By Gareth Hipwell
In the hotbed of superheated obsession (and bottomless pots of tea) that is Convict Capital HQ, summertime means Tamworth. But for the hundreds of country artists who make TCMF the immersive joy it is – singers, songwriters, pickers and players hailing from all points of the compass Australia-wide – Tamworth is more than just an indelible fixture on the annual performance calendar: it’s the object of a virtual odyssey.
With Country Update columnist and 2017 Golden Guitar-winner Fanny Lumsden having recently marked 50,000 kilometres of touring, faithful caravan in tow, since April 2016 – not to mention Country Update’s own road-warrior-in-residence, multiple-Golden Guitar laureate and 2017 winner Luke O’Shea. Luke’s caravanning or motoring (mis)adventures on the endless roads of Australia have led to a side-gig imparting hard-won tips and advice to the readers of, among other publications, Australian Caravan + RV and NRMA’s The Open Road Magazine (from smashed jars of tomato relish to the fraught business of decoding indecipherable parking directions gestured into the wing-mirrors, he’s been there and done it all).
It seems timely to recognise the tireless efforts of all those hardy souls who, with bated breath, commend their precious instruments to airline baggage handlers (often, sadly, with misplaced trust – as Fanny herself discovered en route to Tamworth this year) and board planes bound for venues across the continent, or else bundle guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, amps, drum kits, swags, spouses, children, dogs, camping gear, CDs and supplies into vehicles (some air-conditioned, some emphatically not) – many of which are kept on the road by little more than the collective weight of the band’s shared faith – and drive hundreds, if not thousands of kilometres across country in order to perform for the assembled crowds at Tamworth, Gympie, Broadbeach and beyond.
The road to Tamworth is paved in so many tokens of a hard-earned service station rest stop: chocolate-stained Paddle Pop sticks, half-melted gummi bears, and countless wads of well-masticated Bubble-O Bill chewing gum. As anyone who has ever endured a road trip from, say, Melbourne to Brisbane in a worn-out stationwagon will understand, perhaps the greatest achievement for a touring artist in festival season is not staging a memorable set, but simply making it to the stage at all.
Convict Capital favourites The Morrisons – the Harbour City’s foremost pickers in the country, folk, bluegrass and old-time fold – have themselves been touring indefatigably behind long-awaited debut LP The Morrisons in recent months. Fans of original storytelling and penetratingly Australian songs delivered in seamless four-part harmony can catch the band at Treehouse on Belongil, Byron Bay on 3 March, The Milk Factory, Brisbane on 4 March, Melbourne’s Wesley Anne on 18 March, 5 Church Street, Bellingen on 24 March, and at Oceans Rhythm Festival, Old Bar on 25 March.
For the country faithful who were unable to make it up to Tamworth this year as well as for those whose appetite for all things twang is never sated, Rooty Hill RSL has you covered in the coming months: the Club hosts Christie Lamb on 24 February, country-rock powerhouse The Viper Creek Band on 11 March, Adam Brand on 17 March, 8 Ball Aitken and Simply Bushed on 31 March, Amber Lawrence and Catherine Britt on 7 April, The Jay Seeney Band on 8 April, Jayne Denham on 21 April, and Adam Harvey and Beccy Cole on 27 May. Not to mention the venue’s weekly Total Country Sundays, which are still the best bet for free entertainment in the West.
Marrickville’s premier camel-themed bar and venue Camelot Lounge has Canada’s superlative The East Pointers on 23 March, and The Morrisons’ phenomenal Man of Constant Sorrow: A Tribute to the Music of O Brother, Where Art Thou? showcase on 18 and 19 May – which in previous years has featured the cream of Sydney’s country-roots fold including Ngaiire, All Our Exes Live In Texas, Tommy Dean, Luke Escombe and Brian Campeau (get in quick – the show has sold out two years running).
Newtown Social Club hosts Things of Stone & Wood on 26 March, Davy Knowles (UK) on 16 April, The Record Company (US) on 19 April, and rockabilly icon Slim Jim Phantom (US) (of the Stray Cats) on 14 May.
The Enmore Theatre has Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats (US) on 7 March, with support from Australia’s own premier dustbowl drifter C W Stoneking, before Nashville heavyweights Little Big Town (US) take to the venue on 21 March with support from Kip Moore (US).
The Basement at Circular Quay hosts Tony Joe White (US) on 20 April, with support from Leah Flanagan, while Sydneysider Cameron James Henderson is at Marrickville’s LazyBones Lounge on 29 March. Also in the Inner West, Leadbelly in Newtown (formerly the Vanguard) hosts incomparable Queenslander Josh Rennie-Hynes on 9 March, Diesel’s Americana Tour on 13 April, and bluegrass wildmen The Pigs on 13 May.
Just down the road, Sydney’s foremost exponents of all things honky tonk, rockabilly and classic country, Cruisin’ Deuces bring their incomparable brand of Bakersfield abandon to the Seymour Centre forecourt on 10 March.
Down in the Shire, Cronulla institution the Brass Monkey has The East Pointers (Canada) on 21 March, Eugene Hideaway Bridges on 7 April, and The Eagles Show…the Heart of the Matter on 3 June, while The Bunker at Coogee Diggers hosts Big Merino on 11 March.
Tireless tourer Willie Watson (US) (ex-Old Crow Medicine Show) is at the Factory Theatre on 16 March, before Rhiannon Giddens takes to the venue on 8 April.
Lizotte’s Newcastle has a typically action-packed lineup slated for the coming months, hosting Things of Stone & Wood on 25 March, Eugene Hideaway Bridges on 8 April, Amber Lawrence and Catherine Britt on 9 April, 8 Ball Aitken on 20 April, Mike McClellan on 28 April, The Eagles Show on 6 May, Troy Cassar-Daley on 11 May, The Pigs on 12 May, and Slim Jim Phantom Trio on 13 May.
And so long as the warm weather holds, readers are urged to keep a close eye on upcoming shows at Marrickville Bowling Club – the venue’s country-stacked Sundays continue to provide Inner West music lovers with the ideal setting in which to usher in the working week – the Gasoline Pony, and Newtown’s Union Hotel.
As always, if you have a gig to plug or an axe to grind, please feel free to get in touch with the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.