No end in sight for Barnes' stunning rise

Growing up in Launceston, Casey Barnes dreamed of seeing his name on the blackboard that announced that week's musical act at his local Irish pub.

"When I was 17 or 18 years old, I used to walk past and go if I can get my name on that blackboard, then I've hit the big time and I've made it," he told AAP.

"Funnily enough, my first ever gig was playing at that Irish pub."

Despite his down-to-earth demeanour, Barnes' career has been a procession of setting new goals and smashing them.

Since moving to the Gold Coast and starting playing professionally, he has risen up the ranks of Australian country music to become one of its most successful practitioners.

"As you go through your career, you just keep having those moments," he continued.

"My first CD I got as a kid was Bryan Adams' Greatest Hits and so I used to sit in my bedroom, and play every song and learn it back to front.

"Fast forward to 2005, my first big break in music, I got to open for him when he came on tour."

Much like his idol growing up, John Denver, Barnes has an easy country charm and a disarming, clean-cut aesthetic.

Having scooped the ARIA for Best Country Album, his latest release Light it Up is a hot favourite for the Album of the Year award at Saturday night's Golden Guitars ceremony.

The awards night, which Barnes will headline, is the culmination of a phenomenal 12 months for the former Australian Idol contestant.

Light it Up has already taken out the Top Selling Album of the Year award and Barnes will be hopeful of more wins with a further five Golden Guitar nominations, his most so far.

Despite his recent success, Barnes is not content to rest on his laurels just yet.

He still has to pinch himself when he thinks about how far he's come, from that Irish pub down the road in Tasmania to country music's biggest night in Tamworth.

"You never take it for granted," he said.

"That's my favourite part of the whole thing - getting out and playing in front of a live audience and the bigger the crowd, the better."

Having reached the pinnacle of the country scene in Australia, Barnes is setting his sights on the US, where he has already spent time writing songs in the spiritual home of country music - Nashville.

But no matter the success he may find in the US, Barnes has no intention of abandoning his homeland any time soon, and thinks Australian country music is in the best shape ever.

"I love doing as much as I can in Australia.

"There's so much diversity at the moment for all these new artists coming through and I think it's exciting."

After two COVID-affected festivals, the timing is right for Barnes' breakthrough year. With fans thronging back to Tamworth, this year's atmosphere is all the more special.

"You've just got to walk around town and you can see the numbers are huge and all the shows are selling out," he said.

"I think everyone has missed that personal connection that you only get when you come to a festival like this one.

"One thing we've learned from the pandemic is we're never going to take live music for granted again.

"That special magic that only happens when you go to a show, it's something that you can't replicate."