“Between a rock and a hard place/ tears rolling down your face/ as I walked out that door /and that's when I lost it/ midnight in Austin/ damn, I'm exhausted/ what the hell's this all for?/ is this where it mends or it breaks?/ how much more of this can we take?” - A Rock And A Hard Place - Bailey Zimmerman-Heath Warren-Jacob Hackworth-Jet Black

The spring sun was high in the sky when I left the leafy dales of Glen Iris on the Sabbath to revisit the historic showgrounds where our Shipwreck Coast dairy cattle once shared pavilions with other precious livestock and produce.

That was half a century ago and my last visit was in 1981 when Texan singing actor and country king Shotgun Willie Nelson, now 90, performed with his illustrious band on his maiden Australian tour.

We parked our coupe near the main stage and sold Dead Livers cassettes and CDS featuring their Slim Dusty Duncan parody I'd Love To Have A Joint With Willie that I had written on a plane trip back from Tamworth country music festival to Sydney where I worked on the Sydney Daily Mirror.

Willie adopted the song as his pre-concert entrée theme over his PA system for fans of Melbourne outlaw country band The Dead Livers and his army of worshippers.

Luckily, I was not called on to reprise the Willie song I had sung the weekend before at Mickey Bourke's Koroit Hotel for the 70th birthday celebrations of Dead Livers guitarists John Berto and Roger Delfos and drummer Richard O'Keefe - a retired magistrate.

This was a new generation of young country artists and fans from America and down under holding the flag high and wide.

I searched deep into my memory bank and street directory to find a car park close to the action that could be heard loud and clear from as far away as the racetrack for the equally historic Melbourne Cup carnival.

This was a perfect pathway to the action as I by-passed the cattle pavilion of my youth, Centenary Hall and CWA HQ where I never frocked up for scones and crumpets.

I found the ticket office and enjoyed American artists Matt Schuster and Sam Barber who ignited fans with their powerful originals as they emerged from the Soft Serve Gelati bus, Bacardi and beer bars en route to the boot scooting silent disco, Yonder Western caps, Holmes Hide western fashion, Country Mile , Brixton custom hats and Pissa.

Missouri minstrel and American Idol graduate Barber dug deep into his catalogue that included All That I Have, Ghost Town. Run Away High, Tyler Childers tune Jersey Giant, Million Eyes and Dancing In the Sky. Barber dug deeper with Straight And Narrow - “this was the first song I wrote at 16.”

Next it was headliners and Voice graduates Danielle Bradbery and Bailey Zimerman.


“It's a twisted feeling/ but crying over you gives me meaning/ you give me a story to tell/ yeah, my tears are a reminder/ that somebody out there used to love me/ I'm terrified of drying out the well/ cause what will I talk about? /what will I drink about? / who will I look for when I walk into a room?/ who will I fantasize about in bed at night?/ what will my heart beat for?/ don't know what I'll do/ the day that I'm over you.” - The Day That I'm Over You - Sean Small-Sam Sumser-Emily Weisband.

Texan tornado Danielle Bradbery burst onto the stage in puffs of smoke from a machine that revealed her fronting a hot band as she sang Never Have I Ever (lost my mind.)

Danielle, now 27, was born in Houston and just 16 when she became youngest winner of The Voice in 2013.

“This is my first time here,” the singer revealed as she stormed to the stage front.

She showcased songs from her first three albums including Worth It, Break My Heart Again, Sway and Red Wine And A White Couch where there was a shower of plectrums into the audience.

The singer punctuated her songs with anecdotes including “she was dressed in white, I was in red.”

The singer also performed Messy, Stop Dragging Your Boots and Man, I Feel Like A Woman and A Special Place with more explanations.

They included the tale of an ex-lover who cheated on her with a woman who she learned was four months pregnant when he departed - “is this a wedding or a funeral?”

Her song teasers were equally apt.

“Have you had people in your life you want out of it?” was the intro for The Day That I'm Over You from her third album In Between that followed her 2013 self-titled debut album and second album I Don't Believe We've Met in 2017.

“Can I sing a song no-one has ever heard before?” was her entrée for another new tune after she enjoyed an on-stage drink but no shoeys like Zimmerman.


“Tearing it up on a Saturday night/ we're all out here/ raising 'em up under the moonlit spotlight/ back 40, call the DFE/ iced out bullets and a shotgun seat/ you might think that we're trouble, baby/ we're just smalltown crazy/ oh yeah write it down, scratch it off your wish list/ we're just smalltown crazy.” - Small Town Crazy - Sean Rogers-Bailey Zimmerman-Gavin Lucas

Illinois born country rocker Bailey Zimmerman hit the stage with his hot band who joined him in repeated sprints to stage front with amazing athleticism.

Bailey, just 23, had plenty of stories to tell the captive audience on his second down under tour.

“It feels good to be back here in Australia after touring with Morgan Wallen,” Bailey declared in his stage entrée.

He opened with his debut album title track Religiously , released in May this year, before segueing into Never Coming Home and Get To Getting Done.

The Louisville born Illinois native regaled fans with a story about next song You Don't Want That Smoke.

“I got my first platinum record in Australia this week,” he revealed as he ignited fans with more anecdotes before his life in the fast lane.

“I was 18 when I graduated from school and worked first as a pipe-liner,” Bailey told fans before launching into Fall In Love, Chase Her and Fixing To Break while playing his mike stand like a guitar.

“In 2020 I had never written a song, now three years later I'm playing festivals in Australia.”

The singer, who also worked as a meat packer, praised his mother for urging him to always chase his musical dreams as he introduced Small Town Crazy.

“I'm a momma's boy from a small town, she taught me to believe I could make it and never give up,” he confessed.

“She said people will tell you that you can't make it but you have to believe in yourself.”

But it's unlikely she taught him to try a shoey on stage.

“I learned all about this with Morgan Wallen in Brisbane,” he revealed before his first attempt after receiving a beer from fans in front of the stage moshpit.

That was a failure when he coughed after he removed a shoe and filled it up.

But by the time he followed Where It Ends with his fitting finale Rock And A Hard Place he mastered the art with help from a female fan who joined him for a double shoey as he urged the audience to light up the arena with their phones.

They were rewarded with a ferocious snowstorm of paper clippings from a stage rocket launcher.

It was a true testament for Bailey and energetic band - guitarist Brendan Orchard, drummer Max Miller and bassists AJ Astle and Chris Chiarcos.


PHOTOS by ANDREW FRIEND - Country.Rock.Shotz.

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