralled crowd classics like Captain.
Later in the night, the lads from Hayseed Dixie brought a little levity to the affair, with their wildly original “rockgrass” covers. Their set featured snippets of Tiny Dancer (ever-so-briefly set to the banjo), ACDC classic Highway to Hell and a rather unusual version of Eternal Flame. If the measure of an artist’s success is how many drunk yahoos belt out their songs around the campfire when their performance is done and dusted, it’s fair to say that Hayseed Dixie did alright on Friday night.
Saturday morning’s programme was dominated by bush poetry (more on this later) and it was only in the mid-afternoon that I again dipped my toe back into the music at the Songwriters Circle.
This space truly encapsulated the heart of country music – here there was storytelling at it’s best. From a song recounting the sorry story of a mate fed to crocs by bikers, to laments about how the drought drove a neighbour and a friend to suicide, to upbeat tunes covering the sad reality of “Hillbilly Heroin” (Endone) addiction, to the classic ballad of the steelworks shutting down, each of the tales, though seemingly stereotypical when listed, could bring you to tears if you would only stop and listen to the words.
It’s not often you hear performers choke up as they introduce a song, but they didn’t play just any old tune at the Songwriters Circle. They sang their stories. They were friends writing songs for friends, about friends, with friends. This intimate circle of country musicians was, for me, the highlight of the event.
Yet the main event was still to come. First up was the much-acclaimed yet poorly received James Blundell. While many I’d spoken to looked forward to his performance with eager anticipation, the crowd seemed somewhat underwhelmed by his show. They did not sing along on cue when he belted out Livin and Workin On The Land. Perhaps it was the time of night.
By 9 pm the energy had shifted, and the musterers were ready to party with The McClymonts (aka “country royalty”). Their music is the type of catchy, strong, and emotive country-pop young ones bop along to and older folks can’t help but smile at. My Life Again infused a sense of hope and excitement in the crowd, with crystal clear vocals and just enough charming twang to offset three guitars that more than tiptoed into rock ‘n’ roll territory. Theirs was a full-energy performance, triggering pure bliss in fan faces magnified on the big screens. I too found myself swaying as they played Don’t Wish It All Away to a gallery of cherished family photos on display.
And then, before I knew it, it was time for the main act: Chase Rice. Opening with Lions – a song about being “born and bred to be dangerous” it was clear why just on a million people follow him online. He’s handsome, he can hold a tune, and he’s backed by an incredible band. In my humble opinion, while heartthrobs crooning about tasting their whiskey on your lips or taking you for a ride in their truck are easy enough to find, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more talented group of musicians than Marcelo, Suki and the boys. Their stage presence and musical mastery brought the rockstar quality to Chase’s performance, titillating the young’uns (and perhaps testing the old-timers who’d come for a purely acoustic experience).
Crowd vibe: ★★★★
The people who attended the Gympie Music Muster were, above all else, friendly and welcoming. The feel of this event can perhaps be summed up best by a conversation I had with a fellow named Peter Dutton outside the Saturday morning’s bush poetry:
“This is the friendliest place I’ve ever been to. To me, the Gympie Music Muster is better than Christmas. I count down the weeks until it comes, and when it’s over I try to bring the spirit of the Muster back to my street in Brisbane. Invite the neighbours around for a round of backyard cricket – not over Facebook, but you know, knocking on doors. I wish more people treated each other in day to day life the way they do at the muster.”
I need not add much to this glowing review, except to say I was pleasantly surprised by a complete lack of violence or over-the-top drunkenness at this event.
The only time I felt uncomfortable when a bloke asked me if I wanted to “get hammered” when I’d asked to borrow his hammer for my campsite. A quick word about needing “a hammer, not a tool” set him in his place, however, and I’m pleased to report that, on the whole, I felt safe and welcome throughout this somewhat male-dominated event.
While the Gympie Music Muster has more amenities than you can poke a stick at (hot showers, courtesy buses and food trucks from gate to gate), there were a few niggling logistical oversights worth mentioning.
The toilets, while well-stocked with paper and plentiful enough to never have a lineup, had no soap or hand sanitiser throughout the entirety of the event.
And, it was more than a little disappointing to the mainstage of the festival – which, by the way, is situated in a national park – littered with single-use plastics after a big night of tunes. Whether this was for lack of bins, or pure carelessness on the punter’s part is hard to say.
Other than these two gripes, the festival went as smoothly and professionally as you’d expect an event that’s been running since 1982.
Extracurricular activities: ★★★★
Contrary to popular beliefs held by city slickers such as myself, the Gympie Music Muster isn’t just about music. The event programme also features children’s entertainment and games (including laser tag!), music workshops, and, my personal favourite extracurricular activity: Bush Poets Breakfast.
In the words of the aforementioned Mr Dutton:
“There’s no better way to start the day than cacking yourself for two hours.”
The show included poems about Indian country singers (Kenny Rahjers and Keith Turban), barley-fed cows producing beer instead of milk (Tooheys in the left one, VB in the right, XXX in the back and the other’s Cascade Light) and a song called The Dog Shit Shuffle cataloguing the various types of dog poo one might come across in their travels. A one-minute poetry competition and game-show style interrogation of the poets and their spouses also featured.
While at times painfully puerile, all in all, the bush poet space delivered a mixture of quick wit, larrikinism, and humour drier than the river downstream of Cubby Station – all of which culminated in a thoroughly entertaining morning.
In that tent, brimming with creativity and cheek, I found myself being transported back to my Nanna’s house – a young child staring out the window at the bush while I listened to John Laws and his smartarse country callers on the wireless.
If you ever want to see the hardened, weathered faces of our nation’s farmers, truckers and fitters and turners crack a smile, this is the place to make it happen.
Speaking of creative flair, little tidbits of art awaited punters in every nook and cranny of the festival grounds.
From a tiny forest of silly-faced mops and brooms, to pink plaster pigs atop lilypads in the pond, through to sassy (and somewhat telling) signs lining the perimeter of the event, this festival had every bit as much artistic output as a bush doof.
Throw in a handful of punters donning silly costumes and many, many more wearing colourful shirts to raise mental health awareness (there’s something rather heartwarming about a wisened old countryman in an outrageously flamboyant tropical shirt), and the atmosphere was a lively one indeed.
It’s easy to see why the Gympie Music Muster has such a cult following. Not just for fans of country music, this family-friendly event offers a chance to get away from the “foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city” (to quote perhaps the best-known bush poet of our country) and enjoy a week camping with mates in the beautiful surrounds of Amamoor State Forest.
The location is gorgeous, the people are friendly, and the artists are talented. What more could you want?