76-sydney_1With Gareth Hipwell

Country music monomania is for me a relatively fresh affliction. Until January 2010, my preference was emphatically for London Calling over The Gilded Palace of Sin. While The Clash remain an eternal favourite – and although I still dip into and out of the punk and garage scenes between editions of Country Update – a fateful first visit to the Tamworth Country Music Festival five years ago has left an indelible mark on me. In the years since, Tamworth has come to occupy a privileged position on my personal calendar: the Country Capital’s annual industry powwow is a dependably cathartic and inspiring way to ring in the New Year, and to set a tone for the months ahead. In the scheme of festivals past, this year’s TCMF was exceptional. Full, both of new discoveries and the confirmation of buzz received secondhand, the 2015 festival offered countless revelations including sets from Riverine songstress Fanny Lumsden (with regular band The Thrillseekers in tow), the breathtaking stillness of Gold Coast chanteuse Bree De Rome, a memorable honky-tonking set from newest Lost Highway Australia signing Ruby Boots, and performances from – in no particular order (and noting the list is far from complete) – Katie Brianna, The Weeping Willows, Dan Waters, Marlon Williams, The Green Mohair Suits, The Faceless Men (featuring Country Update’s own Glen Hannah) Travis Collins, Perch Creek, the Golden Guitar winning Adam Eckersley Band, and Henry Wagons. With new records from many of the above-listed artists due for release in the coming months, 2015 seems set to be the richest year so far in my short though incendiary love affair with all things country. Fortunately, the deflation that always seems to attend my return to Sydney after Tamworth promises to be short-lived: there’s plenty to see and do in the harbour city.

US giants Big & Rich are at The Enmore Theatre on 13 March, with support from Chris Young. Cult favourites Alabama Shakes play the venue on 2 April, as do New Zealand’s The Topp Twins (playing a Sydney Comedy Festival show) on 9 May, while return visitors the Zac Brown Band play the Hordern Pavilion on 1 April.

Marrickville’s Factory Theatre has local cult favourite Robyn Hitchcock on 12 March, The Gin Club on 21 March (on the Factory Floor stage), Kevin Johnson also on 21 March, and Keb’ Mo’ on 6 April.

Wednesday 18 March sees The Vanguard in Newtown host a special triple-header, featuring Caitlin Harnett, Josh Rennie-Hynes, and Liam Gerner, before Ben Ransom and James Stewart Keene take to the venue on 2 April for their own double headliner. The Audreys are at The Vanguard on 10 April, the Johnny Cash in Solitary show, featuring Daniel Thompson on 17 April, and a reprise of the venue’s immensely popular Man of Constant Sorrow: A Tribute to the Music of O Brother, Where Art Thou? on two nights – 7 and 8 May – featuring a stellar lineup of Convict Capital favourites The Morrisons, Ngaiire, Tommy Dean, Elana Stone, Brian Campeau, All Our Exes Live In Texas, and Lucky Luke.

Newtown Social Club continues its run of solid gold bookings with The Felice Brothers on 7 March, followed by Marlon Williams & The Yarra Benders on 11 April.

Down south, the Brass Monkey in the always-beautiful Cronulla plays host to swamp legend Tony Joe White on 13 March. White has 9 shows slated for Sydney and surrounds in March and April, including The Basement on 11 March, and Coogee Diggers on 25 March. Fans would do well to consult for further dates. Also at the Brass Monkey is Kevin Welch (USA) on 26 March – Welch has penned songs for Waylon Jennings, Patty Loveless, Garth Brooks, and Trisha Yearwood – before The Pigs hit the venue on 17 April, Johnny Cash in Solitary on 19 April, Eugene ‘Hideaway’ Bridges (USA) on 25 April, and the incredible Charlie Parr (USA) on 20 May.

CBD icon, The Basement, hosts The Morrisons’ Smoke on a Foggy Highway: The Bluegrass Albums of Paul Kelly show on 27 March, Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin with The Guilty Ones on 8 April, The Pigs on 22 May (touring on the back of new record, Home Brew), and frequent flyer Justin Townes Earle on 15 April, with support – as on all his 2015 Australian dates – from Sam Outlaw. Earle is also at Newtown Social Club on 16 April, Lizotte’s Newcastle on 17 April, and Anita’s Theatre Thirroul on 18 April.

Rooty Hill RSL has Montana’s Wylie Gustafson & The Wild West on 20 March, Rose Carleo launching a new album on 28 March, a Boneshaker tour stop from Catherine Britt on 1 May, The Pigs on 2 May, and Jasmine Rae on 16 May.

Lizotte’s Newcastle hosts Morgan Evans on 8 March, The Pigs on 13 March, Kevin Welch (USA) with guest Dustin Welch on 20 March (the pair play the Central Coast venue on 21 March), Phil Wiggins (USA) and Dom Turner on 2 April, The Audreys on 11 April, Eugene Hideaway Bridges on 16 April (Bridges is at the Central Coast venue on 17 April, and at Lizotte’s Sydney on 18 April), Catherine Britt on 18 April, and Johnny Cash In Solitary on 5 June (the show gets an early airing at Lizotte’s Central Coast on 4 April).

The Bunker at Coogee Diggers has Canadian Gordie Tentrees on 7 March, regular Bunker Bluegrass showcase on 19 March,

Last but not least, a memorable weekend escape beckons with Hope Estate’s inaugural Campfire Festival rocking the Hunter from 13 – 15 March, with performances from Lee Kernaghan, Kasey Chambers, Rod Dowsett, and Beccy Cole.