With Gareth Hipwell.
“[I] stayed in a hotel with a pool,” sings Kacey Musgraves on ‘Dime Store Cowgirl’, the second track from tearaway second release, Pageant Material. “And I made it all the way past Austin city limits…slept in a room with the ghost of Gram Parsons, drank some wine I can’t afford. And I kind of fell in love with a Palm Springs trailer park, but those California stars could never steal my heart.” Add a stop in Nashville, replace “slept in” with “visited” and “wine” with “tequila”, and Musgraves very nearly describes my recent first-time visit to the USA.
Photography, sadly, rarely achieves adequately the task of conveying the bigness, the overwhelming vastness of things. Writing about place, then, is a fool’s errand – being as it is an exercise in approximating that which even the unadulterated realism of photography fails to capture. That’s what California is like.
Joshua Tree National Park – mythological haunt of Musgraves’ spectral cosmic cowboy Gram Parsons – is almost incomprehensible in its sparseness, heat, and scale. And while the writer took dozens of pictures of the Coachella Valley, none come close to conveying the immensity of Palm Springs’ colossal wind farm and the distant, hazy grid that is Desert Springs viewed from the peak of Mt San Jacinto, or to capturing the spectacle of driving through the Mojave Desert in a dust storm. Similarly, no amount of pictorial or textual reference can prepare a person for the order and beauty of Nashville, with its shady oaks, suburban jackrabbits, and clouds of luminous green fireflies lifting from expansive lawns; nor for the grandeur, indescribable barbeque flavours, and blanketing heat of Austin.
While the weight of history bearing down on the very rafters of Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, and the simple joy of watching Saturday night dancers step to the tunes of a Western Swing band at Austin’s Continental Club or White Horse Lounge are undeniably, instantly striking, it is inconceivable that either city should live up to its own ideal. Nashville the “global country music capital” and Austin the “celebrated confluence of country and counter-culture” are, ultimately, fictions – ideas that fail even to approximate what either city is actually like. It makes a body all the more thankful for everything home has to offer – and for the very unique bigness, the overwhelming vastness of the continent they know best. Here, at least, I feel better able to articulate the immensity of my surroundings in a way that captures, however poorly, what the place is really like. And for the body who happens to be a lover of country music, visits to Nashville and to Austin are apt to inspire even more gratitude for the robustness and diversity of the local scene.
Home is as I remember it – but with cold weather, now. With plenty happening on the live music front, though, I will offer a tentative viva winter! in expectation of an early and unseasonably warm spring.
In some very exciting festival news, the good people behind boutique Hunter Valley fixture The Gum Ball have just announced “Dashville Skyline”: a new Americana, psych, and alt. country festival to take place at the leafy Dashville property in Lower Belford on Saturday 3 and Sunday 4 October. The lineup boasts a host of Convict Capital favourites, including Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes, Wagons, Shane Nicholson, Melody Pool, All Our Exes Live in Texas, Green Mohair Suits, The Lonesome Heroes (USA), Ruby Boots, Lost Ragas, Leo Rondeau (USA), Fraser A Gorman, Dan Waters, and many, many more.
Closer to home, five-time Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Mary Chapin Carpenter visits the Enmore Theatre on Thursday 27 August, with support from Tift Merritt.
8 Ball Aitken is at Rooty Hill RSL on 16 October, before Jade Holland and Jay Seeney take to the venue for their album launch on 17 October. Troy Kemp rounds out a big year at the club on 4 December.
The Vanguard in Newtown hosts Frank Yamma on 22 November, while Shane Nicholson launches his phenomenal Hell Breaks Loose record at The Basement in Circular Quay on 26 August, with support from Josh Rennie-Hynes. Martha Wainwright is also at The Basement, on 2 October, before Peter Northcote visits the venue on 24 October, Fanny Lumsden on 30 October (in support of Suze DeMarchi of Baby Animals fame), and Amber Lawrence and Luke O’Shea on 28 November.
Bob Corbett Band is at Lizotte’s Newcastle on 19 September, before Jetty Road pay the venue a visit on 12 November, Ami Williamson on 19 November, and The Wolverines on 20 November. Luke O’Shea and Amber Lawrence also make a stop at The Basement on 26 November, as part of their “Golden Roads Tour”.
The Newtown Social Club is, as ever, the place to be, with Mustered Courage slated to perform on 27 August, and Perch Creek on 11 September.
Mike McLellan is at the Petersham Bowling Club on 10 October, while Shane Nicholson’s Hell Breaks Loose tour makes another stop at Cronulla’s Brass Monkey on 18 September, before The Wolverines pay the Shire a visit, performing at the venue on 14 November.
29 August sees Dusty Ravens and Roland Kay-Smith take to Django Bar in Marrickville, before the Nancy Sinatra Lee Hazlewood Experience pays the venue a visit on 4 October, and Ami Williamson on 6 November.
Bearing in mind, as ever, Karl Broadie’s regular Tuesday night Songwriter Sessions at Coogee Diggers, and Sunday afternoon fixtures at both The Union Hotel in Newtown and Marrickville Bowling Club, as well as the near-constant stream of alt. country singer-songwriters to be savoured at Marrickville’s Gasoline Pony – a short walk from Sydenham Station.
It’s good to be home.
If you have a forthcoming gig, festival, album launch, or regular country night to plug, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with details.