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This Is What It's Like Being "Alternative" In A Country Music Town

Tamworth is a town known for having the largest country music festival in Australia – but its youth want you to know there's much more to it than that.

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“You’re expected to finish school, go to university, get a job, retire, and die. Being a farmer, learning a trade. You do something different to that and no one really likes it when you do things outside the box.”

Sam Jackson is the drummer in Traces, a metal/rock band from the outback Australian city of Tamworth. He and his three bandmates are talking to me in a local pub about life in a city that revolves around farming, mining, and its golden guitar. Tamworth, a six hour drive from Sydney, is famous for hosting Australia’s largest country music festival.

“There’s not really much to do unless you go out and make something to do yourself,” says the band’s singer, Jack Pallett. “Most people our age, they just go out and get drunk and don’t really do anything with their lives … Down here no one is doing a degree.”

With just one long main street making up most of “downtown”, boredom is a big issue in Tamworth. The youth are left to find their own outlets – and the boys from Traces chose music. They play most of their gigs at the Tamworth youth centre, known as “The Youthie”.

“Sydney, there’s actually shit to do there”, Pallett tells BuzzFeed News. “You can go out and actually do something that isn’t just going into K-Mart and looking at what’s new.”

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The Tamworth Country Music Festival – which next year will mark its 45th anniversary – brings tens of thousands of people into the city, as well as millions of dollars. But it’s seen by much of Tamworth’s younger population as a necessary evil. Young people in Tamworth don’t really like country music, explains Pallett – but it is so central to the town’s economy that it can’t be ignored.

“It goes back to that whole money thing, where everyone here is OK with it because they’ll get money from it,” Pallett says. “And there’s no risk, there’s no nothing. In general, the general population [here], they’re not big on risks.”

A growing disillusionment with the country music genre, and the Old Tamworth it represents, has seen the town’s younger residents branch out.

The band’s guitarist, Isaiah Olig-Grennan, says the town’s lack of versatility when it comes to music makes it hard to try new things.

“Tamworth isn’t a place that’s as versatile as, say, Sydney or Melbourne”, he says. “Pretty much you play a pub here, you’re expected to play The Eagles, Creedence, or Jimmy Barnes.”

“We could play country tunes but then as soon as you start screaming they’re not interested,” says Olig-Grennan.

Next year, the boys hope to get a spot in the festival. But to appeal to more people – and get more paying gigs – they’ll have to move away from the more “screamo” side of the metal genre.

“A lot of people are stuck in their ways,” adds keyboardist and vocalist Ryan Crane. “They’re not open to change. They’ve done the same thing for 40 years.”

All four members of Traces feel acutely aware of their “other” status in the conservative country town. Pallett, Olig-Grennan, and Jackson have hairstyles that Pallett says immediately mark them as different. Crane has a standard-issue haircut – short back and sides – but the snakebite piercings on each side of his bottom lip do enough to make him look radical for Tamworth.

Brad Esposito for BuzzFeed News

“There’s that whole outside the box stigma,” says Pallett. “You don’t feel welcome. I mean you go outside… I’ve got a weird haircut, he’s got a weird haircut … people [think] that we’re, like, thugs.”

The band has noticed a change in the town as they’ve grown up. The streets of their youth, lined with Christmas lights and decorations, are now filled with supermarkets and hairdressers. “It used to be more of a community feel for everyone,” says Olig-Grennan.

“It seemed like more people gave a crap,” says Pallett. “Basically, I think it’s Barnaby [Joyce, deputy prime minister and member for New England]. Barnaby kinda drives into that direction where there’s no community. When we were kids you could probably go up to the council and say ‘we want to run an event for the community’ but nowadays, they’d just say ‘we’re not making money off of this, so no’.”

“Barnaby pushes against the whole ‘community do what you feel is right’ kinda thing. To me you could almost relate him to Donald Trump in a way.”

“What I’ve noticed about Barnaby is that he’s different when the cameras are on.”

Traces is setting off on their first big tour on June 25, visiting Brisbane before making their way down the east coast to Melbourne. The boys hope that by pushing further against the norm they can inspire others in Tamworth.

“There’s no older people saying ‘Here’s music, here’s a doorway’,” says Olig-Grennan. “We kinda want to show younger kids out there that there’s more.”

You can follow Traces on Facebook here, and check out their website here.

Brad Esposito is a news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Brad Esposito at bradley.esposito@buzzfeed.com.

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