AFTER A devastating year threw the entertainment industry into turmoil, 2021 has begun with a bang for some of country music's brightest stars.
Despite the cancellation of the Tamworth Country Music Festival (TCMF), the golden spirit of country music was in the air on the warm January 23 afternoon, as the golden carpet was rolled out for the Golden Guitar Awards 2021.
Singer-songwriter Fanny Lumsden hit the high note on Saturday, when she pulled off a stellar live performance and took home five Golden Guitar Awards for her wildly successful album Fallow.
The artist took to the stage to accept the prestigious Toyota Album of the Year and Female Artist of the Year.
Fallow was crafted in a stone cottage on Lumsden's property in southern NSW, nestled in the mountains.
The album was released into the world in the wake of devastating bushfires, and on the brink of a global pandemic.
The Leader caught up with a "nervous" but excited Lumsden before the show.
"It's a bit of a relief to know we got through it, and the album and the songs were what people needed," she said. "People needed music and people needed to be brought together so I'm super proud."
Little did she know she'd take home five awards, Lumsden said a "successful" night for her would simply have been not falling over and ruining her dress.
Lumsden will have to clear some space on the mantle at home, after she also accepted the Golden Guitar for Alt Country Album of the Year, Apple Music Single of the Year for Fierce and CMT Video of the Year for Mountain Song/This Too Shall Pass which she directed with husband Dan Stanley Freeman.
Most of Fanny's family - "the Lumsden clan" - made the trip to Tamworth to support her at the event.
The awards - hosted by Andrew Swift and Catherine Britt - marked a heartfelt reunion for the country music crew, following the blow of the coronavirus pandemic, cancelled gigs and the plug being pulled on TCMF 2021.
The 49th annual Golden Guitar Awards night was put on by Tamworth Regional Council and the Country Music Association of Australia (CMAA).
CMAA chair Dan Biddle said the night showed the resilience of the country music community - and Tamworth.
"Tamworth is the place that annually embraces the emerging, supports the established, and celebrates the long-standing careers of country music artists in Australia," he said.
"Despite the COVID climate we have all lived through in 2020, there was no exception to this tonight ... we are proud to be a part of this resilient and growing industry."
Tamworth talent Aleyce Simmonds took home a Golden Guitar Award on Saturday night, with great mates Amber Lawrence, Kirsty Lee Akers and Dianna Corcoran.
The girl squad won Vocal Collaboration of the Year for their moving all-female rendition of John Williamson's True Blue, which was created in isolation as a tribute to the people of Australia amid the COVID lockdown.
The team performed True Blue live at the ceremony.
"It's momentous to share it together and to know it was that moment of time, in coronavirus, that's why we sang it ... if we can put that in the history books we'll be really excited," Lawrence told the Leader.
The females were on fire at the awards, with the McClymont sisters winning Country Capital News Group/Duo of the Year and Contemporary Country Album of the Year for their record Mayhem to Madness.
The trio opened the event with a performance of their single I Got This, after only recently reuniting after 14 months without a gig.
Luke O'Shea was also a big name on the night, taking out the top spot for Traditional Country Album of the Year for There in the Ochre and Heritage Song of the Year with Kamilaroi man Kevin Bennett, for their collaboration Happy Australia Day.
Melody Moko went home with her first Golden Guitar Award, after being named New Talent of the Year, while the ever popular Travis Collins took out Male Artist of the Year.
Moko nabbed her first nominations, first Golden Guitar performance and first Golden Guitar trophy in the same night - all while being "heavily pregnant" with her third child.
"Just being here and being together is so special," she told the Leader.
People needed music and people needed to be brought together so I'm super proud.Fanny Lumsden
Two tributes raised the roof of the TRECC to celebrate the 50th anniversary of legendary band the Bushwackers, as well as to mark the incredible 50-year career of country music king John Williamson.
The Bushwackers' Dobe Newton and Roger Corbett were honoured on the night with an emotional induction into the Australasian Country Music Roll of Renown.
Instrumental of the Year went to The Weeping Willows with Prelude, while Song of the Year was given to Shane Nicholson and Leyon Milner.
Kristy Cox took home Bluegrass Recording of the Year for Finger Picking Good, and Bush Ballad of the Year went to Dean Perrett's Six Decks to Darwin.
The previously-announced Top Selling Album of the Year went to Keith Urban for Speed of Now, Part I.
The awards featured a smaller crowd this year and was livestreamed far and wide.
The cream of the country music industry traded lockdown trackies and "iso" outfits for sequins, suits and sparkles to celebrate the Golden Guitar Awards 2021.
Even with face masks on, there was no hiding the excitement of the stars to be back in Tamworth for country music's night of nights.
All the 2021 Toyota Golden Guitar Award winners
Toyota Album of the Year: Fallow, Fanny Lumsden
Alt Country Album of the Year:Fallow, Fanny Lumsden
Contemporary Country Album of the Year:Mayhem to Madness, The McClymonts
Traditional Country Album of the Year:There in the Ochre, Luke O'Shea
Male Artist of the Year: Travis Collins, Wreck Me
Female Artist of the Year: Fanny Lumsden, Fallow
Country Music Capital News Group/Duo of the Year: The McClymonts, Mayhem To Madness
Vocal Collaboration of the Year: Amber Lawrence, Aleyce Simmonds, Kirsty Lee Akers and Dianna Corcoran - True Blue
Bush Ballad of the Year:Six Decks to Darwin, Dean Perrett
Heritage Song of the Year:Happy Australia Day, Luke O'Shea and Kevin Bennett
Coca-Cola Instrumental of the Year:Prelude, The Weeping Willows
Bluegrass Recording of the Year: Finger Picking Good, Kristy Cox (featuring Tommy Emmanuel)
New Talent of the Year: Melody Moko, Like Hank Would
APRA AMCOS Song of the Year:The High Price of Surviving, Shane Nicholson
CMT Video of the Year: Mountain Song/This Too Shall Pass, Fanny Lumsden
Apple Music Single of the Year:Fierce, Fanny Lumsden
Top Selling Album of the Year:The Speed of Now, Part I, Keith Urban (previously announced)