COUNTRY IN THE CONVICT CAPITAL – SYDNEY COUNTRY

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By Gareth Hipwell

Alas Autumn has beset Sydney with so much cold, wet, premature fury. The loss of long balmy summer evenings heralded by the end of Daylight Savings routinely drags all feeling down to the lowest of ebbs, but recent weather has added insult to injury. ‘…I can’t stand the pain of being by myself without a little help on a Sunday afternoon,’ sings Jason Isbell on ‘Alabama Pines’ (from 2011’s Here We Rest). As what had once seemed a period of unending ambient warmth gives way to cold in a city that is grossly under-prepared for the drearier months, it can be difficult at times not to feel every day a lonely Sunday.

An evening walk at this time of year is far from steeling. Sydney is a city of cold columns: the skyward limit of every street of the inner suburbs is marked by row upon row of blackened clay chimneypots and brick stacks now long since gone cold and probably never to be revived. Early winter in Sydney feels like a hangover – that most common cause of Sunday evening gloom. But the surest remedy – for hangover and seasonal affective disorder both – is undoubtedly music. And the most effective music for the purpose, as Justin Townes Earle has observed in connection with the former, self-inflicted malaise, is country music.

Sunday mornin’, fryin’ chicken, watchin’ baby workin’ in the kitchen. I got in late last night and I move a little slow…I put on a country station on that satellite radio. I ain’t waitin’ on nothin’…’ Townes Earle sings on Harlem River Blues favourite ‘Ain’t Waitin’. While the lifestyle choices Earle describes are short on wisdom, there’s plenty of soundness in his advice that the best thing to do when you’re feeling wrung-out and down is to tune into country music radio.

But when a hermitic lifestyle centred only on pedal-steel piped through a digital receiver becomes depressing in itself (as inevitably it must), and the would-be hibernator is forced out onto the desolate street, the surest thing is to head for the nearest country show. Happily, there’s plenty happening on that score.

Iris Dement returns to the Factory Theatre Marrickville on 29 May, while alt-country hero (and sometime punk/metal chameleon) Ryan Adams is at the Enmore Theatre on 23 July, as is Mary Chapin Carpenter and Tift Merritt on 27 August.

Bonnie Kay & The Bonafides and Sugar Bowl Hokum bring their classic American music show to The Vanguard in Newtown on Friday 12 June, before Frank Sultana & The Sinister Kids pay the venue a visit on 26 June.

The Third Annual Slim Dusty Birthday Bash is at Rooty Hill RSL on Thursday 11 June, with what promises to be a stellar lineup – soon to be announced. The Desperado Eagles Show is also at the club, on 19 June, as is Beccy Cole on 27 June – touring behind new LP Sweet Rebecca and debut memoir Poster Girl – and Troy Cassar-Daley on 8 August.

Newtown Social Club’s booker continues to excel, with the venue hosting Mojo Juju on 20 June, and Fraser A Gorman on 10 July.

What promises to be a very special show, Country Heart & Soul is happening at Marrickville’s Camelot Lounge on Thursday 25 June, featuring performances from three of the country’s most celebrated singer-songwriters: Felicity Urquhart, Lyn Bowtell, and Kevin Bennett. The show will also be staged at Lizotte’s Newcastle on 26 June.

The Brass Monkey in Cronulla has DC Bellamy (USA) on 25 June, with support from locals Storm Cellar, before Feral Swing Katz play the venue on 15 August.

The City Recital Hall plays host to a very special performance from traditional folk duo Milk Carton Kids on 28 June – which promises to be a show to be savoured. Another very special date sees Marlon Williams touring in support of his arresting solo debut Marlon Williams at The Basement on 4 July, with support from Laura Jean. The following week has Mike McLellan at The Basement, on 9 July. Coogee Diggers continues to host its Bunker Bluegrass sessions on the third Thursday of every month.

For the would-be cowboy or country -boy or -girl displaced to the city, the 2015 PBR National Rodeo Finals are at Qantas Credit Union Arena on Saturday 11 July.

Up north, Lizotte’s Newcastle has Melinda Schneider performing her Doris Day Sunday lunch show on 28 June, Beccy Cole on 5 July, Local Harvest: A Tribute to Neil Young on 12 July, “Chasin’ the Train” with Kevin Bennett and others on 9 August, and the Sunny Cowgirls on 16 August. This quarter’s column also offers an opportunity to farewell the recently closed Lizotte’s Dee Why and Kincumber venues, both of which will be sorely missed from the local landscape.

Miserable winter or no, the city’s small bars continue to offer sanctuary to the cold, bored, and lonesome. Both Corridor and Miss Peaches in Newtown are frequently worth a look-in for live country-roots acts, while The Gasoline Pony in Marrickville has played host over recent months to acts such as Emma Swift, Not Good With Horses, and Amber Rae Slade & The Mighty Big Noise. And, as ever, be sure to make a close study of Facebook gig announcements from Convict Capital favourites and Sydney locals such as Fanny Lumsden, Katie Brianna, The Morrisons, and Jenny Queen.

For those who find themselves bundled up at home staring wistfully toward September and beyond, there’s plenty of consolation and commiseration to be found in both the abovementioned Marlon Williams LP, and Ruby Boots’ spectacular debut Solitude. And Jason Isbell’s recent announcement that his follow-up to 2013’s staggering Southeastern is now in post-production only goes to show that better days lie ahead.

Stay warm, Sydney – and keep a radio close at hand.