Interview: Drew McAlister on Mount Hunter Country Music Stampede

2018 Stampede Logo UPDATED.jpgMount Hunter Country Music Stampede takes place from Friday 12 to Sunday 14 October 2018 in the picturesque Wollondilly area of south-west Sydney. It’s a unique event that features fantastic country music artists at night – including Adam Brand, Adam Harvey, Jasmine Rae and Christie Lamb – with plenty of other activities by day. But I’ll let performer co-organiser Drew McAlister tell us more – we spoke recently about the festival, as well as about the fundraising single ‘Shout the Land a Drink’ and the latest single release from his album, Coming Your Way.

The country music audience has been expanding to accommodate new festivals such as Dashville and the Clarence Valley Country Muster – and, of course, there is now the Mount Hunter Country Music Stampede, which you are co-organising. How did you come to be involved?

A friend of mine, Mick Kearney, is the gentleman who owns this enormous equestrian centre [K Ranch] out in Monks Lane in Wollondilly, which is near Camden [NSW]. We sat down a couple of years ago and he said, ‘I want to put on a festival.’ This equestrian centre puts on everything from cutting to roping to bull rides. He had a boxing match out there recently. It’s two acres undercover with 150 horse stalls. He’s been a horse enthusiast his whole life. He has other businesses but this is his love. He competed in Texas and the venue he competed in was this enormous arena with a Western store down one end and a saloon bar down the other. So he came home and replicated that on his property. Over three years he built the exact same thing. So he said he wanted to put on this festival. We did it last year – we only had twelve weeks to put it on which, in hindsight, wasn’t long enough, but it did run like clockwork. This year we’ve had ten months and we think we’ve dotted our Ts and crossed our Is.

Is there one stage or several?

One stage, which we’re bringing in. It will be a mobile truck stage. We’ll probably only use half the arena, it’s that big. That will still fit a lot of people.

So it’s in Camden, and a lot of people live in that area.

It’s in western Sydney. It’s about seven to ten minutes’ drive from Camden to K Ranch.


It sounds like this is a unique venue for country music shows.

Absolutely. It’s not like anywhere I’ve ever played before. You can do multiple things at this venue. You can cut half the arena off and put floorboards down and have a wedding in there if you want to.

This is a different facet of your work – you’ve been a songwriter and a performer for a long time. How have you found that balance of your life as an artist with organising this festival?

I discovered very quickly that you can’t do it on your own [laughs]. You’ve got to have a team around you, and that’s the key to this – we’ve got three or four people who have been working with us, like Amy from Oztix, Leah who is on the ground out there, Seleen McAlister who is running the Rising Star. I’ve booked all the production and all the acts. I’ve played a lot of festivals and it’s very different now to be on the other side and see how it works. The plus for us is that you have an infrastructure out there that already works, so you’re not starting from scratch, and they run events all the time. I’ve really enjoyed it but you need to have a working list that gets ticked off constantly. This week we’re making sure the lanyards are done, making sure there’s signage everywhere for the artists and artists’ packs need to be sent out. There’s a fair bit to it.

In the course of playing at other festivals, you must get a very good idea of who’s great to invite to a festival – so it seems like a logical extension of what you do, but very few artists do get involved in creating programs.

It is a different thing for me, but the great thing is that I know all the artists directly so I just called them, bypassed the agents most of the time, and said, ‘This is the budget we’ve got. It’s a young festival. Do you want to come on board?’ and pretty much everyone I contacted said yes. The long-term hope is that we can keep this as a sustainable festival. I’ve seen plenty of festivals come and go – it’s a fine line. We’re not out to make a million dollars, we just want to keep it sustainable, keep people in employment and hopefully inject something back into the shire. If we can do that I’ll be a happy man.

The artists you’ve selected are all really great entertainers – that’s obviously key inDrew McAlister (1).jpg attracting audiences, making sure they have a good time. Was that a factor?

Absolutely. We’ve got Brandy [Adam Brand] with his high-energy thing. We’ve got [Adam] Harvey, who’s a little more old-school. My set’s pretty up-tempo, pretty rocking. Christie Lamb, similar deal. Both Christie and Jasmine [Rae] are excellent performers. And we’ve also got Teleisha Eade, who won the Maton Rising Star last year out there.

I noticed you are in the Men of Country Showcase with the Adams, which leads me to wonder if you’re going to change your name by deed poll …

[Laughs] We had this idea that we’d put the girls on the Friday night and the guys on Saturday night – that’s just the way the programme ended up. Whether it’s going to work, I don’t know – maybe we should have mixed it up. But we just thought it was a nice way to split the two nights.

When I was reading it initially I had this idea that you would be on stage at the same time as the Adams and I thought, Drew is not going to get a word in edgewise with those two.

[Laughs] No, we’re all doing our separate shows. I’ll be the first guy up on the Saturday night, then it will be Harvey then it will be Brandy.

It sounds a bit like – and I mean this in a good way – a massive B&S ball. You have an undercover venue and big nights planned.

Yes, and there’s a whole, functioning saloon bar there, and roving bars as well. There’ll be Texas barbecue and food trucks, there’ll be jumping castles. During the day there will be dog jumping, there’ll be team roping – a few other things for people to come and see during the daytime. The Western store is completely set up with boots and jeans and other things – there’s ladies and men’s wear. So it’s quite unique – certainly unlike anything I’ve ever played at. And as much as we’d like to get all sorts of people there, we’re not really looking for hard-core partygoers, so to speak. We want it to be family friendly. And with 150 horse stalls out there you can bring your swag, pay 30 bucks and stay in a stall for a night, as well as bringing your SUV or your trailer or caravan. There’s no free camping but there’s amenities, toilets and showers. It’s a pretty self-sustainable place. I couldn’t think of a better venue.

Now, talking about your work as an artist – and specifically the song ‘Shout the Land a Drink’. Matt Scullion wrote it – did he approach you about being on it?

Yes, he did. Matt and I have been writing together for a long time – we co-wrote four songs on my last album – and he said he’d been talking to Charles at Rural Aid. He sent me the song and said, ‘Mate, do you want to be involved?’ and I said yes, absolutely. We got James Blundell, Tania Kernaghan, Simply Bushed. We all recorded our separate parts on the Central Coast [NSW], then we went and shot the clip at Scone [NSW], on a gentleman’s property out there. All the proceeds go to Rural Aid and Buy a Bale.

I notice with country music artists there is a sense of responsibility to the rural community that is so much a part of the country music audience. Is that something you’ve felt throughout your career?

That’s something that’s definitely inherent with country artists. I think it is that communal country thing, because that’s where we all came from. I’m not saying pop people, because that’s where we all came from. I’m not saying pop people don’t do that too, but there is definitely an element there that lends to us helping out with things like this wherever we can.

When you’re recording a single when there are multiple people and you’re recording just your part, is it weird to not necessarily know how it’s going to turn out?

Yes, you have to really sit down [and plan it]. Matty sat down and said, okay, who’s going to sing where? When we got in to do the chorus – myself and Simply Bushed sing on that second chorus – I was going to do the harmony above the main thing, then I realised, ‘That’s way too high – I cannot sing it.’ So we ended up going in unison. So you just have to figure it out in the studio as you go.

I’m also thinking of the logistics of getting you all together in Scone for the video clip.

That was a tricky one. James did his part up in Queensland, where he lives. He got it shot then they added it to the clip. But everyone else was on site that day. Tania flew down and I drove out from the mountains. It was a long day. The actual farmer who owned the property, his name was Steve, he was feeding his cattle like everyone else and there was not enough hay to go round. He took me to his house and showed me a photo above his mantelpiece – it was a photo of his property twelve months before and it was completely green, lush with grass. And what you see in that video clip is his land now. It’s completely bone dry. I got to go on Channel Ten to talk about [the song] and I talked to Charles from Rural Aid the day before and he said since June/July they’ve shifted 26 000 tonnes of hay all round the country. It’s unprecedented. The movement they’ve done with Rural Aid, to try to get hay to everyone, it’s incredible.

The thing to understand is that we’ve got rain today but in New South Wales, because it’s been dry for so long, it’s not going to do much. And the flow-on effect [of the drought] is huge – farmers will be feeling this for years afterwards. The price of everything goes up if they can’t do their jobs.

For my last question, I’m going to ask about another single – the latest from your album, ‘Kissing a Girl Goodnight’. Your daughters appear in the video – were they reluctant or keen to do that?

Keen as mustard, that’s the only reason they’re in there. My wife and I had a long chat about this because once you put your kids on telly it’s not something you can put back in a bottle. Jessica flagged this with me when I recorded the album – she said, ‘Daddy, are you going to release that as a single?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I think so’, and she said, ‘When you do, can I be in the clip?’ I said, ‘Okay, Mum and Dad will talk about that.’ Then their mum quickly pointed out that you can’t have one daughter in the clip and not the other. I floated the idea with Bruce from Tribal Apes, who directed it, and he said, ‘That’d be great’. They did their hair and make-up and they had an absolute blast, and they’ll probably never be in another clip again. It was just that particular song, because of the lyric content and that last verse, it really suited to have them in it and I really wanted to do it. I’m not one to be pushing my kids on social media – it’s not something I’ve done in the past – but this just seemed to fit. And they did the clip and moved on. No one from school said anything.

And, actually, one more question. At this time of year, if I’m talking to people, I like to ask about plans for the Tamworth Country Music Festival. So what are your plans for the next few weeks, heading into January?

Lots of gigs and festivals – Brackenridge Festival, Rainbow Beach Festival. A few house concerts, which are fun. For Tamworth I’m going to do an acoustic show which I haven’t played for years. Normally I play with the band. But this time I’m going to strip it back and I’ll have a bunch of special guests come along and sing with me – people I’ve written with. Michael Carr, who I hold in great esteem as a songwriter and we’ve written lots of songs together over the years. Allan Caswell and Matty Scullion, he’ll come along as well. These guys I have a lot of respect for as songwriters and we have a lot of history together. I haven’t done it before and people don’t expect me to do it, so it might be a nice change. It’s on Tuesday the 22nd at the Mercure Hotel. It won’t be a big room so it’s not really a party vibe but it will be fun. I’ve been playing acoustic guitar since I was 16 so I feel very comfortable in that sort of environment.

www.countrymusicstampede.com

www.drewmcalistermusic.com

Coming Your Way is out now

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