“The moon went hiding/stars quit shining/rain was driving, thunder, lightning/you wrecked my whole world when you came/and hit me like a hurricane.” - Hurricane - Thomas Archer-Luke Combs-Taylor Delmar Phillips.

The riverside arrival of North Carolina chart topper Luke Combs, Texan troubadour Cody Johnson and Tamworth teenager Lane Pittman was manna from heaven in a world reeling from the titanic terrors of Trump and Putin puppets being strung along.

So, it was no surprise to see former Aussie Rules champion Eddie Betts, Brisbane ace Charlie Cameron and Sydney rugby stars rushing to concerts by Combs and his good guys.

It kicked into top gear many moons ago when St Kilda captain Nick Riewoldt and a trio of Carlton stars joined Lee Kernaghan and Dierks Bentley backstage at a St Kilda Palais concert in 2012.

Nick returned to centre stage at Rod Laver Arena with singing actor Tim McGraw to kick footballs into the audience at his 2019 concert.

Former Geelong captain Michael Turner and team-mates including late Brownlow Medallist Paul Couch celebrated the opening of expat Kiwi Barry Coburn's Spurs cowboy bar in Norlane before Coburn guided the careers of fellow expat Keith Urban and Georgian star Allan Jackson in Nashville.

Turner, now 68 and battling pancreatic cancer in Lorne, also caught the late Waylon Jennings live in California with this reviewer after playing his final exhibition game against Collingwood in Florida.

That was long before rugby icon Billy Slater and mates flocked to 2017 concerts by another Georgian star Zac Brown in Melbourne and Sydney.

OK we have consummated the nuptials between sporting icons and country stars let's return to the present where former Mt Isa teenager Lane Pittman started kicking his own goals after debuting on Keith Urban's team on The Voice.


“She came from bright lights, billboards and skylines, big city boulevard/ half-empty heartbreaks, feelings that can't shake, make you forget who you are/ she felt the pull of the wind on her soul and followed the change in the air/ she started driving 200 miles, didn't stop till she got to nowhere.” - Love In A Country Town - Lane Pittman.

It was fitting early arrivals at this tennis centre tuned their ears to Tamworth teenager Lane Pittman's strings as he opened the show.

The trains, except V Line Geelong and western district locos, ran on time with trams, trucks, sedans and bikes transporting this capacity crowd.

Although Pittman debuted on The Voice with a Luke Combs song Even Though I'm Leaving he didn't take Luke's Bootleg Mobile to drive him on stage.

Instead, he sprinted from backstage with the speed and bounce of Combs Brisbane Lions fan Charlie Cameron running into an open goal the previous week against Collingwood.

Backed by a hot trio on guitar, bass and drums Lane asked fans to “holler if you are with me,” before rhyming play something country with I'm a George Strait junkie” in his following song.

Pittman also urged fans to “drink a Jackel if you have a jack in your hand till all the jack is gone.”

I don't know the exact name of the song but don't think it was a tribute to retiring Richmond full forward Jack Riewoldt who upstaged his cousin Nick by singing Mr Brightside with The Killers on one of their tours.

Lane slowed his up-tempo arrival with a ballad Ain't Too Much To Ask in which he sang he didn't want to grow old and wanted to stay young.

The singer worked all corners of the stage as he gave no indicating of ageing as he began the not so recent custom of throwing plectrums, stubbie holders and drumsticks (not ice creams) into the mosh pit and front rows.

It was no surprise he finished his set with breakthrough hit Love In A Country Town on Chugg Music.

Yes, it's on promoter Michael Chugg's Launceston launch pad where to book one of Chuggie's bands in the sixties you had to phone extension 20 at the fire station where Michael's dad Victor brandished a hose or two.

Enough history.

Here comes Texan Cody Johnson whose dad Carl fronted a band while he and Cody were warders at the notorious Huntsville maximum security prison in the deep south of the Lone Star State and played in Cody's bands and early albums.


“I'd be lying if I tried to tell you I don't think about you/ after all the miles and the wild nights that we've been through Lord knows, we had a few/ dear rodeo I'd like to say that I took the reins and rode away/ no regrets, no left-unsaids, just turn the page/ Oh, but you know better, babe/ tween the almost-had-'ems and broken bones/ the dream of a buckle I'll never put on/ I'm jaded.” - Dear Rodeo - Dan Couch-Cody Daniel Johnson.

When former prison warder and rodeo rider Cody Johnson and his turbo tonking band the CO-JO'S hit the stage there was no danger of being bucked like in his former careers.

Johnson, now 36 and a documentary maker, had plenty of material including latest single The Painter from his ninth album Leather.

The singer, who was born in Sebastopol and quit his prison warder role at 19, proved he was tougher than leather on the seats in the churches where he debuted at the age of 12.

Johnson showed no signs of his rodeo regrets as he led his band on a high velocity trip through his 10-song set that began with Dance Her Home.

Cody apologised that fellow rodeo raised Oklahoma singer and TV host Reba McEntire couldn't join him on their 2020 hit Dear Rodeo.

But he had no shortage of cameos from band members, who had been with him for up to 13 years, as he revived Brooks & Dunn hit Red Dirt Road , Charlie Daniels Long Haired Country Boy and Ed Bruce's Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys with the refrain Cowboys Don't Let Your Mamas Grow Up To Be Babies.

Cody revealed his wife and children appeared in the video for Human - his eighth album - a double disc.

He also performed his first chart-topper Til You Can't , promoted by an evocative video clip in 2021, was inspired by missing an ill-fated plane flight.

Johnson, backed by a fiery fiddler from College Station, Texan, also promoted his new Amazon documentary on late Texan legend George Jones.

Like all fellow artists on the show, he worked all sides of the audience including those behind the main stage with gusto and liberal tossing of plectrums, stubbie holders and miscellaneous merchandise into the mosh pit and way beyond.

Johnson changed tempo to allow all band members to shine and thanked fans for taking time off their church of choice on the Sabbath to join him in this worship of real country music headed by Combs Christians.


“She was a Carolina blue jean baby/ fire in her eyes that drove me crazy/ it was red tail lights when she left town/ if I didn't know then, I sure know now/ longneck, ice cold beer never broke my heart/ like diamond rings and football teams/ have torn this boy apart/ like a neon dream it just dawned on me/ the bars and this guitar/ and longneck, ice cold beer never broke my heart.” - Beer Never Broke My Heart - Jonathan Singleton-Randy Montana-Luke Combs

North Carolina chart-topper Luke Combs emerged as a messiah for those lonesome travellers who jumped on planes, trains and automobiles for his return tour after debuting here with Arkansas traveller Ashley McBryde in 2019.

It was soon clear why his previous historic venue the St Kilda Palais was a mere bayside launch pad for the big time at the Rod Laver Arena.

On the opening day of his eight concert sales many moons ago his fans flood of the box office crashed the ticket system that also had football games scheduled.

His Sydney, Melbourne , Adelaide and Perth concerts sold out so fast his host to the MCG Brisbane-Collingwood game - former Carlton and Adelaide champion and indigenous players mentor Eddie Betts - was featured hosting him in a VIP box during the Seven Network game telecast.

Combs appeal covered all codes when Cronulla Sharks players Wade Graham and Nicho Hynes flew south to one of his Melbourne concerts to present him with a Sharks guernsey after failing to score tickets for his Sydney shows.

This all happened while fans were treated to inspirational tape recording of Cold Chisel classic Khe Sahn and AC-DC hit Thunderstruck.

It was open sesame backstage before Combs, aged 33, and his hot band stormed on stage with such gusto the roof rattled as trains and trams became mute as a Gingrich Newt.

Combs hit his targets with admirable accuracy on his Loving On You entrée that segued into Hannah Ford Road and Cold As You .

The singer may have only released four albums down under but the crowd sang along as he led his team through One Number Away, Love You Anyway, Going-Going Gone, Must Have Never Met You and Forever After All and One Too Many.

Luke didn't need to tell his fans that his pregnant wife Nicole Hocking who shared the same Christian name as Keith Urban's bride inspired many of his hits.

Yes, Beautiful Crazy was one of them he wrote for her after meeting at a music festival in Florida in 2016.

It was fitting that he invited his band members including a fiddler-pedal steel guitarist, pianist, bassist and guitarists to lead the vocals in their cameos on Dust On The Bottle, Meet in The Middle and When I Was Your Man.

Combs also paid credit to his “little brother” in Where The Wild Things Are that preceded his cover of Tracy Chapman hit Fast Car.

The singer also told fans about his late career start after teaching himself guitar at home in the same state as an early mentor Eric Church as he introduced his song written at the age of 24 - She Got The Best of Me.

It was a perfect segue to his 2016 breakthrough hit Hurricane and equally memorable When It Rains It Pours.

Combs crowd interaction included inviting his audience to raise their hands “if you are having a drink with me tonight.”

No need to report the raucous reaction was a pulsating positive that lasted all concert long and hit a crescendo with his Beer Never Broke My Heart.

Luke also exuded his humanity when his tour manager advised him of a message he received from a little girl “who lost her dad” so he dedicated Even Though I'm Leaving to her in his encore that also included Better Together and The Kind of Love We Make.

That humility also extended to his confession that as a young man he never dreamed of performing his second sold out show in Melbourne.

At university he was also a bouncer in bars before performing on stages that followed singing in choirs at the age of eight.

Needless to say the crowd ignited as they were rewarded with drink coasters and plectrums thrown to them by Luke and all band members.

Combs interaction with his band peaked just before he left the stage when he joined his drummer and even tossed one of his drumsticks onto the stage floor.

No, it was definitely not an ice cream as the crowd erupted again and sang all the way back to their planes, trains and automobiles.

Combs proved he will definitely be a hard act to follow until his promised return after the birth of his wife Nicole's second child in September to join their son Tex.

Review - David Dawson

Photos - Justin Ma

top / back to articles