As city-based music festivals drop like flies, events in the regions are soaring in popularity. Here's why

Rural festivals are taking off, and not only are they expanding, attendance numbers are skyrocketing.

Crowd at the Tamworth Country Music Festival are seen.
The Tamworth Country Music Festival attracts up to 50,000 visitors per day. Source: Supplied

Falls Festival, Groovin the Moo, Splendour in the Grass and Big Day Out — these formerly popular music festivals are just a handful on a long list of events that have fallen victim to poor ticket sales in recent years, each subsequently cancelled.

Collectively attended by hundreds of thousands around the country, these major events were once synonymous with the Australian lifestyle, but are now no more. In March, Splendour in the Grass — due to be headlined by Kylie Minogue — announced it would scrap this year's event, merely months before it was due to tour.

Organisers say the soaring costs of putting the events together, coupled with a lack of enthusiasm from the public has contributed to their downfall. But as festivals drop like flies across the nation's capital cities, a trend has emerged in the regions, but it comes as no shock to locals.

Rural festivals are taking off, and not only are they expanding, they're soaring in popularity.

Performers at the Parkes Elvis festival, which is now in its 33rd year.
Parkes Elvis is now in its 33rd year. Source: Supplied

Beef2024, held in Rockhampton in Queensland, and has affectionately been dubbed 'Cowchella', is one event that's skyrocketing in popularity. Just shy of 120,000 people attended this year alone — eclipsing the record from previous years — including over 600 international delegates from across 35 countries.

As the name suggests, the festival "promotes, advances and celebrates" our nation's sustainable beef industry. It's the largest event of its type in the southern hemisphere and was held last month.

In NSW, the National Cutting Horse Australia's (NCHA) "Futurity" event celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2024. For those unaware, horse cutting is a western-style equestrian competition in which a horse and rider work together before a judge or panel of judges to demonstrate the horse's athleticism and ability to handle cattle.

Cattle are seen at the Beef2024 festival.
Beef2024 promotes, advances and celebrates our nation's sustainable beef industry. It is the largest event of its type in the southern hemisphere. Almost 120,000 thousand attended this year. Source: Supplied

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Futurity takes place in the country music capital of Tamworth, with the 15-day competition drawing competitors and spectators from all over the world. This year, 15,000 people are expected to attend and it's estimated the festival will inject a whopping $4.5 million into the local economy as contestants compete for $800,000 worth of prizes — making it the richest cow-horse event in the southern hemisphere.

Elsewhere in NSW, Parkes' Elvis Festival — one of Australia's longest-surviving festivals — took place in January and attracted 25,000 people. Now in its 33rd year, organisers say it "provides a diverse program to suit all tastes".

Then of course there's also the Tamworth Country Music Festival and is this year celebrating its fifth decade in operation.

Performers at the Parkes Elvis festival, which attracts over 25,000 visitors.
Parkes Elvis festival attracts over 25,000 visitors who are entertained by hundreds, if not thousands of Elvis tribute artists. Source: Supplied

As Barry Harley, Events Manager with Tamworth Regional Council, told Yahoo News Australia: "In a world where some festivals are falling over or struggling to pull a crowd, our 53-year-old festival is growing younger and is more spritely than ever."

But why exactly are these rural festivals booming while their city counterparts become but a thing of the past?

According to National Cutting Horse Australia (NCHA) General Manager Wayne Brown, there are multiple factors at play.

Speaking to Yahoo, Brown said "a lot of people started to get out into regional areas" and "better understand what there was on offer" during the pandemic, when we could only travel domestically.

"I think there's been a flow-on effect from that," Brown said. "For us, certainly in agricultural equine sports. We believe there's a 'Yellowstone effect' — cowboys are in again, and that lifestyle.

"It also comes down to awareness. People are becoming aware that our regional centres are certainly becoming a little more sophisticated. So a city person might come up to attend this event and enjoy the lifestyle, but can still have a good coffee and go out to dinner.

"It's very much the attraction — it's pretty wholesome. We're also very family friendly and I believe most of those agricultural and regional events are. We're very inclusive."

National Cutting Horse Australia (NCHA) General Manager Wayne Brown.
National Cutting Horse Australia (NCHA) General Manager Wayne Brown said people are 'rediscovering the regions again'. Source: Supplied

Brown said that across the regions "we've got better at embracing social media" and "how we market ourselves" to a "much broader" audience — adding that he sees people attend who are from "all over the country", a sentiment other event organisers share.

He said "interest is up about 10 per cent" year on year.

Beef Australia Chair Bryce Camm said that what makes up "part of the regional festival magic" is its authenticity and the fact they're "completely unlike going to a music festival in Brisbane or the Sydney Royal Easter Show".

"There is a sense of amazement when you walk through the crowds of people that have never been before and also, in some ways, a sense of pride that a regional area can deliver world-class events with limited infrastructure," he told Yahoo.

"When something like Beef, that only comes around every three years, comes to town, people make a special effort to attend. And we're definitely seeing that."

According to Harley, affordability is a major draw card for many people who travel to the regions to attend these events. “Tamworth hosts 1800-plus events each January and about 70 per cent of those are free — in venues, on the streets, in our parks” he told Yahoo News Australia.

"People come and, sensibly, could spend the whole 10 days here and not spend a penny. It's a very affordable festival, yet injects over 50 million dollars into the Tamworth economy, which is a great boost for the Capital of Country."

Horses are seen herding cattle at the National Cutting Horse Australia (NCHA) ‘Futurity’ event.
The National Cutting Horse Australia (NCHA) ‘Futurity’ event this year celebrated its 50-year anniversary. Source: Supplied

Joel Ulbricht, Parke's Elvis Festival producer, attributes the event's long-term success to its distinctly rural location.

"The beauty of the Parkes Elvis Festival is that it's a family-friendly festival that provides a diverse program to suit all tastes," he told Yahoo. "The added benefit of being the Central West is the chance to travel to other smaller towns and experience the great hospitality of country NSW."

With the future of big city-based festivals hanging in the balance, festival-loving Aussies should consider travelling inland, Brown says. "People are basically rediscovering the regions again, they come here and make friends in the town and come back. And it's great to see," he said.

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