"It'll be a surprise, you never know who'll be put up, and we're having walk-ups after 5pm, so if anyone's there with a guitar, they can just get up."
Sitting among the sugarcane fields in northern New South Wales, surrounded by fertile farmland and imbued with an easy-going country town vibe, Murwillumbah seems the perfect place to hold a country music festival. And not on the scale of Gympie's annual muster, or in the vein of Tamworth's polished clique, but a more alternative version, a gritty and red-dirt version, something that celebrates Australia's affinity with the more downhome style of the music.
So thought country artist and local resident Lou Bradley, who in early October will present the inaugural Murwillumbah Country Roots Festival, set in the town's showgrounds and featuring a veritable who's who of Australian alt-country, from bigger names like Kasey Chambers and The Audreys, through to solid local acts like Guy Kachel, Round Mountain Girls and Sara Tindley.
"I think we have a lot of talent here, we don't need to search too far, there's a lot of it in our backyard."
"It's like you're doing your artist work, like you usually do, times a billion," Bradley laughs on being a promoter for the first time. "I've been busy in the country music world for a long time now, trying to pave my way as an alternate country music artist... and I've always wanted to make a festival with my favourite artists, and to just try and help make the genre stronger, to give artists who are not right in the country fold, or right in the folk fold, somewhere to play."
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Alternative country, or Americana as it's increasingly becoming known, has a large following in Australia, so it's no surprise that an event like this is popping up in the music-rich Northern Rivers region. The line-up is an all-Australian affair too, something Bradley considers important. "It's very important," she stresses. "I think we have a lot of talent here, we don't need to search too far, there's a lot of it in our backyard."
A recent addition to the festival, and one which points to the true downhome nature of the event, is a fourth stage, The Porch, devoted purely to busking. Artists will only be announced immediately before they play, they'll put out a hat, and away they'll go — as close to the real things as possible.
"Busking is a really important part of [music], I still busk now," Bradley explains. "It's a very confronting way to perform, and also really awesome, I love it. It'll be a surprise, you never know who'll be put up, and we're having walk-ups after 5pm, so if anyone's there with a guitar, they can just get up."
You may wonder who in their right mind would carry a guitar around all day at a festival — in this part of the world, it's par for the course; it could be hard to snag a spot.
"A success is just to get it to happen next year," Bradley says when asked what the ideal outcome is for the fledgling event. "The golden question is, how many people are we going to get, nobody knows that... but I just want it to keep going, I think it's a good little niche event that I think a lot of people are going to grow more and more fond of. So I just want to keep on doing it, keep it as grassroots and as natural as I can."