Country In The Convict Capital

They may be a little late this year, but the jacarandas of Marrickville are blooming at last, wedding clouds of soft mauve to the spectacular sanguine riot of the bottlebrushes. Which can only mean one thing: it’s time to take stock and reflect on the year that was.

In what has been an unusually cool, wet and dismal Sydney spring – particularly given the desperate dry plaguing the state’s inland and regional areas across much of the country – I must confess to having “kept to my rooms” a little more than usual in recent months. In place of night jasmine and flying foxes feasting on budding fruits and blossoms, the most common sight in the Inner West throughout September and October seemed to be a gaggle of damp, perennially grubby ibises feasting on the half-drowned earthworms of countless parks and sports grounds.

Despite which, the last quarter has seen the harbour city play host to some incredible shows, including the recent launch of immense Australian alt. country compendium Take Me To Town (which is reviewed elsewhere in this issue) at Marrickville Bowling Club in October, and recent shows from alt. country heroes Margo Price at the Factory Theatre, Josh Hedley at Oxford Art Factory, and Willie Watson (Dave Rawlings Machine, ex-Old Crow Medicine Show) at the Lansdowne Hotel keeping country fans more than entertained despite grey skies and damp denim.

Your columnist was lucky enough to catch Willie Watson’s set a few weeks back, which opened with a stellar supporting set from Convict Capital mates Diamond Duck, debuting a new song reflecting on an impending birth and aptly entitled ‘Zygote’.

In terms of new releases, highlights this year were many – including, in no particular order:

Dan Parsons’ Sunday Morning Cinema was a particoloured alt. country dream, while Megan Cooper delivered an exquisite work of immense feeling with Wild Mountain. Melbourne raconteur Ben Mastwyk landed a solid gold masterpiece with Winning Streak, and WA-grown world-beater Ruby Boots continued her upward trajectory with stellar sophomore outing – and Bloodshot Records debut – Don’t Talk About It.

Hard-travelling troubadour Andrew Swift made magic with the expansive Call Out for the Cavalry, while Tori Forsyth made her debut with the roundly excellent Dawn of the Dark, and Kasey Chambers continued an unbroken two-decades-long streak with earthy masterwork Campfire. Across the Pacific, standout moments ranged from the unconquerable Kacey Musgraves’ country-pop bliss-out Golden Hour, to the nostalgic wonderment of Joshua Hedley’s solo debut Mr. Jukebox, to Langhorne Slim’s latest infectious offering Lost At Last Vol.1.

With the Bureau predicting scorching days ahead, the coming months all but demand that Sydney country fans take shelter in as many air-conditioned venues as possible (and as many cold beers as temperance permits) – and always remember to take a few steps back from the stage lights.

Newtown’s Leadbelly has a regular In the Round fixture underway, with the next installment to feature Julia Johnson on 11 December.

The towering Randy Houser (USA) brings his debut headlining Australian tour to the Enmore Theatre on 13 December, before the venue hosts the John Denver – Celebration Concert on 14 December.

Memphis-bred country-punk icons Lucero (USA) perform at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville on 31 January 2019, before Gregory Alan Isakov calls into the venue on 16 March.

Your home of country in the west, Rooty Hill RSL hosts Shannon Noll on 1 February 2019. And one for the 12-month advance planner: Troy Cassar-Daley calls into the Club on 15 June 2019.

Big Merino take to Marrickville’s Django Bar on 2 December, before Little Shoes pay the venue a visit on 13 December, with support from Copperline and Ian Burns, and The Fretless (Canada) on 17 January 2019. Sister venue Camelot Lounge hosts The Audreys on 22 February 2019, Vika and Linda Bull on 27 and 28 February, and Diesel on 1 March.

Up north, the incomparable Beccy Cole is at Lizotte’s on 6 December, as is 8 Ball Aitken on 1 February 2019, Vika and Linda Bull on 1 March 2019, bluesman Eugene Hideaway Bridges (USA) on 5 April 2019, Shannon Noll on 12 April 2019, Darren Coggan’s Like a Rhinestone Cowboy – The Best of Glen Campbell show on 10 May 2019, and The Eagles Show on 1 June 2019.

The Eagles Show…The Heart of the Matter is at Cronulla’s Brass Monkey on 14 December, as are Hat Fitz & Cara on 14 February 2019, and Eugene Hideaway Bridges on 8 March 2019.

Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL stages its Christmas In The Country show on 13 December, featuring Donna Fisk, Aimee Hannan, and surprise guests, along with hosts Bob Howe and Nicki Gillis with the Hillbilly Heaven Band.

And as the days lengthen and the mercury rises, be sure to avail yourselves of the cold ales and intermittent country shows slated at the Golden Barley in Enmore, Redfern’s Bearded Tit, the Malt Room at Staves Brewery in Glebe, Gasoline Pony in Marrickville, Darlinghurst’s Shady Pines Saloon, the Bunker at Coogee Diggers, and Waterloo’s George Hotel. Keep an eye on Facebook and venue websites for upcoming gigs to while away the balmy afternoons and evenings to come. Until next year, wishing you and yours a safe and happy Christmas and New Year.

I hope to see you in Tamworth in January!

Until 2019, and as ever, if you have a gig to plug or an axe to grind, please feel free to get in touch with the writer at:

gdhipwell@gmail.com.