Tamworth in July is very different to Tamworth in January and in many ways I am glad that they are so different. It is not just the weather that is different: one very hot, one very cold (though it was milder than usual, this time); it is not that one is much longer than the other, or that there are more people around in January…..it just has a different mood to it. Everything that I went to was terrific, and every show was different to the other ones. I like mixing it up a bit, and Hats Off certainly offers that. I didn’t get to see some of my favourites like Mike Carr, Michael Bryers, Col Finley, Lachlan Bryan (and the rest of the gang at the DAG) but I did get to see some other favourites and some new artists coming through. My first gig was a couple of hours after I arrived on Thursday night. I was tossed between going to three things, all on at the same time, but opted for Dan Murphy, ably supported by Anthony Walmsley. Despite the interruption of raffle draws, the boys delivered some great Dan originals and some crowd favourites with gusto. How Dan puts up with Donna and I, I have no idea, but he was good humoured as Donna kept pinching his hat and I sang along with him on a Garth Brooks song with my fake mic….in the crowd! It was a great start to the festival, laid back and just the ticket to put you into a good mood. After having breakfast with my best mate, I ventured over to Shopping World to catch Don Costa (see album review). Don really can charm an audience, whether it is in a shopping centre or at Lowes’ Entertainment Centre in Peel Street or on a stage at a club or pub. He is a born entertainer. He has a terrific voice and he can belt out the classics like few others can. Friday afternoon was spent at my favourite pub, The Tudor, with one of the best in the country, Allison Forbes, supported by Steve McCauley with his great guitar skills. I stayed for a couple of sets as I was off to The Pub for another gig. Allison is not only one of our best singers and songwriters, but she also is one of our finest entertainers – given the right guidance and a chance or two, this girl will go a long way. She is also a pretty cool chick and she doesn’t know how good she is. She can sing anything, from Elvis to her own wonderful songs. A cover of one of Shane Nicholson’s songs was spot on. Every time that I hear her sing, I get excited about her future. I was then off to see Marie Hodson at The Pub with a very cool band including Alwyn Aurisch and Anthony Walmsley. Marie kept us entertained for 3 hours with some great old songs. How she can get that big voice out of such a small space amazes me. I have heard Marie sing in other shows before, but only as a support or singing a couple of songs. It was great to hear her sing so much in one night. There were lots of old favourites and a few that I hadn’t heard of, which is unusual. If you get a chance to see the Kiwi from Werris Creek, don’t miss out. Saturday was spent at another favourite watering hole, which has been a great supporter of country music over the last few years at both festivals. Before its renovations and name change, The Post Office Hotel was one of those pubs which my mum used to tell us to walk by fast. These days, it is a different story. For most of the day, we sat and listened to such a variety of talented songwriters from the TSA and they were all worth listening to. From The Long and the Short of it, to Wendy Wood, to Carolyne Morris to young up and comers like Emma Jene and Becci Nethery to some fabulous bush balladeers and Paul Bonner Jones, one of the most underrated singers in country music. Of course Brothers 3 had the young girls moving closer to the stage….no, Donna and I stayed in our seats, but I had to laugh at Duncan the host almost introducing them as The Three Stooges, they were very funny without trying to be. One of my favourites of the day was Kalesti Butler. She just gets better every time that I hear her. I hope that she is around for a long time to come. She even gave us a musicians’ lesson (via Allan Caswell). You will have to go to one of her gigs to find that one out. Of course, one of the main reasons that I went to this gig was to hear Melissa Robertson. Melissa is a champion. She has the sweetest voice and she has a real knack with the crowd and fitting in with her fellow artists. Then I went over to see the greatest entertainer in Australia, Beccy Cole (my 41st Beccy gig), with Libby O’Donovan, Mickey Pye and Luke Austen. The woman never lets me down. I can be in my bluest mood ( which I wasn’t on this occasion) and she can just leave me feeling so much better. There is nothing that this woman can’t do. With great support from Luke and Mickey who sang a couple of songs each and Libby, who had the crowd talking after the gig with so much praise, wowed us and warmed us up good and proper. Beccy enters the room and charms us again with her musical talent, her humour, wit, stories and vitality. Her new album Sweet Rebecca and her autobiography were the focus of this concert (see reviews). She has a wonderful energy and a cheeky persona, but she can also make you think and feel with such beautiful songs as Poster Girl and Broken Soldiers. She did her great trick of playing all of the instruments on stage, despite the fact that she couldn’t read music until Libby showed her. I can read music but I can’t sing and entertain like she can. I was at a very mixed table and the crowd was of all ages and nobody left disappointed, they all wanted more. I went out into the Legends Bar and caught a few songs from Two Gals, Wendy and Carolyne. Despite having a heavy schedule and Carolyne having some throat problems, the girls sounded great. Sunday was the big day. I had been looking forward to this gig for months. Anne Kirkpatrick, the Queen of Country music was the subject of a tribute at South Tamworth Bowlo. Every year at Hats Off, they host a tribute to a deserving artist. Anne’s tribute was toasted by a full to overflowing venue by some of the best female country music singers that we have. The singers varied in age and style and sang songs from Anne’s wide ranging repertoire to match. Not only did the singers do Anne proud with their renditions of her songs, but they also told lovely stories on how Anne had influenced their music and their direction. Sally-Anne, Lynette, Patti, Christina, Wendy, Tracy, Johanna and Allison did a great job singing Anne’s hits, like Out of the Blue, Many Mothers, Come Back Again, Showman’s daughter and many others….26 songs in all, and there could have been 26 others too. Anne also sang a couple of songs. The girls did a wonderful job of all of the songs. I was very proud as a fan of all of them and of Anne to see and hear what they achieved and with a great deal of sincerity and musical love. Tracy did a great job of organizing this special afternoon which would be hard to top. I sat near Anne in the crowd and she sang along and hung on to every word. She gasped with joy (pun intended), when Allison sang in particular, I think that we all did. There were a few tears when Tracy (her country music sister) sang too. The next show was not what I expected and I was upset to miss out on Anthony Taylor singing, though I did sit in for a while. It had been a big few days so it was off for a pizza and a rest. Hats Off is still in its infancy, but every year it grows a little bigger and better. There are a lot of good shows on at the same time which makes it hard and then a few gaps (particularly on Friday) where they could have a few more gigs during the day. I guess that this will happen in time. I also think that more of the pubs in Peel Street could have a gig or two during the day. Rug up and enjoy the ride. Hats Off to Hats Off and thanks for the memories. Thanks to Donna Lowe for the pictures.