Rising country music star Blake O'Connor says his head is still spinning one year after winning the Tamworth Star Maker competition.
It wasn't too long ago that the 19-year-old stood on Peel Street, the NSW city's main drag, and busked outside a jewellery store.
O'Connor performed three shows on the main stage this week, was invited to play with country music legend Troy Cassar-Daley at a fan breakfast, and has been nominated for two Golden Guitars for best new talent and male artist of the year.
The young man from Port Macquarie has also found a strong fan in Ray Hadley, who excitedly told O'Connor he'd "never have to work a day in his life" after hearing him perform live on radio.
He says he knows full well what the Tamworth Country Music Festival has done for his burgeoning career.
"Tamworth gave me my start," he told AAP on Friday.
"It's hard to believe that three years ago I was busking in the street, trying to get a gig - to have the success I've been given has been amazing."
But while Tamworth opened doors for O'Connor, it was sheer hard work that allowed him to reach Star Maker in the first place.
His mum was diagnosed with a brain tumour when he was 13 - a frightening period for the teenager that led him to find solace by playing guitar in his room for marathon periods.
"Not knowing if she was going to pull through was scary and I found music was a big outlet for me," O'Connor said.
"I was playing guitar for six or seven hours a day non-stop. That's all I did. She's good as gold now though."
O'Connor also hoped Tamworth's music festival could help people from different communities affected by drought and fires.
"Music is such a healing thing and Tamworth is the perfect place for that to happen," he said.
O'Connor's greatest mentors have been country music couple Adam Eckersley and Brooke McClymont.
The three toured together while Eckersley also produced O'Connor's debut album, Everything I Feel, released in July.
"You learn so much by watching them live," he said.
And while O'Connor dreams of one day playing at the picturesque Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado, he was recently tempted to briefly swap his guitar for a pair of footy boots.
The diehard Panthers fan played rugby league for seven years, at one point representing the group three Newcastle Knights Academy.
O'Connor remains just a handful of appearances shy of his 100th match for local club Port City Breakers, and after playing a gig at home one day was encouraged by his mates to complete the milestone.
"If not music then I always wanted to be a footy player," he said.
"I've bailed on that now though because if I break my hand then I would be stuffed."
Australian Associated Press