COUNTRY IN THE CONVICT CAPITAL: SYDNEY

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The “concept album” format has a rich, hayseed-peppered tradition in the world of country music. Releases in this vein range from Johnny Cash’s dedication to the working class in Blood, Sweat and Tears (1963), to Kenny Rogers’ Texas cowboy opus Gideon (1980), to Miranda Lambert’s more recent Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2007). But few can match the concept-driven output of certified rubber room inmate Porter Wagoner. The high-water mark in this portion of Wagoner’s oeuvre is a morose though oddly captivating cautionary study entitled The Bottom of the Bottle (1968). An essay on the evils of cheap wine, the record features such melodramatic tracks as ‘Wino’, ‘In the Shadows of the Wine’, and ‘One Dime For Wine’ – several of which are narrated by Wagoner in the mode of long-time alter ego, Skid Row Joe.

Though few are situated on anything like the Skid Row of Porter Wagoner’s imagination, many of Sydney’s favourite live music venues are known as much for their selections of wine, beer, cocktails, and spirits as for their entertainment lineups. While the reader is urged always to exercise restraint and moderation in the enjoyment of the bottle, your columnist would add that restraint and moderation have no place in the enjoyment of live music – or chicken wings.

Spring is here to lure patrons to beer gardens and open-air concerts once again. This year, the season will also deliver newly announced Americana festival Out on the Weekend, which is set to land in Williamstown, Victoria on Saturday 18 October. The festival promises to blow some sensational sideshows Sydney’s way in the ensuing weeks. Victorian renaissance man Henry Wagons will join the prodigious Justin Townes Earle at Williamstown, along with Texans Ryan Bingham and Robert Ellis, Canada’s Lindi Ortega, The Delines, Nikki Lane, Johnny Fritz, Sydney songstress Emma Swift, Chris Altmann, Raised By Eagles, and Sydney string band The Morrisons.

Closer to home, Newtown’s The Vanguard is well known for its speakeasy vibe and fantastic cocktail menu. O’Shea grace the Vanguard stage on 5 September, as do the Round Mountain Girls on 25 September, and Aleyce Simmonds (with support from Kaylee Bell) on 30 November. Down south, favourite Shire watering hole The Brass Monkey in Cronulla has The Audreys on 2 September, Steve Edmonds Presente: Mescalero on 21 September, Ray Beadle on 10 October, and Darren Coggan’s Pirates, Parrots & A Pencil-thin Moustache – The Songs Of Jimmy Buffett on 1 November.

Fairy lights modeled on stubbies of Cooper’s Pale Ale adorn the bar of the Petersham Bowling Club, where The Stray Dogs will appear on 5 September. The PBC hosts its monthly Brews’n’Roots event on 18 September and 16 October, Grammy-nominated bluegrass fiddler Casey Driessen (USA) on 19 September, and songwriting force Danny O’Keefe (USA) [whose songs have been recorded by the likes of Charlie Rich, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Chris Hillman, Conway Twitty, Dwight Yoakam, Alison Krauss, and John Denver] with Mike McClellan on 28 September.

Deep in the industrial heartland of the Inner West, Marrickville’s Django Bar hosts ragtime blues maestro Doc White on 5 September. The recently established Batch Brewing Co. microbrewery on Sydenham Road is well worth a look before the show. Across the road, Marrickville Bowling Club continues to stage its regular Country at the Bowlo shows every Sunday afternoon.

Offering both drinks and entertainment for every taste, Rooty Hill RSL has a typically stellar lineup slated for the coming months – and their Spring schedule has a notably international face! The club has Kiwi Aly Cook on 7 September, Ireland’s Derek Ryan on 12 September, homegrown bluegrass star Kristy Cox & Travis List on 19 September, the irrepressible Adam Brand (showcasing songs from latest, My Side of the Street) on 20 September, Kaylens Rain on 27 September, Jayne Denham and Travis Sinclair on 4 October, US legends The Bellamy Brothers on 16 October, local favourites Carter and Carter on 24 October, Dusty Springfield tribute Dusty The Concert on 31 October, and a Sun Records tribute night on 15 November.

Relative newcomer Newtown Social Club–which occupies the venue formerly known as The Sando on King Street–has been staging a range of great country, roots and Americana shows of late, and plays host to Kasey Chambers’ (launching new record Bittersweet) on 4 September.

Also sure to be stocked with your poison of choice is Lizotte’s. The Newcastle venue has Danny O’Keefe and Mike McClellan on 25 September (the pair are at the Central Coast venue on 26 September and Lizotte’s Sydney on 27 September), a Robert Johnson tribute night on 11 October featuring Kevin Bennett, Don Hopkins, Spencer Jones, Cass Eager, Johnny Cass, and Adam Pringle, Tamworth’s own Sunny Cowgirls on 17 October (also at the Central Coast venue on 18 October), and 8 Ball Aitken on 13 November (8 Ball is at the Central Coast venue on 14 November and Lizotte’s Sydney on 16 November). On 4 November, Lizotte’s Sydney will host the Golden Fiddle Awards’ 10th Anniversary Regional Round Robin Tour (which will also stop at Lizotte’s Central Coast on 5 November), before Beccy Cole and Libby O’Donovan visit on 27 November (the pair are at Lizotte’s Central Coast on 28 and at Newcastle on 29 November). O’Shea are at Lizotte’s Central Coast on 4 September, as are The Round Mountain Girls on 27 September, and Americana star Ryan Bingham on 15 October. Bingham, along with T Bone Burnett, was responsible for much of the Crazy Heart (2009) motion picture soundtrack, and scooped an Academy Award for co-write and movie theme ‘The Weary Kind’.

Finally, the Enmore Theatre is just a hop and a skip from the world-beating Young Henry’s Brewery. Not even Porter Wagoner could take issue with signature YH brews such as their now ubiquitous Newtowner lager. The Enmore has Gary Allan (USA) on 25 September, with support from The Mavericks and Blackjack Billy.

If you have an upcoming gig, festival, or album launch to plug, a beer recommendation, or an exciting new cocktail recipe I won’t find in Mr. Boston, please feel free to drop me a line at gareth@countryupdate.com