Mustering up time for farming and music

Stanthorpe-based farmer and entertainer James Blundell.

James Blundell, who is heading to the Gympie Muster in August, is balancing two of the most fickle industries in the world – music and farming but the Stanthorpe-based country music star couldn’t be happier.

James loves his farm and his music, he loves mentoring young singers – something he has been doing increasingly and it’s clear he loves the Granite Belt, where he was born and continues to live and farm.

“I have actually committed my adult life to the two most fickle industries known to man kind which are music and farming and it’s still about a 50-50 split,” he said.

“I still don’t know which is the most fickle because while they can both be very demanding they both also have incredible rewards.

“I do spend more of my time on the property now than I have in the past 30 years.

“There’s several reasons for that – A) because I want to and I love running the place but also touring as I knew it during the middle of my career simply doesn’t exist anymore.

“We used to go away for 12 weeks at a time and play five nights a week or six nights sometimes and the night you had was by choice.

“I work a lot with young artists and I’m very frustrated for them that the opportunity for to perform is simply not there.

“You have to have a venue that’s prepared to take a risk on you, they’re fairly scarce and there’s an American model that you’re obliged to follow, if you are going to perform at a venue you have to bring 20-30 of your own patrons.

“It’s all arse about that’s my belief. The venues should provide platforms for the artists to play at and the strength of the artists will draw a crowd.

“That’s the correct value of that equation and they are few and far between and consistent touring wow – I was only reading an article about major festivals, established for 15-20 years are finding it impossible to make the sums add up which is concerning.”

Two festivals that are doing well and are close to Blundell’s heart are the Gympie Muster, August 22-25 and Country on Keppel, 12-14. He loves them both and will be heading to both of them during the next two months.

Country on Keppel is particularly close to James’ heart as it was the brain child of his late brother, former Southern Downs Regional Council Mayor Peter Blundell who died of cancer in late 2021 after a battle with cancer.

“It is, it’s funny, I was just thinking of him,” he said.

“I’m just driving home from town to get some cattle feed ,I think about Pete all the time.

“He and I, were very close but we actually didn’t see much of each other, we had very different lives but Pete was a very good musician and a great consumer of music.

“When he approached me ten years ago saying he’d moved to Keppel and he was working up there, that was the happiest period of his life.

“He said I’ve suggested we have a country festival on Keppel, what do you think? I said – that is the best idea of heard in about 20 years.

“The festival and management on Keppel they perpetuate Pete’s memory and if Pete would have wanted a legacy of any sort it would have been to do with music so it’s very special.”

“I love the Gympie Muster – that’s a matter of record from the first time I went there thirty years ago (not so late last century),” he laughed.

“I expected it to be quite a small affair, 4-500 people with picnic baskets and blankets and went over the hill, well before it was the size event it is now, and there were 8,000 people and I thought oh my god. But I’ve just loved it ever since, it’s just always been a great vibe.”

And while Blundell shakes his head at the state of the touring music scene these days it might surprise you to know he classes himself as one of the few members of the music industry who believes that the Covid Lockdown had a positive side too- particularly for his home region and State.

“I am one of the handful of people in the entertainment industry who think covid was singularly the best thing that happened to regional Qld because we are adventurous travellers that’s what we do but not enough of us have a look around home before we compare it to other places,” he said.

“At my stage in life and having been really fortunate and travelled extensively for my adult life, once you’ve done that you come back to Australia and you really recognise the quality of life that we have and the vast array of opportunities available to travel domestically…….. (during Covid) people had to have a look around home they are suddenly discovering things.”

One of those things is the Granite Belt.

“I got to Sydney in the 80s I watched the Southern Highlands, Berrima, Bowral blow up, they were just quaint little destinations in the mid 80s and within five years you couldn’t get a bed there all year, it wasn’t just weekends or summer or winter.

“And the granite belt region is doing the same. I feel quite privileged to watch it happen twice in a lifetime.”

He said he was really enjoying people “finding” the region and discovering the joys of the area, that locals have enjoyed all along.

“All the locals laugh, we love it, we don’t want to leave here but locals (and I was born in the Stanthorpe Hospital) we love the fact that while we’re bracing and making sure we have plenty of inside firewood, you’ll see the weather report – Stanthorpe is minus six and people turn up in droves,” he said.

“You go are you mad? Do you know what minus six actually feels like?

“But it’s interesting, the Warwick region I think has been a sleeper for ages around Killarney and Yangan there’s some gorgeous places there.

“And obviously as a primary producer the other thing I’m very favourable towards is paddock to plate and produce between the Southern Darling Downs and the Granite Belt, there’s nothing better.

“We have some of the best vineyards in Australia now and the boutique market meat and livestock quality is second to none. I’m fortunate enough to be old enough now to know quality does count and it is it’s own promotion and people are discovering the region and I get very proud of it.”

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