The indigenous stockman from Fitzroy Crossing and some mates were among candidates for most travelled patrons for this extravaganza.

They caught flights from Broome and Perth to the Tullamarine tarmac.

As finals fever cross pollinated with McGraw mania it was an omen of sorts.

It was also why I heard - rather than saw - support artists Steve Forde and Jonah's Road.

Well, it's not often you're collared by a true son of the soil in the smoggy big smoke in spring.

Or any season for that matter.

Well, he told me all about his broad acre cattle and sheep farming and a little subsistence cropping in the dry outback.

I proffered my late sire was a dairy farmer and Captain in the Australian Army, stationed in Broome during World War 11.

It was a trans continent conduit of agrarian sorts and it took our collective breath and time away from the stage talent.

Yo, a shame about that.

The Pigram Brothers might be the best-known musical pearls shining way beyond the beaches of Broome, my guide explained, but there were plenty more hidden gems in the Kimberley hinterland.

They were, like tonight's artists, roped off from local mainstream media exposure.

Brian Young, the late Slim Dusty and youngster Troy Cassar-Daley may have glimpsed these unsung outback heroes on frequent forays but those local lads never ignited fame flames beyond campfires and out-stations.

Yes, that's why I settled for a plastic cup of vodka at the tennis set tab of $9.80 to remind me that inflation was a comparative equation.

But the bells and belles were ringing to warn the captive audience that the headliner would soon be singing.


It's a long way from Start, Louisiana, to the Yarra bank tennis court but singing actor Tim McGraw belatedly made the journey just 19 years after his recording debut.

It was clear from the raucous rock music blaring from the in-house P.A. system this was not destined to be a stone country celebration.

McGraw, 43, made his fame and fortune marching to a different drum - well, two drummers tonight to be precise, and a guitar army.

So the lights flickered and the tremulous throb of a Harley roared as the singer emerged from the surreal strobe light trip.

McGraw, sartorially splendid in trademark hat, white tee shirt and blue jeans with designer tears, sprinted down the catwalk as his band aimed to emulate the sonic slipstream of the Harley.

Shame that singing spouse Faith Hill, pre-occupied with parenting ahead of seamstress skills, chose to leave her needle and thread due north across the Pacific.

Instead McGraw, dispensing high fives and handshakes without fear of lyrical interruption, strutted his stuff as his duelling drummers drove the train from entrée Real Good Man into Last Dollar (Fly Away) and Where The Green Grass Grows.

It was not hard to hear drums, guitars and stand-up keyboard ace - only time would tell with the fiddle and pedal steel guitar.

By song four it was time for an oral introduction of long time band The Dancehall Doctors and a tale about the night before across the tracks.

"Good day, how are you doing?," the sporting buff asked as he revealed he had been soaking up local culture at the MCG in the nocturnal hours.

"We went to the Saints and Bulldogs game," he explained and asked fans to react to his question of team loyalties, ending with the Magpies.

The resounding boos, almost the volume of the Harley, to the mention of the Premiership favourites prompted a later move.

"I'm sure that would piss some of you off," the singer quipped.

McGraw acknowledged polarising of his audience before resorting to his well-worn line "we don't bullshit - we just play music."

But his next song She's My Kind Of Rain was not a Grand Final weather forecast - more a tempo change as That Was Back When was introduced as a honky tonk salute.

There was more than a waft of pedal steel as this fiddle fired two stepping nostalgia ode was adorned by demure denizens of yore, resplendent in western attire, slow dancing around hay bales to the drop of a needle on vinyl - on the giant video screen.

This enabled McGraw to sit on the lip of the stage catwalk as he crooned Just To See You Smile and recent Lee Brice penned hit Still.


It was time to crank it up with the rollicking Down On The Farm before the singer slipped backstage for a costume change.

And that wasn't a pair of unholy jeans.

It was not clear if McGraw did a McGuire by flying Emirates but the crowd erupted with deafening boos as he sprinted back onto the stage wearing the Collingwood No 47 Guernsey.

Yes, the number worn by diminutive rover Jarryd Blair on the cusp of his 11th game in the AFL Grand Final after being recruited from Gippsland Power via Wonthaggi.

It was a McGraw masterstroke as his predicted polarising of his audience before launching into his next song, came to fruition.

No prizes for guessing the title - Everybody Hates Me.

It was clear the seasoned singer had done his research for song choice and sequencing.

At song's end the Collingwood jumper was removed and banished to the front left hand side of the drummer's Perspex cage as McGraw returned with a St Kilda jumper.

Sadly, the singer didn't wear it so we never learned whether it was No 12 - instead it adorned the right side of the drummer's cage.

It was equal exposure for both Grand Finalists.

The symbolism of the jumpers and maybe even the cymbals remained in limbo as the singer announced his first No 1 single.

It was an opportune time for the crowd to sing along and be heard on the tear-jerking ballad - Don't Take The Girl.

Chord and tempo changes fuelled another historic hit Indian Outlaw that segued into the cover of Elton John hit Tiny Dancer.

The singer also previewed latest single Felt Good On My Lips from his next studio album - successor to Southern Voice.


Then it was back to comedic acting with a faux gospel introduction, with hallelujahs and amen urging fans to "get down and make love to country music" to Things Change.

The strident social comment song, cut back when singing spouse Hill was copping flack for her country pop period, drew parallels with Hank being banned from the Grand Ole Opry for his drinking.

McGraw stepped up energy and crowd interaction by climbing into the bleachers on both sides of tennis court in I Like I Love It and Something Like That.

McGraw's fiddler changed to mandolin for 10th studio album title track Southern Voice - the hit that received more exposure here in closing of his recent movie The Blind Side than myopic mainstream radio.

One suspects corporate radio researchers missed the denizens of the huge phalanx of bush buses parked nearby in deciding forced feeding habits of their long neglected listeners.

They certainly didn't ask the energetic, gay young Koori, decked out in Collingwood scarf with red tints in his hair, who minced down the steps past my seat at the encore entrée.

Sadly, InPress cartoonist and Collingwood fan Fred Negro missed this prancing pie begging for a pungent panel in Pub column 1062.

McGraw opened with the apt Sing Me Home, Angel Boy and his bucket song Live Like You're Dying, cut when his baseball champ dad Tug was on his death bed.

Fitting finale The Cowboy In Me enabled the singer to flick plectrums into the avid audience.

It was only when the singer doffed his hat as he left stage the actor in him returned, albeit briefly.

McGraw may not write his own songs or stick strictly to the traditions of his genre.

But, as a lateral thinker and multi-media showman, the singer draws more attention to his craft and thriving industry than many peers.

Now, if only, the radio rulers and print media moat defenders could leave climate controlled offices and learn what real Australians want.

Just ask my Fitzroy Crossing stockman mate and his brothers and sisters what floats their boats and horses.

They might find Things Change.

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