The Salvos might be better known for their brass bands, but they’re very much part of the action at Tamworth’s famous country music festival.
The streets of Tamworth are buzzing in the shadow of the iconic Big Golden Guitar. Over the next 10 days, the regional northern NSW city will host more than 700 performers, 2,800 events and around 300,000 fans at its 47th country music festival.
And no wonder there’s a hum of excitement, with artists such as Keith Urban, Kasey Chambers, Lee Kernaghan, Beccy Cole, Troy Cassar-Daley and John Williamson in the line-up.
The Salvation Army is very much a part of the action, with its corps (church) property on Goonoo Goonoo Rd one of the festival venues. Salvo officers (ministers) Dean and Rhonda Clutterbuck and their corps host The Australian Bush Balladeers Association, with performers including Dianne Lindsay, Peter Coad and the Coad Sisters, Runaway Dixie and The Band of Mates. Dean says the country music festival is “like a huge family”.
“There are people coming here who only see each other at the festival, so it’s like a family reunion for them,” he observes. “And for many of them, The Salvation Army is a part of the family.”
About 20 of the corps folk join Dean and Rhonda to provide warm country hospitality during the festival, which includes a temporary caravan park and their popular Salvos Country Kitchen. With up to four concerts held each day in the hall, volunteers work shifts from 6.30 am until 8.30 pm to serve breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks to the hundreds of people who visit them.
“Our volunteers have done an amazing job over the years. They love what they do and this has cemented our place in the festival,” Dean says.
“We are able to give people a glimpse of The Salvation Army and share a blessing of generosity with them. People are often surprised by how generous The Salvation Army is through its ministry, both in practical ways and with the use of our facilities. They feel safe with us. They know they are loved by us, and they always feel they have come home when they’re at the Salvos.
“It’s because of this many people join with us in worship at our gospel meeting on the last Sunday of the festival.”
Four years into their appointment at Tamworth, the Clutterbucks have been part of several festivals now. Asked whether they are country music fans, Dean smiles.
“We wouldn’t say fans, but we can appreciate when a song or a ballad is done well. For us, the festival is about loving the people,” he says.
“It’s an opportunity to serve others with the love of Jesus and it’s so rewarding to see relationships continue to build over the years.”
The last Sunday of the festival is the highlight for Tamworth Salvos, when they hold a community breakfast and worship service.
“This year we will be blessed to have country gospel singer Gavin Chatelier (pictured) lead us in worship and word for this celebration,” Dean says. “It’s our gift to the festival.”