Aussie Awards

The Country Music Association of Australia’s president for the past 10 years, John Williamson, quit claiming that its annual Golden Guitar music awards have become too American. 

Photo: Eva Rinaldi

“It’s as though the Golden Guitar Awards are the American Country Music Awards of Australia,” Williamson wrote in a letter to CMAA chairman Jeff Chandler. “It seems the industry is hell-bent on producing more Keith Urbans. If we are not respected as a legitimate organisation to promote original Australian country music, I cannot be associated with it any longer.”

The Golden Guitars take place Jan. 25 as the finale of the 10-day Tamworth Country Music Festival.

The festival usually allows only Australian acts to perform.

Tamworth, in New South Wales, is acknowledged as Australia’s country music capital.

Williamson, a veteran hit singer-songwriter, cited two examples of problems with the nominations.

One was that Troy Cassar-Daley and Adam Harvey’s album The Great Country Songbook – of mostly American country classics – was among the nominees for album of the year.

The other was that U.S.-based Keith Urban, although raised in Australia, is nominated for male performer of the year.

Williamson’s resignation sparked off a series of events that made it the worst week in the Golden Guitars’ 42-year history.

Cassar-Daley and Harvey pulled their album out of the race, and withdrew from performing at the festival.

They wanted to “protect what is already a fragile country music sector.”

They will still attend as spectators.

Williamson was replaced by Dobe Newton, a co-founder of the CMAA and a longtime member of the country outfit The Bushwackers.

Newton said he was “saddened” that what should have been a private debate within the CMAA board was aired in public.

He also defended the nomination of The Great Country Songbook, saying that it fitted the eligibility of the awards.

“To draw Keith Urban into the debate just makes it all the more unfortunate,” he added.

The public spat came at the tail end of two embarrassing nomination blunders.

The 200 judges had to vote a second time when two nominations, in the male performer of the year and “Bush Ballad” categories, were dropped when discovered to be ineligible.

The CMAA is moving to hose down any backlash against the awards and the festival, its most glittering event.

The festival drew 55,000 this year, and pumped A$50 million ($44.7 million) into the local economy.

James Treloar, a councilor with the Tamworth Regional Council, suggested the Council take over a greater role in running the awards to maintain their credibility.

Newton said that what constituted an “Australian” record – at a time when many Aussie acts write, record and live outside Australia – was an issue that plagued all local awards, including the major Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) awards. “We spend a lot of energy debating this when we should be celebrating,” he lamented. “But, hey, it’s Christmas time, families squabble, we’ll all get over it.”