MARCH 13, 2019




“I need to thank my daddy/ for that first set of strings/ and all those folks who swore I'd never be anything/ it took a whole lot of yes I wills and I don't care/ a whole lot of basement dives and county fairs/ to this show right now and y'all sure look good out there/ not bad for a girl going nowhere.” - A Girl Going Nowhere - Ashley McBryde-Jeremy Bussey

Dusk was creeping in on the mean streets of St Kilda as this bush born traveller searched for a safe parking spot near the historic Palais Theatre.

Despite extra-terrestrial traffic aggravated by drones over a hot rod race near the Albert Park lake there was an oasis from past parking.

Yes, the serene St Kilda Bowling Club where local movies and country music enjoyed nocturnal nuptials.

l couldn't find kitty or any trace of her late ancestral Goddess Kitty Wells but I found a parking spot and a tram stop on Fitzroy Street .

An early arrival at the venue where Kooyong Greens candidate Julian Burnside had not suffered premature eviction enabled me to peruse the conditions of entry rules and regulations.

Among the banned accessories were prams, strollers, bicycles, scooters, roller blades, skate boards, drones, frisbees, whistles, fireworks, laser pointers, large umbrellas and weapons.

There was no mention of pens and paper so my small bag was not deemed an urban threat.

And, unlike the gender specific clubs where Burnside no longer hung his hat, there were no dress restrictions for rural rodeo renegades and the armies of roots country music lovers in the foyer.

If there was that may have precluded opening act - heavily tattooed Arkansas traveller Ashley McBryde.

Ashley, 35 and one of eight children of a Mammoth Spring farmer and preacher, proved a perfect entrée for this down-home exploration of the genre.

Crowd reaction to her inspired set, with an energised quartet pumping up the tempo, proved once again community and ABC radio, CMC and Nu Country TV were way ahead of the mainstream in country music audience reach.

It was clear from her entrée Living Next To Leroy - tawdry tale of an Alabama transplanted neighbour with a fatal penchant for hard drugs - that McBryde was an outlaw who owed more to male mentors David Allan Coe and the late Merle Haggard than female peers.

Synchronicity kicked in when the singer chose American Scandal as her second song.

Yes, here in this St Kilda sacristy it was less than 12 hours after Cardinal Pell was jailed and another serial denier fessed up to allegedly killing his wife.

But McBryde's song, penned many moons ago for her fifth album Girl Going Nowhere , used a JFK and Marilyn Monroe metaphor.

That album title track earned an anecdote about its source - McBryde's ninth grade Algebra teacher who predicted a dire future for her.

“I told her I wanted to be a singer,” McBryde recalled.

“She said ‘you better have a good back-up plan.'”

McBryde turned to her musicians and repeated slowly “I thought she said good back-up band.”

You can't beat droll humour.


“My daddy was a rattlesnake preacher/ my daddy was a man of God/ my daddy was a rattlesnake preacher/ in South Alabama / my daddy was the Devil's undertaker/ my daddy is a saver of souls/ my daddy was a rattlesnake preacher/ just like his daddy before him was.” - Rattlesnake Preacher - Ashley McBryde.

McBryde also honoured her father, who was terminally ill when her Grammy nominated latest CD was released, in embryonic song Rattlesnake Preacher.

The tale of the fire and brimstone Biblical belters was personal to Ashley but also a serpentine staple of peers familiar with snakes in basket fables from the deep south.

Ironically, when I was driving Georgia born singer-songwriter Steve Young from my Shipwreck Coast farm to his gig at the Camp Hotel in Ballarat we passed through Snake Valley , 17 miles west of the former gold mining mecca.

“Stop the car here, this is where I should be playing,” the late singer joked as he regaled me about tales of snakes in baskets in his homeland.

Instead we proceeded to the Pell hometown bar where the audience included Judge John Bowman - the justice who ended Darren Weir's career.

The judge - one-time member of Ross Stevenson's Lawyers, Guns & Money clan - was on circuit in Ballarat.

Steve died at 73 on March 17, 2016 and has long been a mentor of Ashley with late Texans Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt.

Young's estate earned more royalties last week as The Eagles performed his hit Seven Bridges Road across the Yarra at the Rod Laver Arena.

But I digress - McBryde thanked her tour partner Combs for taking her on tour.

“This is my 40th or 50 th show with Luke,” Ashley shared before another true story torn from her back pages - A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega .

McBryde didn't give exact directions to the Georgia bar that launched her career but suggested audience members tell the owner she sent them.

“But don't expect any free drinks,” she joked.

Before introducing her final song Tired Of Being Happy in a sadly too short set she threw a plectrum into the audience.

This prompted a cowgirl to prove her agility by jumping over a seat - not the moon - in the back row of the Orchestra Stalls.

The interval was a merchandising mecca for both artists.


“Oh I got the boys and the band/ and a one night stand/ waiting on us down the road/ we're gonna load it in/ crank it to 10, whiskey shots at 2AM/ and off to another show/ and then it's back to my baby for/ a couple days/ but I can only stay for so long/ until that Honky Talk Highway's calling me home.” - Honky Tonk Highway - Luke Combs-Rob Crosby-Ray Fulcher.

Roots country fans have long eulogised nouveau North Carolina outlaw Combs with the same fervour as late Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard and living legends Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Ray Wylie Hubbard and Eric Church.

So it was no surprise that the merchandise queues snaked all the way back up to the first floor bar and bleachers.

Equally as long were spirits and beer bar lines on all levels as these heartland devotees soaked up the liquids necessary to help them make it through the night and breathalysers.

I mined my inner urban psyche and was the only patron in the coffee queue as the house PA treated patrons to gems diverse as Georgian Alan Jackson's Don't Rock The Juke Box and the Pistol Annies Sin Wagon.

The arrival of Combs and his sizzling septet ignited a sonic boom that may have been heard as far away as AFL House where the search for a Grand Final artist could have been settled well before the ball was bounced.

Combs, a man mountain like Brian The Whale Roberts, proved that larger than life was a fitting tag.

Clad in Johnny Cash man-in-black casual attire topped off with a baseball cap, he let his music do his speaking with a few repartee breaks.

His auto-biographical entrée Honky Tonk Highway and Out There preceded his ground breaking #1 hit When It Rains It Pours - a turbo charged conduit to this appreciative audience.

That, of course, is an under-statement.

“It's been a great pleasure to return here this year,” Combs, just 29, confessed.

“It's been a great year. I was nominated for a Grammy and won CMA awards. I also got engaged.”

But he also told of leaving home state North Carolina and crossing the border to Nashville .

“Early in Nashville I was in a meeting with a record company and they asked me to play them three songs,” Combs recalled.

“They said ‘you need to go away and write better songs.' All three songs have since been #1 hits.”

It enabled him to perform one of them next - Must've Never Met You .


“I got new boots covered in red dirt/ a Don't Mess With Texas t-shirt/ and a Lonestar postcard postmarked with missing you/ it's got the biggest sky you've ever seen/ the coldest beer you'd ever drink/ But I still feel like I landed on the moon/ cause it ain't got you/ Houston, we got a problem.” - Houston We Got A Problem - Luke Combs-Randy Montana-Johnathan Singleton.

“I've also written some new songs that I will share with you,” Luke added as he introduced Reasons before igniting another hit Beautiful Crazy.

But it was not just the power of the artist - his turbo charged band included the multi-instrumentalist Kurt Ozan who mastered pedal steel, mandolin, banjo and dobro.

Combs punctuated his show with a solo acoustic delivery of Dear Today before the band returned for the finale of This One's For You Too - title track of his breakthrough album that was re-released as a bonus disc.

There was also his memorable mentor tribute Can I Get An Outlaw and mellow Be Careful What You Wish For.

Combs also reached out with his Hank Williams Jr tribute hit All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight.

Yes, it's been used as the theme song for Monday night football on U.S. TV so farm raised AFL boss Gil has a road tested AFL Grand Final anthem and artist with cool credentials.

Combs poured his liquid love into Beer Can, Don't Tempt Me and another true story Houston , We Got A Problem.

Yes, that was the night he was missing his belle back home as he was high in his hotel room overlooking the Houston Astrodome.

“I just turned 29 last week,” Combs revealed, “I had never been on a plane until I was 25. It's really cool being in Texas , just like y'all here in Melbourne.”

The singer then introduced another #1 hit One Number Away.

He illustrated his propensity for drinking songs with a tipple or three in One Too Many - he skulled a can.

But he was upstaged by a fan in a large hat drinking from a boot at stage front in Beer Never Broke My Heart.

“This is the song that changed my life,” was his intro for Hurricane that lifted the crowd to their collective feet.

An encore loomed loud and clear.

“I wrote this song while in college,” Combs said as he introduced another #1 hit She Got The Best Of Me.

“I never thought I would ever sing it in Australia.”

The entire audience arose as Combs's band including Ozan, guitarists Robert Williford and Tyler King, drummer Jake Sommers and bassist Delaney Baker perfected dynamic delivery.

They were still standing and dancing as Combs tossed his hat into the crowd as the lights were illuminated to the Cotton Eyed Joe reprise over the P.A. system.

Combs is a hard act to follow - maybe the AFL Grand Final could be his deja-vu rendezvous.


1 - Honky Tonk Highway

2 - Out There

3 - When It Rains It Pours

4 - Must've Never Met You

5 - Reasons

6 - Beautiful Crazy

7 - Be Careful What You Wish For

8 - Can I Get an Outlaw?

9 - Dear Today

10 – This One's for You

11 - All My Rowdy Friends / Rock My World (Little Country Girl) / Desperado

12 - Beer Can

13 - Don't Tempt Me

14 - Houston , We Got a Problem

15 - One Number Away

16 - One Too Many

17 – Hurricane


18 - Beer Never Broke My Heart

19 - She Got the Best of Me


1 - Living Next to Leroy

2 - American Scandal

3 - Girl Going Nowhere

4 - Rattlesnake Preacher

5 - A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega

6 - Tired of Being Happy

Review by David Dawson with photos by Peter Coates, Inside Edge Photography

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