THE COST of a COVID-19 outbreak means 2021 will mark the first Tamworth Country Music Festival in 49 years devoid of caravans, cowboys and country music.
Tamworth Regional Council has voted to suspend all of its TCMF activities amid the pandemic and endorse the production of the Golden Guitar Awards as a virtual event.
Councillor Glenn Inglis said it wasn't just the council cancelling activities, The Pub Group and Wests Entertainment Group had also canned shows.
"If ever I didn't want to move a motion its this one but my conscience gives me no choice, for me this decision is unavoidable," he said.
"We also have a fundamental role to protect our community, the police and public health organisations already support this decision.
"I don't think we are going to have mass-gatherings allowed in this country until we have a vaccine."
The vote was unanimous, and councillor Helen Tickle said the health and wellbeing of the community had to be the priority.
"It is great we are still going to have the 49th country music awards with a worldwide audience that everyone can tune into, regardless of where they live," she said.
"Of course there will be a big build up to the 50th."
The decision was not made lightly, as the festival brings an expected $50 million into the local economy; but as TRC's acting director of growth and prosperity Anna's Russell's report to councillors noted "if the pandemic were to reach our community, [it would] overwhelm any immediate or future benefits gained from hosting any events."
"In the worst case scenario the COVID-19 pandemic could be brought to the community by festival visitors and spread unchecked until community transmission is not able to be controlled.
"In this scenario the region would suffer a tragic loss of life, health authorities and emergency services would be overwhelmed and many residents would become critically ill."
The council claims the festival's brand would also be at risk if it served as a "super spreader" event that put other regions at risk as visitors return to their own communities.
The state government has banned festivals and outdoor gatherings of more than 20 people due to the challenge of maintaining social distancing in large crowds.
As the pandemic continued to worsen, festival organisers considered three options to move forward; the business as usual approach, a seven-day concert series at TRECC and the awards as a virtual event.
The concert series was ruled out due to logistical complications in making sure any visitors to the area were not from COVID-19 "hot-spots", so the risk of importing the disease remained.
A live-streamed Golden Guitar Awards would still see appearances from major country music artists and is possible within the council's budgets.
The awards celebrate the best productions and performers in Australian country music and are the pinnacle event of the industry.
Forecasts predict the financial cost to run a socially-distanced festival would not have been feasible, with the net cost to the community in 2019 to 2020 around $568,000 for operation and management that are usually offset by ticket sales and corporate sponsors.
Without buskers, street stalls, venue hire, souvenirs, camping fees and the official gig guide sales, it's unlikely the council could recoup costs to the community.