Tamworth's talent pipeline in rude health

On a quiet street in the north end of town, punters packed into the Tamworth Hotel know they're in on the country music festival's best kept secret.

Kevin Bennett and the Flood have for years made the pub's back courtyard their own, accompanied by a cavalcade of country music icons, such as Kasey Chambers and Paul Kelly, who regularly crash their shows unannounced to play an intimate, free gig.

But even with a surprise appearance from Golden Guitar record holder Troy Cassar-Daley, the biggest revelation of the night was a young musician from Tamworth's Academy of Country Music.

At 16 years old, guitarist Rory Phillips is the youngest member of the senior academy, which is normally restricted to students over 18.

A prodigious talent on acoustic, electric or bass guitar, Phillips is already an old hand with four years of experience playing for legendary country-folk band The Bushwackers and a number one single on the AMRAP regional charts under his belt.

The Tumut local grew up with a guitar in his hand, fed a consistent diet of Eagles and classic rock tunes.

It was only through a chance encounter with country music legend Bill Chambers at a concert that put him on the path to Tamworth.

"Bill was standing out in the foyer meeting people and I went up to him as a little nine-year-old," Phillips told AAP.

"Mum and Bill exchanged some details and she sent a video to Bill and clearly he thought I was good enough.

"And he said, 'Well, if you take him to Tamworth, I'll put him on my show.'"

Once in Tamworth, it didn't take long for the Bushwackers' Roger Corbett to notice Phillips' potential and offer him a role in the band.

"It's not an easy gig, playing bass in the Bushwackers," says Kevin Bennett.

"It's a lot of jigs and reels, and stops and starts."

At 70, Bennett is still busy making music, collaborating with Cassar-Daley on his recent single Back on Country, which the two performed together at the Tamworth Country Music Festival.

He says mentoring at the academy fills him with the energy of youth.

"I really enjoyed meeting up with young people who were full of beans about music and just reflecting what you were like when you were 18, 19, 20," he told AAP.

Country music has always taken particular interest in nurturing the next generation.

The academy as well as Tamworth's Star Maker contest have produced a steady stream of talent that have gone on to international success, including Lee Kernaghan, Jessica Mauboy and Keith Urban.

But Bennett says there's more to the academy than a stepping stone to fame.

"If someone comes to our program and says 'I'm the next superstar and I'm ready to go and work hard to do it', that's great," he said.

"But in my opinion, it's as much of a success if someone goes home and goes 'you know what, I'm gonna be a butcher and play music on the weekend'.

"I think that's a success as well."