Pack a guitar and a dream for Tamworth

The Bushwackers had never heard of Tamworth before they rolled into town for the country music festival in 1981.

The folk artists were far more comfortable on the Melbourne pub scene when they won their first Golden Guitar award that year.

"We were pretty full of ourselves," songwriter and guitarist Roger Corbett told AAP.

"We're all from Melbourne, so we're wearing black t-shirts and we drove up thinking 'Where the hell are we going? It's miles out of our way'."

The band, whose songs are layered with trilling fiddles, weeping accordions and the thrum of a tea chest bass, fronted country music royalty to accept their gong for Instrumental of the Year.

"Us scruffy lads had to walk past the glitterati, like Slim Dusty, and they were all dressed up to the max.

"It was quite wild, and from then on we were hooked."

The Tamworth Country Music Festival will celebrate its 51st year when it kicks off on Friday, attracting tens of thousands of visitors to the NSW New England region.

More than 100 artists will perform at the main arena across 10 days, including Golden Guitar winners Shane Nicholson and Ashleigh Dallas, while other musicians transform the streets, pubs and clubs into stages.

The Tamworth Pub Group will host 135 shows across its five venues. It has been preparing for a year, ensuring hundreds of extra beer kegs are on hand for thirsty revellers.

The group's spokeswoman Skye Smith said tickets have been selling fast after years marked by COVID-19 and extreme weather.

"We haven't had a proper festival for years," Ms Smith said.

"Everyone's coming back in droves and we're getting a sense that it's going to be bigger and better than ever."

Corbett said the festival endures as a source of hope for aspiring musicians.

"If you have a guitar and a dream, you can walk in from anywhere.

"Everyone can get a go, from the eight-year-old beginner on the street to Troy Cassar-Daley and Lee Kernaghan."

Four decades after his first trip to the country capital, Corbett runs The Country Music Academy, which hosts intensive songwriting and performance courses for emerging artists.

"Americans are the keepers of the country music flame. We want to compete with them and keep making people like Keith Urban and Morgan Evans," Corbett said.

"One of the great joys is seeing people blossom and develop."

Student Alison Clapson, a singer and guitarist, writes about life's highs, lows and mundanities.

"Some of my songs are about past experiences, or grief, or trying to be perfect in a non-perfect world, like stumbling in high heels," she said.

Ms Clapson, a 52-year-old book keeper from the NSW south coast, is learning the bass guitar, determined to break the instrument's macho mould.

"It's the coolest instrument around, and if you can learn it, nail it and be female - well, go me."