It may have seemed a chilly homecoming for former jillaroo Harmony James when she stepped onto the cavernous stage in this historic theatre on the dock of the bay in mid-winter.

But, just five miles north as the crow flies from her Sandringham childhood digs, it was much safer locale than the killing fields of the CBD and northern-western suburbs where drive-by shooters competed with car crashing hoons for headlines in the latter weeks of June.

For those travelling from the Shipwreck Coast the Prime Minister Mr Rabbit had kindly provided a map of the terrorist hot-spots to avoid.

But judging by the road kill on Highway 1 and the Hamilton Highway the morning after the concert it was the rabbits, roos, canines and cats who had gone to God - without parental consent.

The bush boys and belles from bands diverse as the Dead Livers and Lost In Suburbia , alert and aware in the mainstream media, didn't need a terrorist suburb map.

It was unlike some souls lost in their own suburbs whose social media current affairs studies were confined to finding new ways to expose themselves to cyber bullies, porn purveyors and weight loss programs or texting in the traffic.

But, as always, I digress.

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Harmony may have been pressed for time in her short seven song set so there was little patter between tunes.

Instead the fifth of 12 children of a rock guitarist turned Baptist preacher focused on delivering originals with a hint of high lonesome lament as she kicked the dew off patrons' glasses with her aerial intro 30,000 Feet - also entrée of her third album Cautionary Tales .

It was an autobiographical memory of solitary thoughts on a plane at high altitude over drought ravaged Longreach in the state where she was rescued by the Flying Doctor after being bucked from a horse near Charleville.

That injury may have put an end to her outback career as a ringer, welder and Gatton University agricultural science degree graduate in beef cattle breeding consultancy.

But the tried and true cumulus silver lining mythology kicked in after bone grafts and metal plates in her arms and a broken collarbone persuaded her to try her healing hands at songwriting that peaked with this prestigious tour.

James resisted the temptation to resurrect her Cairns busking inspired 2012 APRA award winning gem Emmylou's Guitar as a tribute to her mentor and headliner.

Instead she praised her host city's hard earned reputation for an important agricultural import in Skinny Flat White that she penned with Grafton born Brooke McClymont.

But the singer, now 37, confessed it was not the coffee but a fantasy about its young male barista that brewed the song.

James dipped into an impressive catalogue that included social comment songs about coal seam gas mining and purer uses of pastoral land, battle metaphors for love, travel travails and sibling and parental passion.

She apologised for wearing a “blanket” on stage but revealed it was to ward off threats to her voice after a chilling Canberra concert experience - a vast contrast to the tour opener in sunny Perth .

It was a tough task working solo to a crowd, littered with veteran musicians and music buffs, but time will smooth glitches in her between-song patter.

Tact was another strong suit.

She did not include Pancho's Boy - her third album finale - as she knew the headliners were going to resurrect the late Townes Van Zandt classic Pancho & Lefty after the foyer clock struck nine.

But she reached back to her childhood in which she was home schooled by her parents - for her finale.

“It's the song that broke in America and gave me the courage to pursue my career,” she said of Tailwind that won her the 2006 International Songwriting award in Nashville .

“It feels like I'm seven again/ coming full circle at last/ all I need now is my favourite song/ here with Patterson's curse and the call of the Currawong.”


For concert headliners Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell it was a welcome turn to the scene of their seaside rhyme.

Emmylou, 68, had played the Palais before and Rodney, 64, performed a few torpedo punts due north at the Prince Of Wales , then owned by Shipwreck Coast born hoteliers John van Haandel and brother Frank who paid $4.3 million in 1995 for the freehold property before Frank walked the plank.

On that occasion Rodney brought guitarist Will Kimbrough who shared axe duties in his touring bands with Quorn born young expat Australian guitarist Jedd Hughes.

This time the pivotal multi-instrumentalist on sessions for the duo's second duet disc The Travelling Kind was in the driver's seat.

But more of that later after we examine the treasure trove left behind by Gram Parsons, who died at 26 on September 19, 1973, and Texan Townes Van Zandt, who emulated mentor Hank Williams by dying at 52 on New Year's Day 1997.

The band kicked off with Parsons' classics The Return of the Grievous Angel and Wheels and Van Zandt's oft covered Pancho and Lefty and If I Needed You.

It was no surprise that Parsons' Luxury Liner and Boudleaux Bryant's tune Love Hurts , a 1960 album track for the Everly Brothers and 1961 hit here for the late Roy Orbison, also featured.

Love Hurts by Emmylou and Gram, posthumously released on Parsons 1974 album Grievous Angel , and a pair of Harris discs has long been a concert staple and fitting segue to and sibling of Emmylou's Red Dirt Girl.

It was also fitting that Emmylou and Rodney referenced the fact that songs often outlive their authors in the lyrics of The Travelling Kind - “be it Waycross boy or red dirt girl/ the song becomes the travelling kind.”

Parsons was born in Winter Haven, Florida, but raised in Waycross, Georgia - a locale also name checked by the late Texan Mickey Newbury in San Francisco Mabel Joy and Warren Haynes in Wanderlust from his sixth solo album Ashes & Dust .

But back to this concert where the duo's task was made easier by the hot touring band - Harris's long time Hot Band pedal steel guitarist Steve Fishell, keyboardist Micah Hulscher, drummer John McTeague and Mike Rinne on upright bass.


That boomerangs us to Jedd Hughes whose early meetings with Crowell resonated in their re-telling.

“Jedd told me he was from Quorn - four hours north of Adelaide in outback South Australia ,” Crowell revealed.

“He said he would sit out there at night and look at the stars that were so bright he could hear them. Now the stars burst from his guitars.”

Crowell discovered Hughes who did his time in the beer and wine mines with another coalminer's daughter Patty Loveless after attending the famed Levelland music university course in Texas.

Emmylou also had a chance to reminisce about the headliners first duet album Old Yellow Moon from 2013.

“Rodney and I first met and played together in 1974,” she joked, “it only took us 40 years to record a Grammy winning album together.”

A perfect entrée to Old Yellow Moon and then haunting ballad Back When We Were Beautiful penned by Matraca Berg - singing spouse of Nitty Gritty Dirt Band bassist and co-founder Jeff Hanna - and You Couldn't' Say We Didn't' Try that Crowell revealed they wrote with young tunesmith Cory Chisel.

Harris exuded more latent humour when introducing older songs such as 1975 ballad Till I Gain Control Again and Dreaming My Dreams With You - the Allen Reynolds penned title track of a 1975 album by late Texan Waylon Jennings - “when Rodney and I were brunettes.”

The eclectic nature of their repertoire was magnified when Crowell introduced their rendition of his late legendary fellow Texan Roger Miller's Invitation To The Blues as a “Ray Price style Texas shuffle.”

It was that kind of show - pacing and sequencing was immaculate as the ballads punctuated some riveting romps including Emmylou's entree of Louisiana born fellow tourist Lucinda Williams I Just Wanted To See You Bad .

The sparks erupted on stage with diverse instrumental solos during powerful romps on new chandelier crunching ecological anthem The Weight of the World, The Rock Of My Soul, Tulsa Queen and Chase The Feeling , penned by another Texan singing actor and Rhodes Scholar Kris Kristofferson, from Old Yellow Moon .

Crowell referenced Lucinda again in new tune Bring It On Home To Memphis, Louisiana and Texas cities in Stars On The Water and paternal pain in his blistering delivery of Ain't Living Long Like This that they both recorded before it became a hit for Waylon - in 1980.

The three song encore began with Crowell's Stars On The Water and finished with Emmylou singing Crowell tune Even Cowgirls Gets The Blues and her historic Gram Parsons tribute Boulder To Birmingham.

Emmylou's little jig as she returned for the encore was ample proof she had no fear of naked flames from her Octogenarian tour manager and Parsons body snatcher and cremation consultant Phil Kaufman who was conspicuous by his absence on this down under invasion.

Perhaps Phil had received a late call-up for filming of King of The Roadies - the Amy Nelson directed docco on Ben Dorcy.

Dorcy - famed as the 90-year old roadie for fellow Octogenarian Shotgun Willie Nelson, is now enjoying his 40 plus years tenure with his Zen master after being a valet and chauffeur for the late John Wayne.

Crowd funding rewards for benefactors of that docco included a dinner date with singing Texan crime novelist Kinky Friedman.

So were there any criticisms of this 25 song two hour concert?

Well, Emmylou's voice wavered a few times in the vocal mix but that may have been more a comment on the distance from the stage of this reviewer.

But every accordion, pedal steel, piano and guitar solo resonated in a sonic wave that left rock sound engineers in perpetual awe.


1.Return of the Grievous Angel (Gram Parsons)

2.Wheels (Gram Parsons)

3.Pancho & Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)

4.Till I Gain Control Again (Rodney Crowell)

5.If I Needed You (Townes Van Zandt)

6.Invitation to the Blues (Roger Miller)

7.Red Dirt Girl (Emmylou Harris)

8.Rock of My Soul (Rodney Crowell)

9.Love Hurts (Everly Bros, Gram Parsons)

10.Luxury Liner (Gram Parsons)

11.The Travelling Kind ((ELH & RC)

12. Memphis (RC)

13.You Can't Say We Didn't Try (ELH & RC)

14.Weight of the World (ELH & RC)

15.Just Wanted To See You So Bad (Lucinda Williams)

16.Dreaming My Dreams (Allen Reynolds)

17.Chase The Feeling (Kris Kristoffersen)

18.Back When We Were Beautiful (Matraca Berg)

19.Tulsa Queen (ELH & RC)

20.Leavin' Louisiana (Rodney Crowell)

21.Ain't Living Long Like This (Rodney Crowell)

22.Old Yellow Moon (DeVito, Lynn Langham)


1.Stars On The Water (Rodney Crowell)

2.Even Cowgirls Get The Blues (Rodney Crowell)

3. Boulder To Birmingham (Emmylou Harris)

Review by David Dawson

Emmylou-Rodney Crowell-Jedd Hughes and band photos by Anne Sydenham

Harmony James photo by Michael Schack

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