Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Feature - Gympie Music Muster 35

Published in The Big Issue, August 12

Gympie - The Music Muster That Grew And Grew

This year has seen the celebratory planets align for roots music festivals, a coincidental grouping of auspicious anniversaries that’s seen a slew of milestones hit across some of Australia’s major events. WOMADelaide, the Woodford Folk Festival and Port Fairy hit their twentieth, thirtieth and fortieth anniversaries respectively, while the big daddy of them all, the National Folk Festival in Canberra, celebrated its half century back in April.

Away from the nice round numbers, arguably the most well known of all the country’s events, the Byron Bay Bluesfest, played out for the twenty-seventh time. And conversely, one of Australia’s lesser-known roots events, the Gympie Music Muster, this year pulls on its dusty boots for the thirty-fifth time – a long way down the track from its inaugural event, which was essentially a party in a paddock, just outside of the town for which it’s named.

The Webb Brothers
The Muster has a special place in punter’s hearts, a mecca for country music away from the glitzier, in-town event that is the Tamworth festival. These days set in the Amamoor Creek State Forest Park, the event first ran out at Thornside, the property of The Webb Brothers, a well-known country trio who’d just won their second Golden Guitar award, and with the help of the local Apex Club, decided to put on a celebration.

“We thought we’d have a party,” laughs Berard Webb on the maiden event, which also stood as a celebration of 25 years in country music for the trio, as well as a celebration of 100 years since their grandfather had founded Thornside, in 1882. “So we approached our local club, told them we were going to have a country music muster, told them the whole story and how we were going to invite our fans who had been buying our records for years and years, and throw the gates open.

“So we put it in the newspapers, on the radio, invited people to come out, bring your swags, and I suppose you could say that it was the first time there was camping out at a country music function. So that was the start.” And quite the start it was, attracting around 6000 fans to the property for a weekend of raucous country good-times.

The Muster ran for three years at the Webb Brother’s property before moving to its current location, and from there has grown to the multi-staged event it is today. Over the years it’s hosted a plethora of country talent, and has become regarded as a favourite, among both fans and players.

“Absolutely, and it’s testament to what a great party it is every year,” enthuses Beccy Cole, this year a headliner, some twenty-three years after her first Muster. “They put a lot into it. My first one was ’93, I just love it, the atmosphere is incredible.”

A party it is indeed, but a big part of the Muster is in its want to support charities, something it’s done since day one. “Well it was started as a fundraising event for charity [with Apex],” notes Webb. “And it still is, it’s wonderful, and what makes me feel really proud is that it has now raised about fifteen or sixteen million dollars for charities. It’s been wonderful.”

This year’s charity partner is Mates 4 Mates, a group supporting “the wounded, injured and ill current and ex-serving Australian Defence Force personnel”, a group close to Cole’s heart given she’s performed for the troops on a number of occasions, and is this year’s Muster Ambassador. “Very much so, it’s a perfect year for the charity partner to be Mates 4 Mates, because of my involvement with the military over the past ten years,” she concurs.

“They’re a group who work with [defence personnel] closely, they get them what they need, and it’s such a perfectly named charity too, because of the stigma which is attached to things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and thing like that – if you’ve got a mate who’s helping out a mate, then it can ease a lot of that pain. I’m very pleased that they’re gaining the proceeds, because we know they’re going to do some very important things with those funds.”

In the meantime however, this year’s 35th event is gearing up to be a big one. Running the gamut from slick pop-country to Americana to blues (which has become a staple of the past few years), it’s yet another Muster party waiting to happen, an event which has carved out its own little niche, how special it is the reason it’s still going strong, three and a half decades on from its inception.

“It’s no longer the Country Music Muster, it’s the Gympie Music Muster, probably because they’ve added other types of music, but it’s still going wonderfully well,” smiles Webb. “And it gives me great pleasure to do something to help them with the latest one, the thirty-fifth one. I never thought when we started it off in 1982, that it would be still going thirty-five years later,” he laughs, “never entered my mind.”

Samuel J. Fell

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