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Still involved: Reg McTaggart remains an Arrowtown Autumn Festival regular

Involved in the Arrowtown Autumn Festival even before day one, renowned local country musician Reg McTaggart is still playing a part during this week’s 35th festival.

The 73-year-old was a friend and sometime bandmate of festival founder Ross Martin.

“At that stage Arrowtown wasn’t doing very good at all in the off-season, so he had this idea to put people in beds.”

Sadly, Martin suffered a heart attack on the eve of the first festival.

He discharged himself from hospital in time for the official opening but died about 10 days later, McTaggart says.

“He wrote all the thank you letters for everyone that was involved and lay down and died.”

McTaggart – awarded life membership of the festival in 2009 – says the focus in the early days was on entertainment and dancing, including two-hour lunchtime shows on the main street.

Locals were also encouraged to dress in period costume.

“The Miners Band probably never would have happened if it hadn’t been for the festival.

“And the same with the Buckingham Belles.”

The Crown Terrace Hillbillies – a parody of TV’s Beverly Hillbillies – were a daily highlight.

Their truck included “every bit of junk you can imagine”, hens, a dog and a Shetland pony, and Jim Mortimer’s homemade sake which was a hit with the Miners Band.

McTaggart used to provide the sound equipment for all the shows, including country music concerts featuring stars like Suzanne Prentice and Patsy Riggir.

The concert’s fallen by the wayside, but there are still shows by the Shotover Country Music Club, which McTaggart’s the president of – as always it’s on the last day of festival, this Sunday.

His partner Glenys Stankovich says he’s still a heart-throb of the country music scene, even though his band, Kawarau County, is long gone.

“He starts singing and all these old ladies start screaming.

“This lady came up to me, and she was reasonably older, and she said, ‘if I could just get to that man he’d be all mine’.

“I said, ‘you’ve got to get past me first’.”

arrowtownautumnfestival.co.nz

Variety show

A new variety show at last year’s Akarua Arrowtown Autumn Festival was so popular it’s being held over two nights this time.

organised by Queenstowner Margaret O’Hanlon and Arrowtowner Charlotte Graf, runs tomorrow and on Saturday at the Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall, starting 7.15pm.

Designed to unearth local hidden talent, the show’s inspired by old-fashioned vaudeville, with crazy acts.

Tickets $85, plus fees, from eventfinda.com

Meanwhile the New Zealand gold-panning champs, on Sunday, again feature.

It’s being held at Butlers Green – registration from 9.30am, finals 3pm.

Anyone can enter up to three categories as many times as they like.

It’s free to try your hand in a practice tub, but $15 for your first entry and $10 thereafter.

– PHILIP CHANDLER