Gibson, Chris and Davidson, Deborah, 2004, Tamworth, Australia's 'country music capital': place marketing, rurality and resident reactions, Journal of Rural Studies, 20(4), 387-404.
Since the 1970s, Tamworth has become well known as Australia’s ‘country music capital’. Its annual Country and Western Music Festival has become the leading event of its type in Australia, attracting over 60,000 visitors every year. The festival, and country music more generally, have become central to the town’s identity and tourism marketing strategies. This article discusses the social constructions that have surrounded Tamworth’s transition to ‘country music capital’—of the ‘rural’, and of ‘country’—within the context of debates about the politics of place marketing. Textual analysis of promotional material and built landscapes reveals representations of rurality (or ‘senses of the rural’). In their most commercial form, representations of rurality converge on a dominant notion of ‘country’, quite different from the ‘countryside’ and ‘rural idyll’ in England. This dominant, or normative ‘country’ forms the basis of imagery for the festival, the Town’s marketing strategy, and associated advertising campaigns by major sponsors. It is predominantly masculine, white, working class and nationalist. But links between musical style and discourses of place are complex. Colonial British histories, Celtic musical traditions and North American popular culture all inform ‘country’ in Tamworth, dissipating nationalist interpretations. Normative constructions also contrast with other, heterogeneous ruralities in Australia, that include the lived experiences of rural Australians, and on stage—in country music—where multiple ‘ruralised’ identities are performed. Even those who stand to benefit from place promotion have been uncertain about country music and ‘the country’, because of associated discourses of Tamworth as ‘hick’ and ‘redneck’. In the final section of the paper, reactions of residents to constructions of Tamworth as country music capital are discussed, via the results of a simple resident survey. In contrast to previous studies of the disempowering politics of place marketing, Tamworth residents were on the whole supportive of the new associations and images for the town, despite ‘hick’ connotations, as it has become a centre for ‘country’, and for country music. Reasons for this are explored, and resistances discussed. The result is a complex and entangled politics of national identity, gender, race and class, where meanings for place are variously interpreted and negotiated.