ON New Year's Eve as fire ripped through Cobargo, the heart of Hunter Valley musician Hendrik de Vries was breaking.
He was horrified as messages from friends arrived on his phone, detailing the destruction of the pretty NSW south coast village, renown for its vibrant arts community and folk festival.
Father and son Robert and Patrick Salway died attempting to save their property near Cobargo and the village's historic main street, which is usually alive with tourists over the New Year's period, was destroyed along with many homes.
Nine years earlier de Vries had relocated from Cobargo, where he owned an organic orchard and art gallery and cafe in the main street, and he has maintained strong roots with the town.
"Friends have described leaving their house with minimal oxygen in the air and watching animals like horses and cows running past on fire," de Vries said.
"That sort of imagery is just hard for some people to get a grip of, but when you read this information from friends and loved ones down there it can really tear at the heart strings."
Friends have described leaving their house with minimal oxygen in the air and watching animals like horses and cows running past on fire.Hendrik de Vries
Within days of the disaster de Vries created the Facebook group "From One Valley to Another, Spread the Love" hoping to organise benefit concerts for the Cobargo Rural Fire Service and the Bega Valley.
The response was immediate.
Various members of the Hunter music community pledged to perform for free and pubs and clubs have opened their doors to host events.
Mayfield's Stag and Hunter Hotel will host the first benefit show on January 26, featuring 12 hours of live music across two stages.
Benefit shows are also scheduled for Carrington Bowling Club (February 1), Hotel Cessnock (February 8) and Warners Bay Sports Club (February 15).
The line-ups are yet to be finalised, but organisers have been overwhelmed with the level of support in the past week.
De Vries, who sings and plays violin and viola in Maitland-based band Boneman, isn't surprised by the willingness of musicians to offer their services towards the cause.
"Musicians and artists might be quiet creatures in many respects until they get on stage and express themselves through their medium, but there's a lot of unconditional generosity that comes through the arts community," he said.