Mike Puru: Country music is Gore's little secret

OPINION: Far, far away from the bright lights of the New Zealand Music Awards, every Queen's Birthday weekend, Gore hosts the annual NZ Country Music Awards - where songwriters are celebrated and the Best Country Album and Best Country Song are awarded.

The St James Theatre, which is locally run and owned, plays host to a part of the NZ Music Awards that never gets played out at the red carpet affair at Spark Arena - it's a little secret that Gore wants to keep.

Thursday night saw Chester Travis take out the best NZ Country Song award with 'Toothache', and Jody Direen winning the Tui for the Best Country Album with Shake Up.

Its simplistic and pure format pays tribute to music, unlike the somewhat noisy, drunken, political event that takes place in Auckland, broadcast on live TV.

The event is the start of a five-night run in Gore of packed venues and packed hotel rooms, as a record 700 entrants battle it out for country music royalty.

Friday night saw the Hands of Fame concert, where inductees Jim Sutton and Tami Neilson had their hand imprints taken for one of the many monuments in Gore that celebrate the town's overachieving status.

Saturday night plays hosts to the junior and intermediate finals, where parents proudly film their children on cell phones hoping for flawless performances.

Sunday will see the senior winner crowned with a $15,000 prize, which hopefully takes the winner to country music stardom like the very first competition back in 1974 - where country music legend Patsy Rigger became the very first winner.

Dads sing with their children, cover bands become something more than covers and the township becomes a little richer in both talent and money for the economy.

Linda Topp and Eddie Low have been spotted among the country music stars from all over the country that gather among the amateurs for a weekend of entertainment that the Queen would be proud of,

It's probably best the Country Music Awards are one the event's best-kept secrets - I just don't think it would be the same at Auckland. You would never find the tussock needed on stage anyway. 

Mike Puru is a broadcaster, host of Three's The Café and grew up in Gore.