BAILEY ZIMMERMAN opened up the show with a three-song acoustic set that was markedly different from his powerful performance at CMC Rocks, with two of his band accompanying on guitars he trotted out a couple of his better known songs, which due to traffic I missed, and then gave us an impressive performance of Rock And A Hard Place which came across really well in this stripped-back format. He is a bit of a rough diamond in performance, but his association with the likes of HARDY and Morgan Wallen will not hurt his profile at all, and the more experience he gets of performing, the better he will get!
Brad Cox has grown a reputation throughout Australia as a country rock artist collecting thousands of fans. Since hitting the country scene five years ago, Cox has shown his writing, and performing skills are some of the best in country music. This tour and opening concert, in particular, allowed fans to hear traditionally louder songs in an intimate environment. For a confessed “softie” that “cries when he gets a mosquito bite”, Thursday night’s warm-up show of the ‘Yarns and Yodels’ tour in Victoria must have been emotional overload.
Well the energy levels may be flagging from the heat and the sheer immensity of the event, but Sunday promised to be something special at CMC Rocks, with current biggest music star Morgan Wallen as the headliner, and crowd (and writer’s) favourite HARDY as the main support for the night. Kiwi singer Abby Christo was up first and provided a gentle upbeat intro to the day. Hailey Whitters did her second show of the festival, this time on the main stage, and she gives off major Miranda Lambert vibes, and had lots of fun with her great fiddle player and the rest of the band.
Corey Kent was back for a second set, and he was on really good form – with his band of mates, and belying his youth with songs and style that Don Henley or James Taylor would be proud of! He is a real talent and one to watch for the future. First of the bigger names of the day was the larger than life Warren Zeiders who strutted onto the main stage like he owned it, and then proceeded to give the crowd a set of rocked-up versions of his mainly acoustic recorded material – Up To No Good and Dark Night brought the party, before he did a JD “Shoey” to be different! Getting his initial exposure during COVID through TikTok and Social Media generally, and new release Pretty Little Poison was superb. He knows how to play the crowd, and the singlet got torn off to make the ladies swoon! His cracking set closed with Burn It Down and Ride The Lightning.
Next up was another first-timer in ERNEST, who allegedly met HARDY on an FGL writers bus when he was a rapper known as Sno! These two and Morgan Wallen are one of the hottest and tightest crews in Nashville right now, and they seem to travel as a package! ERNEST comes onstage in Def Leppard T-Shirt and trucker cap, and then proceeds to deliver a smooth, west-coast mellow country rock set, including This Fire, Wild Wild West and Done In A Bar. He also did the “Shoey” and took off his T-Shirt – noting that he was perhaps not quite as ripped as Warren Z – but the crowd loved it anyway, so topless he stayed. Feet Wanna Run and the song written for Jellyroll in Son Of A Sinner, before the massive hit duet with Morgan Wallen, Flower Shops, which due to a guitar malfunction, saw ERNEST pick up an acoustic and deliver the song solo, to rapturous applause.
Most impressive act of the weekend for me was Ashley McBryde, so it was fantastic to get a second set from her, and she changed it up with a beautiful solo version of Girl Going Nowhere to open the set, before the band kicked in. Ashley is a woman totally confident in her own skin, and comes across as strong and mischievous at the same time. One Night Standards was fantastic, and Brenda Put Your Bra On got all the girls kicking off. She does a version of Boys of Summer that I reckon is no longer needed in her set of such great originals, and I love the southern rock Skynyrd sound of Livin’ Next Door to Leroy which motors along, until ash leaves the stage to let “her boys” show their stuff, with a medley of Superstition and solos, before merging into Midnight Rider to close a second superb set.
“Hardy Hardy Hardy” started to echo around Willowbank as the younger and rockier elements of the crowd jostled for space in front of the second stage, and the Stone Temple Pilots Creep boomed out of the PA, welcoming HARDY to the stage. The band erupted into the massive crossover rock hit of Sold Out, and then we were on a rollercoaster ride for the next hour, with the raucous Kill Shit Till I Die up next, one of several redneck references of the night.
HARDY gave us Jack, Boots and Truck Bed, did the obligatory “Shoey” himself, before running through hit after hit with his heavier than normal band!
One Beer was the first monster hit, and then we got Red, 30.06 and Give Heaven Some Hell, before HARDY told us how he was told by the Nashville masters to give them a “radio song”. So in his inimitable style, he gave them the monstrous Radio Song! Blake Shelton had a huge hit with God’s Country, but HARDY wrote it, and he gave us his version, before closing the set with the latest album title track, The Mockingbird and The Crow. That was perhaps the most intense set ever seen at CMC Rocks!
We media were banished from the pit for Morgan Wallen, so we struggled through the crowd to get to the sound desk area to shoot the headliner – the stage set was enormous and complex, with ramps and podiums and so many lights! After some extended intro tapes, the band, made their way to their positions, and suddenly the man himself was onstage too in the spotlight! Currently with 5 or 6 songs in the Billboard Top 10, and all 36 of his album tracks in the Top 100, this makes Morgan Wallen the hottest of properties, and the set opened with Up Down (which featured Florida Georgia Line) and I Wrote The Book, and we were in for 90 minutes of pure pop country. Song after song of radio-friendly music rolled on, including Ain’t That Some and Dying Man, and a medley of Dangerous, 7 Summers, Silverado For Sale and Still Goin Down, in order to fit more songs into the set! Highlight was the appearance of HARDY to duet on He Went To Jared, from one of HARDY’s Hixtape series, and then still more through to the climax of the set and the closing fireworks.
A triumph for Chugg and Frontier to have secured Morgan Wallen as headliner, and to have the foresight to get him at the pinnacle of his current fame, and a testament to their ability to pick some of the great stars of Country music before they really make it.
A faultless festival from my perspective…..with minor gripes about how high the stages were so that taking photos was a real challenge, but we got enough!
Hailey Whitters is country through and through, as a writer for greats like Alan Jackson and Little Big Town, and released her own third album in 2022, and we got some old and news songs including her most recent Everything She Ain’t, and her perky voice and upbeat attitude was the perfect opener to Day 2 on the main stages.
A scorching hot and humid day welcomed the crowds to CMC Rocks on Day 1 proper of the festival, with all the usual sights and sounds of this iconic feature of the Australian and global Country Music calendar, curated by Michael Chugg and his incredible team at Frontier. The sad news was the death this week of Foxtel boss Brian Walsh, who along with the late Rob Potts and Michael Chugg were the three key founders of the CM Rocks phenomenon, and a toast and cheer from the crowd was warm and genuine.
KIP MOORE / RANDY HOUSER Hordern Pavilion, Sydney 16th March 2023
This was the second show of this CMC Rocks week of sideshows and festival, after Melbourne the night before, and a sold out crowd at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney had streamed in from the country and was ready to get down and party.
Randy Houser may be one of the undercard for CMC Rocks , but he has perhaps the best voice in country music, and from the first line of the Whistlin’ Dixie he is right on song, with a voice like honey smoked JD that hits the spot immediately. After Boots On we get the monster hit of How Country Feels, with some great guitar interplay and a massive crowd reaction. Randy lets the super tight band let rip with a hoe-down middle eight that absolutely rocked, and there was lots of crowd singing in an extended back half of the song.
Chocolate Starfish plays Bat Out Of Hell Albury Entertainment Centre Friday, February 10th 2023.
The “sirens are screaming, and the fires are howling way down in the Albury tonight”
The enthusiastic crowd at the Albury Entertainment Centre got to witness Chocolate Starfish’s latest in their classic album series.
I will disclose from the onset that I have an unashamed bias for the showmanship of Chocolate Starfish, in particular frontman Adam Thompson. Few music frontmen can play a show full throttle from the first note to the last, engaging every audience member. Few bands would dare to tackle in full one of the greatest albums produced in the 20th century; however the task seemed easy for this band.
SAMANTHA FISH Support – BLAKE O’CONNOR Manning Bar, Sydney 18th Feb 2023
This tour is an example of what can be achieved with a desire to bring the best musicians to Australia, and put them on a real tour that covers every major centre, including Canberra, Newcastle and Perth, and picks the right size venues, has excellent sound and lighting all round, and uses local support acts in the different areas. Massive congratulations to Gerard Allmann and Annie Johnsson for pulling this one off!
Everclear are on their 30th Anniversary Tour taking in a whole load of Australian cities and regional towns, and delivering a set that rolls back the years and sees a rough, raucous and loud grunge-punk band delivering classic after classic as if they were all still in their 20’s. Art Alexakis is unchanged, and has had Davey French on guitar for nearly 20 years now, with Freddy Herrera on bass since 2009, and new boy Brian Nolan on the drums for the past five years.
Good Vibes Tribe at Drifter’s Wharf, Gosford. 27th Jan 2023
The extraordinarily talented Steph Strings from San Remo, VIC opened the show on a steamy summer evening on the water in Gosford, and was the surprise package of the night. A really fresh guitar, harmonica and percussion soloist, showing off some flamenco style and really delicate playing that was mostly instrumental because of “my terrible voice”! That turned out wrong too as Steph showed a clear and pure tone with some ethereal vocals that combined really well with the guitar.
Kings of Leon Set The Town of Mildura on Fire 29th October 2022 Mildura Sporting Complex, Victoria Australia
Mildura, located in rural Victoria, was the venue for Kings of Leon’s opening show on their long-awaited 2022 Australian tour. Over 10,000 people filled the newly opened complex to hear the band, natives from Tennessee. Comprising of brothers Caleb, Jared, Nathan Followill, and their cousin Matthew Followill. The band played a 25-song set that featured songs from their impressive 20-year career and eight-album catalogue.
Announced at 2 days notice, and sold out within 5 minutes, local boy Morgan Evans took a couple of days out of the current hectic CMC Rocks and Brad Paisley tour to head home for a one-off show at the Mayfield pub and live music venue the Stag & Hunter Hotel. Initially planned to be just Morgan doing a solo set, landlord Mick was a bit surprised when a truck turned up with drums, amps and keyboards, and then the whole band rocked up to check out the venue having been onstage at Rod Laver arena 18 hours earlier, and at the airport at 4am to make it happen! “We’ll make it work” was the phrase when they realised the stage was smaller than their normal drum riser!
CASEY BARNES / JOSH SETTERFIELD The Cambridge Hotel – Newcastle, NSW 6th May 2022
The Cambridge Hotel is a legendary rock’n’roll pub on the outskirts of Newcastle, black painted walls, sticky carpet, signed drum-heads on the walls from some of Australia’s best-known bands, and was once a regular touring stop for international bands when they used to play shows in more than just Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.