Country In The Convict Capital

With Gareth Hipwell.

Perhaps one of the purest pleasures of the summer festival season is the discovery of exciting new acts. Over the years, I have amassed more than my share of debut records and EPs bought for a song on the superheated streets of Tamworth, or in merch tents and stalls across Sydney and beyond. For those recently returned from another massive Tamworth Festival, a few such treasures no doubt made the journey homeward safely swaddled in the bottom of a suitcase—making for a better (and, thankfully, more lasting) souvenir than the inevitable sunburns and hangovers. Few scenes capture the excitement of a country music festival than a post-set crowd of eager punters, cash in hand, crowded around a battered old trunk or briefcase overflowing with CDs, t-shirts, and…tea towels. The hot and humid months make for a thrilling season of discovery.

Country fans intent on carrying the party forward have plenty to look forward to in the coming quarter, as scores of acts from the frigid northern hemisphere make like ducks and head south to our fair shores for a little beachside respite, bringing with them exciting new discoveries in lesser-known support- and- opening acts. 

And if big-ticket shows and multi-day festivals aren’t your bag, recent years have seen an increasing number of one-day showcase-style events springing up in venues across Sydney, offering concertgoers an introduction to a dozen or more up-and-coming country acts for the price of one major headlining show.

On that note: Marrickville’s Factory Theatre has a monumental autumn lineup in store, kicking off with the Cutthroat Folk Fest on 16 March, featuring a rogues’ gallery of Convict Capital favourites including The Lurkers, Andy Golledge Band, Shelley’s Murder Boys, Paddy McHugh, The Sweet Jelly Rolls, Handsome Young Strangers, and many more. Also at the Factory are Gregory Alan Isakov on 16 March, Introducing Nashville featuring rising US stars Brandy Clark, Devin Dawson, Lindsay Ell,and Tenille Towns on 21 March, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real (US) on 18 April, and the trailblazing Shakey Graves (US) on 22 April.

Kicking off on ANZAC Day and running through to 28 April, The Gum Ball festival returns to the Hunter Valley for another year, taking over the shady, rural idyll of Dashville at Lower Belford. In typical fashion, this year’s festival will showcase an array of local and international talent, including Then Jolene, Coral Lee, William Crighton, Magpie Diaries, Nick Barker and the Heartache State, Claire Anne Taylor, and Doc and the Delegates.

The iconic Eagles, comprising Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Timothy B. Schmit, along with Vince Gill and Deacon Frey, are set to stage a towering two-night stand at Qudos Bank Arena on 13 and 14 March.

The Vanguard, Newtown hosts Bec Lavelle and Ben Ransom on 22 March, before The Frank Burkitt Band (NZ) call into the venue on 30 March, The Maes bring their sweet banjo and mandolin sounds to the stage on 10 May, and bluegrass wildmen The Pigs take over the dancefloor on 11 May.

Luke Combs (US) brings his monumental show to the Enmore Theatre on 20 March, before countrymen Brett Eldredge and Jon Pardi take to the theatre on 29 April, the world-beating Kacey Musgraves on 12 May, and ascendant country-pop superstar Maren Morris (US) calls into the venue on 22 August. 

Out west, Rooty Hill RSL hosts Viper Creek Band on 2 March, with plenty of the venue’s flagship Total Country shows sure to be announced in the coming months – keep your eyes peeled for details on the club website.

Master songwriter and industry veteran Alejandro Escovedo (Mexico/US) is at Marrickville’s Camelot Lounge on 3 and 4 March with support from Tim Rogers, before Jen Mize and Mark Sholtez bring their Twilight on the Trail show to sister venue Django Bar on 17 March, paying tribute to the all-singing, all-yodeling cowboys of America’s country and western golden age, including the iconic Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and Dale Evans. Rounding out proceedings, Django Bar also hosts Tomato/Tomato (Canada) on 21 March.

Bex Marshall (UK) is at Cronulla’s Brass Monkey on 6 March, Eugene Hideaway Bridges (US) on 8 March, before the venue hosts The Australian Eagles—Live in Concert show on 29 March, CASH featuring Stuart French and Daniel Thompson on 26 April, William Crighton on 28 April (with support from UK folkster Beans on Toast), and The Pigs on 10 May.

Country comedy veterans God’s Cowboys bring their The Reserection show to Petersham Bowling Club on 2 March, before Front Country (US) call into the club on 18 March.

The incomparable John Prine is at the State Theatre on 9 March, before the monumental Nashville Live variety show on 16 March, which is set to showcase the seminal songs of legends from Dolly Parton to Johnny Cash to Willie Nelson, alongside best-loved tunes from the likes of Garth Brooks, Dixie Chicks, and Shania Twain. Also at the State Theatre is the legendary Ray LaMontagne (US) on 24 April, 

Up north, Lizotte’s has a typically action-packed lineup slated for the coming months, hosting Alejandro Escovedo (Mexico/US) on 5 March, The Pigs on 8 March, Damien Leith’s Catch the Wind show on 15 March, the incomparable Sara Storer on 17 March, Eugene Hideaway Bridges (US) on 5 April, Like a Rhinestone Cowboy—the Best of Glen Campbell on 10 May (starring Darren Coggan), Jason Owen on 12 May, The Eagles Show on 1 June, and the inimitable Troy Cassar-Daley on 13 June.

And so long as the weather tends fair and warm, keep an eye on the ever-evolving lineup at Convict Capital haunts Lazybones Lounge in Marrickville, the Golden Barley in Enmore, Newtown’s Union Hotel, Redfern’s Bearded Tit, the Malt Room at Staves Brewery, Gasoline Pony Marrickville, Shady Pines Saloon in Darlinghurst, and Waterloo’s George Hotel. I’ve done all the legwork so you don’t have to, and I’m happy to confirm that the beer is emphatically cold at all of the above venues.

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.