They downed tools in the factories and hired relief milkers for their autumnal herds to be at the Yarra bank tennis court in time for the country concert of the young year.

But the congested city traffic, aggravated by a spate of freeway crashes and urban lemmings swimming against the tide, meant many of the bush music fans may have missed the early dusk kick-off.

Suburban saddle-tramps, unencumbered by necessity to hit the road again, settled for punctual public transport or parked their steeds in the inner suburbs.

For this reviewer sharing the Richmond railway station car park with a fleet of Utes including one emblazoned with the legend Thank God I'm A Country Boy was a fitting pit-stop.

It was not quite as impressive as the spanking new Deni Roots & Blues Muster Ute parked by veteran impresario Ian Lovell on the lush lawn beside the ticket box office.

But it served its owners well as Lovell gathered obituaries for recently deceased rock and country entrepreneur Laurie Richards who was scheduled to be sent to God by the Collins St Baptists on the Friday.

North Carolina chanteuse Kellie Pickler, fresh from her Dancing With The Stars triumph, kicked the dew off the glass with a short set featuring highlights of her fourth album The Woman I Am.

They included Ring For Sale, Someone, Somewhere Tonight, Little Bit Gypsy and Tough All Over.

I may have missed Best Days of Your Life, I Wonder and embryonic hit Red High Heels as I dodged lasses on the ground floor making their ascent to the top and then down again to the forecourt with their glowing cocktails in transparent plastic cups.

Equally agile were their bucolic beaus with six packs of amber fluid with nary an ale with the whale.

Unlike the dance club divas with tight fitting cossies and dudes with back to front hats and matching tatts this mob had a more diverse uniform.

The R.M. Williams western wear topped with the occasional long defunct Australasian Post Ettamogah Pub chapeaus were mixed with the muscle tee shirts and plaid shirts and protruding fag packets with the Smoking Kills logo facing outwards.

Their bucolic belles were even more diverse with a sprinkling of $40-45 Toby Keith Hammer Down tee shirts and well filled blouses to soak up the spilled cocktails and beers.


The Eli Young Band, celebrating release of fourth album 10,000 Towns, got into the festive spirit with their wall of sound all the way from north Texas campus town Denton.

It was their second volley at the terrestrial tennis court and they ensured their urban country soared north, south and east into the bleachers and beyond.

They interspersed their album title track and On My Way with recent hit Drunk Last Night before reviving Lynyrd Skynyrd classic Gimme Three Steps.

Lead singer Mike Eli praised the legendary southern rockers and multi-millionaire Oklahoma headliner Toby Keith for letting them share his stage throughout the unlucky radio country.

"Following our dreams has always been our desire, touring Australia with Toby Keith," Eli told the enthused fans, "thanks to Toby for being so gracious to follow our dreams. All you dreamers out there should follow your dreams."

The band then revived its dreamy ballad and huge hit Even If It Breaks Your Heart that allowed its co-writer Will Hoge to build even bigger dreams by writing and recording Strong that was used in a commercial to promote the latest Chevrolet Silverado truck.

They decamped with another recent hit Crazy Girl.

"We're gracious to be able to come again to your great country," Eli said. "We want to return."


There was a welcome extended break to enable the headliner's road crew to reset the stage and patrons to fill their plastic cups prior to the main event.

Toby Keith's arrival, like the Geelong footy club rebirth the night after, was greeted with a religious fervour ignited by a dynamic Hammer Down Under video collage.

Fans were treated to a visual revival show, replete with turbo charged NASCAR beasts, pick-up trucks, tractors, boats and 18 wheelers before the singer and 10 piece Easy Money band emerged from the shadows on the tennis court stage.

It was clear this was not going to be a second gear crawl as Keith kicked started his entrée Haven't Had A Drink All Day with his band boasting a three piece horn section, pedal steel, keyboards, drums, bass, triple guitar army and sole female harmony singer.

Fans were more amused than distracted by the Ford vehicles roaring across the video screen shortly before a dwarf dynamited a building as guitarist Joey Floyd switched to fiddle as they two stepped into American Ride and Beers Ago.

Prohibitionists in the audience would not have missed the salient song sequencing with alcohol fuelled tunes punctuating those that didn't mention the drug of choice for patrons.

If fans wondered who was in charge the artist eased their concern with I Wanna Talk About Me as he wielded acoustic guitar in Whiskey Girl and 2012 album title track Hope On The Rocks as he effortlessly slipped into the role of bar tender.

But it was time for sin as the graphic video caught the protagonist decamping with the preacher's daughter to Tucson, Arizona, before a dose of redemption on their return to church in God Love Her.

It was that sort of night as Keith revealed to fans that he had developed a soft spot for Australian servicemen on his USO tours of Iraq and Afghanistan war zones when he performed for the troops.

It was not just because the Australian service men and women were backing the Americans in their war against terrorism.

"They were the only ones on base with beer," Keith explained, "so after 9 0'clock at night I became an Aussie because they got beer."

It was an apt entrée to his movie title track Beer For My Horses (Whiskey For My Men) with spritely co-star Shotgun Willie Nelson, 81 in April, emerging as his duet partner on the big screen before they rode off into the sunset.

This enabled Keith's pedal steel player to lead the troops into happy hour homage and 19th album title track Drinks After Work.


Willie was soon reprised as the artist embarked on a series of stories about how his little mate inspired his bus songs, not set for radio, from his bonus discs.

"My guitarist Joey had the role of the little boy who played the son of Willie and Dyan Cannon in the Honeysuckle Rose movie," Keith revealed, "he's still little but he's also a little older now."

Then there was a lost night in that famous casino oasis in the Nevada desert and a story that didn't stay in Las Vegas.

"Twelve years ago we were in Vegas and were invited to a party but we went to a Willie Nelson concert that lasted two and a half hours," Keith recalled.

"We were invited onto Willie's bus the Honeysuckle Rose and you know what happens on Willie's bus. I don't smoke that stuff but when in Rome. That stuff would get Snoop Dog high. I never made it to the party and next morning I had 27 text messages asking why. So I wrote this song."

It was, of course, Never Smoke Weed Willie Again illustrated by an animated video on the big screen with joints and plants.

Keith's timing was impeccable the day after police raids on local Lebanese cartels with weed seized alongside hard drugs and the resultant Lawyers, Guns & Money.

They followed with another bus song Get Out Of My Car where the punch-line finds the male lead stranded naked in his car as his belle decamps fully dressed - a victory for the rural fillies.

Guitarist Joey switched to banjo as Keith raised his overflowing Red Solo Cup in another novelty song, albeit a huge hit that included a pre Wolf Of Wall Street line about Freddie Mac.

The horn section moved front and centre as Keith perfected his swagger in Who's Your Daddy and As Good As I Once Was.

Keith not only exposed the depth of his hits filled catalogue and his business empire in the steel drenched I Love This Bar - catalyst and homage to his restaurant chain of that name.

And, for those who remembered when he first strode out of Oklahoma, there was the career kick starter Should Have Been A Cowboy.

And down the home straight he and Easy Money galloped with the macho How Do You Like Me Now and A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action.

The lights and some of the audience went down before his encore.

"Many of your service men and women and their families are here tonight," Keith revealed.

"My father lost an eye in the war and I wrote American Soldier for him and all of those who fought for us overseas. This song's for them and all of you here tonight in Melbourne. You have been a wonderful audience."

The singer didn't reveal his father was later killed by a drunk driver but he expanded his encore to become American Soldier/ Australian Soldier to wide applause.

"Thank you Melbourne," he yelled as he rode off into the sunset with Easy Money with no need to change their patter.

Their next gig - three nights later - was in Melbourne, Florida.

Review by David Dawson

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