The LeGarde Twins stole the hearts of the crowd, while Big & Rich and Rascal Flatts stole their ears
82-year old Australian-born twins Tom and Ted LeGarde stole the show at this year's CMC Rocks The Hunter festival, despite blistering sets from both headliners Big & Rich and Rascal Flatts.
Held last weekend at the Hunter Valley's Hope Estate, the three-day camping festival brought The LeGarde Twins back into the country from their Nashville base to be honoured by Foxtel's Country Music Channel with the CMC Lifetime Achievement Award. Regarded as the first Australian country export to America, the twins grew up on a farm in Mackay, Queensland, and by age 17 were believed to have been two of the youngest professional rodeo riders in the country. Their love of music took over though, and after years of toiling in Australia they left for Canada in 1957. The rest of their sometimes-overlooked career is history, and to this day they're still active.
Honoured with the Award during the CMC Country Music Awards on the festival's first day, the date – Friday 15 March – coincided with the duo's 82nd birthday. A touching video presentation and performance from the brothers was followed by much mingling with the audience, complete with their trademark hugging and kissing of anyone within arm's reach.
The following morning the twins opened the main stage of the festival with an hour-long set (they took a break half-way, while the band played on). The performance was littered with stories and encouragement, largely based around taglines of “follow your heart” and “live the dream.”
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Speaking to the twins following their lifetime achievement award, Tom LeGarde told theMusic.com.au – with one hand around the waste and one on the heart – that, “If you believe in yourself you can do it. This is where it is, it's in your heart.”
During their performance the next day the duo raved about a couple of “sheilas we met in Nashville, the most beautiful girls you've ever seen”. Ted joked, “When I saw them I held my heart and told Tom, 'This is it, this is the big one'.”
Those “sheilas” emerged as young local country outfit, sister-duo Baylou who joined the two on stage for a song.
“They've had a huge career that spans over 60 years,” Baylou's Victoria Baillie told theMusic later that afternoon. “They're icons and they're inspirations to us… They're still together, and they're brothers and we're sisters so we really look up to them and go, 'Wow, if we can get to that age and not pull each other's hair out by then, we'd be doing good'. It was an honour to get asked to sing a song on stage with them, they're really fun and they're great blokes.”
Day two also saw the performance of Sydney/Newcastle duo McAlister Kemp, who were billed as a replacement for Billy Ray Cyrus. With a strong fanbase and a growing recognition, their tagline of Country Proud was a fitting summary of the mood of the 7,000 plus crowd.
“It started out as pretty much, 'I'm proud to be a country music fan' and '[I'm] proud to be an Australian' is what it's involved into,” the band's Drew McAlister told theMusic before their set. “I think it's super important, if it does something to boost morale of the Australian way of life and that larrikin. Without being too political, we have lost a bit of our identity and so if that does anything to help bring it back – I'm stoked.”
“I guess it's taken on a life of its own,” Troy Kemp added. “It's very anthemic. We got to open the Golden Guitars with it this year and it's appeared in TV commercials – people are using it for all different things.”
During their set they were joined on stage for a song Stephen Barker, a member of American duo Love & Theft. The band's Eric Gunderson has rushed back to the United States after his wife went into labour ten weeks early. They main stage slot was filled by Travis Collins. (The baby was born and named Camden, for the record.)
The second day was signed off by notorious American duo Big & Rich, who were making their first ever appearance on Australian soil. An expectedly big production, the band thanked Australia “for being a great ally” before their Vietnam War-inspired 8th Of November. Notable performances were also delivered by locals Morgan Evans and Chelsea Basham during the day.
The final day's focus was largely on Rascal Flatts, for whom groups of fans waited at the front of their main stage for eight hours prior to their starting. They were introduced to relatively new American outfit The Farm during that time, who comprise of a 'traditional' country fiddler, opera singer and a soul artist. Slightly haphazard in their execution, they couldn't be faulted for energy.
Canada's Corb Lund could barely be faulted at all though, with the rockabilly/mountain singer deadpanning his way through material of new album Cabin Fever and asserting himself as one of the weekend's best performances.
He was followed on the main stage by American starlets The Band Perry, the showmanship of the three siblings – Kimberley (vocals), Reid (bass) and Neil (mandolin) Perry – was evidence that the band are expecting to never play anything but stadiums for the rest of their career. It's also evident in their second album, Pioneer, which was produced by Rick Rubin and will drop next month.
“You can always pull it back, you can't always push it forward,” Kimberley told theMusic 20 minutes before their set. “There was so many times in the recording of Pioneer that the three of us would come back into the studio and high-five after cutting a song and said, 'Wow, we just went there'.”
She added, “We do feel a responsibility to the fans, the only reason we get to record a second album is because they've allowed us to do so. So we do set our bar extremely high and we're very competitive with ourselves.”
Signed off by the fan-pleasing headline set from Rascal Flatts, one doesn't need to mention the agreeable atmosphere or family-friendly ethos of the festival, because that seems to come with the territory for country music.
CMC Music Award Winners
International Artist: Keith Urban
International Video: Keith Urban
Oz Artist: The McClymonts
Australian Video: McAlister Kemp
New Oz Artist: Morgan Evans
Lifetime Achievement Award: The LeGarde Twins