There were few vacancies in Cowboy Town the night famed U.S. superstars Brooks & Dunn belatedly booked in for a marathon set at the tennis court.

Steve Forde and Morgan Evans, lured south of the Murray Dixon line from the colony of NSW to showcase their latest releases, kicked the dew off the stage from 7.15 pm.

Evans, the 2007 Telstra Road To Tamworth award winner, was rewarded with a trip to Nashville that included writing sessions, live performances and the recording of a single for Sony-BMG.

So Evans strutted his stuff on a short set that included single Big Skies - produced by prolific expatriate Australian Mark Moffatt, one time pedal steel guitarist for pioneer progressive Victorian country band Saltbush, and Rod McCormack.
< photo by Linda di Nola

There were shades of another expatriate - the Australasian superstar Keith Urban - in the stage delivery, dynamics and material.

Equally energised was the performance by Grenfell reared farmer, former rodeo rider and singer-songwriter Steve Forde with four albums to draw upon for his high octane set.

Forde has enjoyed a higher profile on TV after winning three 2008 Golden Guitars for his collaboration with Lee Kernaghan and Adam Brand on Spirit of The Land.

But tonight the singer was promoting his new self-titled ABC-Warner album with its singles Metropolis and Summer's Little Angel, both enjoying video exposure on Pay-TV channel CMC and Nu Country TV.

Forde also performed several of his better-known songs from earlier indie albums that have been reprised on his new disc.

The early start was a scenario reminiscent of that 1994 Waylon, Willie & Billy Joe Shaver tour when Fred Negro's Shonky Tonk entertained commuters and rural routers.

This time there was no singing satirist and street press cartoonist.

But who was that beaming bearded boy in the baseball cap waiting in the foyer for the subterranean meet and greet?


Country comic Kev Bloody Wilson and spouse Betty, no longer encumbered with the wild-west milk run through Kalgoorlie, were first carts off the rank in the foyer.

Kev's east coast forays once featured Grammy Award winning expatriate U.S. pedal steel guitarist and latter day radio and TV host Lucky Oceans - co-founder of western swing legends Asleep At The Wheel.

Unlike shapely undercover Vice Squad detective Jenny Keene on the night of his St Kilda nightclub profanity bust in the late seventies, Kev had his camera cocked for a whirlwind photo grab with Kix Brooks, 52, and Ronnie Dunn, 54.

For historians Keene, whose duties included posing on the mean streets of St Kilda as a hooker to catch gutter crawlers, secreted her tape recorder in her handbag to capture Kev's concert after complaints from wowsers.

But, in the heat of the moment with an on stage welcome to the no longer undercover Vice Squad team from Kev, the hapless cop forgot to release the pause button on her weapon of mass distraction.

That was three decades ago on the lust highway and tonight Kev and Betty remained at the tail of the far queue to allow fellow artists including 2008 Road To Telstra talent quest winner Jasmin Rae, to share the photographic moment.

The night was young for singer-songwriter-pianist Rae, just 20 and 130cm tall, and a denizen of northern Melbourne suburb Fawkner.

And also for the boys and girls who presented the Texan and Arkansas born stars with freshly minted Carlton football club jumpers, but no wooden spoons, in the bowels of the cellar dwellers cavern.

There was movement at the station above as Forde and Evans strutted their stuff.

The huge crowd, reaching high into the bleachers, were not in attendance because of commercial radio airplay - this was an audience lured to the big smoke by CMC Pay TV exposure, regional TV advertising and community radio support.

And Brooks & Dunn, with 30 million albums sold and 23 #1 hits in a recording career that began in 1991 with debut album Brand New Man, made a grand entrance.


This was a hi-tech multi-media event from the moment the duo and big band, replete with three female singers, pedal steel guitarist, fiddler, pianist, organist and a phalanx of guitars, invaded the stage.

There was nothing in the official program to indicate Lord Mayor John So was on the bill.

But there was His Honour - perfecting the mayoral wave front and centre on one of the rapidly changing video screens - behind the main cast.

It wasn't in the entrée when the turbo tonking duo revved up historic hits Waiting On Sundown and You Can't Take The Honky Tonk Out Of The Girl.

Or even My Baby Don't Get Dressed Up For Nothing, Ain't Nothing About You or Burn That Bridge.

It was between bridges such as West Gate and Princess that loomed large midst other iconic landmarks Flinders Street Station, Melbourne GPO, Exhibition Building, Jeff's Shed and The Skipping Girl.

Yes, the duo was performing recent hit Proud Of The House We Built from new disc Cowboy Town when we were treated to the So-So wave in front of Melbourne Town Hall.

The huge roar may have been for the Lord Mayor but more likely for the vocal and stage gymnastics of the duo whose new disc finishes with God Must Be Busy.

< Kix Brooks live


Theatrics were an essential ingredient with Dunn adding to audience interaction by tossing drumsticks into far corners of the stadium after using them to beat a cowbell.

They were disposable props compared with Brooks guitar that was neither broken or airborne as Dunn encouraged the audience to sing the chorus of memorable ballad Neon Moon after slowing the tempo from Rock My World.

Pacing was important.

The duo stayed stage front for balladic interlude including My Maria - penned by late Texan B W (Buckwheat) Stevenson who died at 38 in 1988 during heart surgery.

It reached #9 on charts for Stevenson in 1973 and #1 - just 23 years later for the duo.

My Maria segued into Getting Better All The Time, Roger Miller classic Husbands And Wives, You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone and That's What She Gets For Loving Me.

Brooks regaled the audience with a detailed explanation of his cultural education on three days off in Melbourne that introduced him to the mysteries of cricket.

There was also an aborted attempt at reviving early hit Lost And Found (In A Border Town) after telling the anecdote that created the song.

But that was merely calm before the storm as the duo dipped into new divorce drama Chance Of A Lifetime, historic Red Dirt Road, Brand New Man and the generic Play Something Country.

They slowed the tempo for another power ballad Believer before the tempest raged again in the encore.
< Ronnie Dunn live

There were no surprises as women invaded the stage for the climax during embryonic hit Boot Scooting Boogie segued into Cowboy Town and Hard Working Man.

Now it was Brooks' turn for collateral bombing of the audience.

He swapped his guitar for a cannon to shoot toys into the auditorium midst the shower of streamers falling on both lads as they autographed cowboy boots, CD slicks, photos and other memorabilia.

Then it was over - the centre court and stadium lights ignited as the audience departed for the cowboy towns of their choice.

So was the trip worth it?

Well, cynics might say the concert experience is a glossy extravaganza, but after 20 years in the saddle, the duo gave the audience what they wanted - high energy turbo tonkers and melodic ballads that have stood the test of time.

Review by David Dawson

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