Cowboy hats, checkered shirts, leather boots and sheriff badges were the dress code of the day as nearly 2,000 people filled the pavilion of Parkcity Everly Hotel in Miri, Sarawak, while the inaugural Miri Country Music Festival got underway. If the idea of a country music festival in Malaysia confuses you, you don’t know East Malaysia as well as you thought.
“Not just in Miri, but also Kuching, they seem to love country music,” said festival artistic director Asif Pishori. “You walk into a bar here and you’ll see a cowboy with his hat sitting at the bar, having a drink and selling his keropok.” He laughed. “I notice Miri people just dress naturally like cowboys.”
Fans go through the secrets of country music during "The Sounds of Nashville" workshop.
Organised by Parkcity Everly and UCSI Communications, the festival featured eight bands from Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and the US. Highlighted by Johnny Rodgers Band (“We wanted a band from Nashville,” said Pishori, “since Nashville is the home of country music.”), it also featured Corn Cake Kings (KL), Hi Breed (Kuching), D’Renegades (Kota Kinabalu), Country Road (Miri), Mel & Joe (Singapore), Wandering Mustangs (Singapore) and Eia and the Superband (Brunei), each bringing a unique take to the beloved genre.
East Malaysia has been home to many music festivals, and Miri itself has hosted the Asia Music Festival and Borneo Jazz, among others. Organisers of the Miri Country Music Festival intend for the festival to be a fixture in the East Malaysian music landscape and have taken the long view. “The next event is going to be on February 7, 2015,” said Pishori, who also plays the keyboard for D’Renegades. “We’ve actually tied up with Parkcity Everly Hotel for at least the next five years. The first one is to get the ball rolling and I think we’ve already created an awareness of this festival. Now we just want it to grow further and further. We want it to be huge.”
Jeffrey Hardy Quah is deputy editor of Penang Monthly.