“Country music is about life,” says Max McCauley, who discovered a love of yodelling as a youngster and is now an active, guitar-playing member of the Gore Country Music Club. He’s fond of songs about mucking in, about working hard and rising to challenges.

It makes sense that such music would appeal to folk in Gore. It’s a working town and country’s a working man’s music. It fits the niche of a rural service centre.

But walking around Gore, there’s not much evidence of country music. There’s a guitar sculpture in Tamworth Garden and, below it, imprints of famous musical hands – Suzanne Prentice, Patsy Rigger, Ray Columbus – line-dance across a low concrete wall. A bogan car slowing for a roundabout might surprise with Slim Dusty blaring from its stereo. In the excellent museum behind the iSite, homage is paid to country crooner Tex Morton.

And, come June, the Gold Guitar Awards take Gore by storm. This event is a big deal. Organised by the Gore Country Music Club, it’s been going 40 years. Last year it attracted 650 entries and 5000 visitors to town.

Peter Cairns is Club President, the 1984 winner of the Gold Guitar, music shop owner and music teacher. His wife’s involved in the club, both their daughters are musicians – and now a granddaughter is learning to strum and sing.

“A lot of it is the family thing and part of the success of the scene here is that generations are involved, people carry it on.”

Guitar players in GoreNathan Abernethy, who hosts the very popular country music show on Hokonui Gold (94.5 FM) every second Wednesday, recalls being dragged to the Gold Guitar talent quest each Queen’s Birthday as a kid. These days, he’s more likely to escape town that particular weekend, and is as likely to have AC/DC as Shania Twain on his car stereo. But he’s still a country music fan.

“Yeah, I was brought up with it. Dad and a group of friends were in a band. Country music appeals to a lot of people – and a lot of people are dedicated to it. Even if they’re not musicians, they get involved.”

Not everyone is into it, of course – and some locals cringe at the country music tag. Jim Geddes, director of the Eastern Southland Art Gallery and cultural ambassador of Gore, acknowledges a healthy local appetite for country music but, he says, “It’s not all-encompassing or all-embracing.

“Historically, it comes from the ‘entertain yourself’ thing of New Zealand country areas...”

And, he’s happy to report the scene is evolving, like the genre itself.

“We run the Hokonui Moonshiners Festival, which is about food and booze but also country music – but it’s quirky and alternative and appeals to a different audience than the Gold Guitars might. It’s a bit edgy. Someone from that audience might have Gillian Welch or Lucinda Williams on the stereo in the Commodore.”

Some would say that country music has something for everyone. Those same people might describe Gore like that, too.

Reported by Kathryn Webster for our AA Directions Spring 2020 issue

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