ALL MUSTER-ED OUT: 24 hours at the Gympie music festival
AS A journalist, I always strive to find a unique angle on the stories I cover.
So, when I was invited to emcee on various stages at the 2019 Gympie Music Muster, I saw an opportunity to bring a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the world-renowned festival to readers.
More than 15,000 attendees went to the festival, and each person would have experienced the Muster differently.
Below is a day at the Gympie Music Muster through my set of nearly-40-year-old, country-music-loving eyes.
My Muster diary kicks off on the morning of day two at the popular country music festival.
I woke surprisingly refreshed after a monumental evening of Muster fun and I was greeted by a very bright Queensland sun.
Sitting in my rickety, rusty, Rolling Stones camp chair, which is nearly as old as Mick and Keith themselves, I had a moment to reflect on the previous night's events and plan for another exciting day at the Muster.
A radio announcer friend, who was roughing it in the tent next door to me, had very kindly made me a lovely cup of coffee which went far beyond the camp-quality brew I was expecting, and with that my day was under way.
My nearly-16-year-old son, who was masquerading as my official photographer, was still fast asleep in his tent.
Rather than wait until noon for him to rise, I decided to go and assess the quality of the festival showers.
I hastily returned to my tent with my toiletry bag and Spider-Man towel in hand, no closer to washing away the smoke and good times of the previous evening.
The resident evil magpie was keeping a watchful eye on all festival-goers and would proudly swoop down on any he did not like the look of.
For reasons unbeknownst to me, I was one such person.
But I'm nothing if not persistent, so I let that pesky magpie know in no uncertain terms I would return again in due time for the next battle.
From a distance obviously.
After observing and smelling some of the other festival-goers, I realised I wasn't the only one who had missed out on a shower that morning.
I came to the conclusion that starting the day clean and fresh wasn't as necessary as I had previously thought.
As the hoards of Muster-ians made their way into the festival with camp chairs in hand, I witnessed an unusual sight.
In some weird kind of unspoken rule, festival attendees would set up their chairs at the Main Stage arena and then leave them behind.
Like a family dropping an unwanted puppy off at the pound, they spared no thought for the chair.
What I realised very quickly was this strange phenomenon gave the owner of the now-abandoned chair prime Muster viewing for the headline acts later that evening.
Some people went so far as to rope off their three-by-three metre squared blanketed area, like police officers roping off a crime scene.
What it meant was the evening attendees who arrived five minutes before Kasey Chambers was to take the stage, looking for a decent spot to set up their cumbersome camp chairs, had about as much chance of a good spot as I have of singing on the main stage, or any stage for that matter.
Or as it is referred to by many Muster attendees, time for another beer.
There were plenty of good food options to choose from at the Gympie Muster.
The one food stall that stood out for me made boastful claims they made the "best chips in the universe”.
I tried some, and they weren't too bad. I've had better chips in other galaxies, but these were certainly Earth-quality chips.
I had the privilege of emceeing on various stages throughout the festival and, being backstage you get to meet a range of weird and wonderful characters.
No one fit that mould more than a genuine Australian icon, the 'Sheik form Scrubby Creek', Mr Chad Morgan.
Introducing some of these well-known acts and household names was a daunting task, and in the lead-up to being on stage with country music royalty such as Morgan I'll admit I had the odd butterfly or two.
Even at 86, when Morgan hobbled into the backstage area on crutches he had a similar presence I assume world leaders have when they enter a room.
Everyone immediately stopped what they were doing and either helped the country music icon with his equipment and other bits and pieces, or they just sat frozen, their jaws open wide.
Embarrassingly for me, I was the latter.
One of the unique things about the Gympie Muster is the variety of talent on one of the five different stages.
One minute you can be enjoying upbeat tunes from a young, up-and-coming Taylor-Swift-inspired tween full of hopes and dreams of mega-stardom, with a guitar in one hand and an Instagram account in the other.
A short, but dusty walk later, you are transported to the complete rock-hypnotic experience that is Cruel Sea frontman Tex Perkins or INXS founder Andrew Farriss or international artist Micki Free, who can play guitar like Picasso could paint, like Michael Jackson could dance and like I can procrastinate.
Just being in the presence of these guys, raised my cool-factor exponentially.
Which to be fair, my mum tells me was all ready pretty high.
I had spoken to the founder of the international headlining act, Hayseed Dixie on radio only days before the Muster, so when I saw John Wheeler walking through the festival, I took the opportunity to introduce myself.
We spent a couple of minutes talking about the hard-hitting world issues, like the quality of Australian coffee and why he was wearing shorts on such a chilly evening.
That's the great thing about the Muster - one minute you can be walking along minding your own business and the next minute you walk into an international music star.
Some people find a dollar coin on the ground. Me, I find rock stars.
One of the other festival emcees had called in sick from one too many lemonades the night before, and yours truly was summoned over to the Crow Bar.
Or as I lovingly called it, the Loud, Scary Bar.
The Crow Bar is the loudest, rocking-est venue at the Gympie Country Music Muster.
This particular night it was so cold, one of the thoughtful musicians decided he would warm the audience up by setting his guitar on fire.
Yep, he really did.
Once my emcee duties were over, I left the well-mannered Bundaberg Rum-drinking, Driza-Bone-wearing folk behind and made the peaceful walk back to my tent.
What I have realised during my life is every time I go to a musical festival it rains.
For a state in dire need of water, I was naively confident that my presence at the Gympie Muster would open up the heavens.
In a bitter-sweet moment, Mother Nature chose to make her presence felt and it rained all the way back to my tent.
Sadly it cut out once I was zipped up in my tent.
So did I shortly after.
My highly-anticipated sleep was interrupted consistently throughout the night by a combination of boisterous campers with one too many lemonades under their belt and truck drivers with the less-than-enviable job of emptying the well attended port-a-loos.
A lesson to all virgin festival campers, don't set your tent up right next to the main thoroughfare.
However I hid my frustrations, as regularly maintained festival restrooms were way more important than my quality of sleep.
I woke with a minor sore back and major big smile, reminiscing after a night of world-class entertainment.
Camp mornings at a music festival are an interesting spectacle to behold.
Some people hover proudly over their barbecue plates preparing the morning fry-up, some are focused on their six-strings with a new-found passion after seeing some of the world's best the night before.
As for me, I pulled up my big-boy undies and set about preparing myself for the round two battle against my nemesis, the black and white winged warrior.
Regardless of whether you are a country music fan or not, the Gympie Muster is a must-do experience for any Queenslander.
A huge pat on the back to all the organisers, artists, volunteers, but most importantly to the thousands and thousands of county music fans who attended.
It's only from punters like you spending their hard-earned on live entertainment that allows this important tradition to continue to flourish.