It was a serpentine omen of sorts.

The quaint queue snaked 200 metres from Russell St into Little Bourke Street as dusk fell on the autumnal chirp of horses of a vastly different colour to the hot rods on the Yarra Banks and beyond at Albert Park lake.

This was a rural cowboy and cowgirl culture with a turbo tonking engine deep in the bowels of a club that hosted Taylor Swift before she became a superstar.

And, yes, it was the same promoters - Sydney survivor Rob Potts and little Van Diemens Land refugee mate Michael Chugg.

Tennessean Chris Young and his sextet, featuring Australian bassist Steve Seils who proposed to his girlfriend live on the Jimmy Kimmel TV Show in 2011, kicked the dew off the glass with a tight 12 song set that embraced his first four albums.

At 29 the singer was energised as he strutted his stuff on hits fourth album title track AM and recent hits, Aw Naw, Lonely Eyes and Who Am I With You .

Young revealed song sources and reached back for chart-topping ballads Lost , Tomorrow and You , 2010 Grammy nominated Gettin' You Home (The Black Dress Song), When She's On with Merle Haggard reference and title track of third album Neon .

The Nashville Star winner punctuated his set with a cover of Z.Z. Top hit Sharp Dressed Man but not his Doobie Brothers tribute disc tune China Grove .

Young catered for the Bro-Country genre with I Can Take It From There , replete with Conway Twitty references, and Nothing But the Cooler Left .

Some of Young's patter was lost in his delivery but his action seemed to have spoken louder than words.

And the bearded baritone introduced his band featuring a Grammy winning pedal steel guitarist before his finale - his anthemic, hedonistic Save Water, Drink Beer.

That was not a handy hint for the reviewer as alcohol was taboo with his arthritis medication - and mine host Rob Potts further relieved the pain by finding much appreciated plush seating vacated by Young's meet and greet team during the break.


This was of huge benefit for the reviewer and photographer partner who had now premium views for the arrival of headliners Big & Rich , also making their second Australian tour and Melbourne debut.

But first there was another crowd warmer with a hi-tech gramophone - Derrick tripp lee Tribbett aka Sinister.

Mr Sinister favoured a multi-coloured hairstyle with smart swishes to left and right to accentuate his aerobics as he worked his magic on the crowd who may have been accustomed to more traditional entrées and chapeaux.

But not to worry this was 2015 country with memorable scratches, dubs and techno twirls delivered with panache.

We heard remixes of Sweet Home Alabama , Country Girl, Shake It For Me and more.

Mr Sinister was not just a cameo cavalier - he stayed on stage for the duration, adding extra dimensions to a soon be explosive invasion when Big Kenny Alphin, 51, and John Rich, 41, fiddler, pedal steel guitarist and rhythm section leaped into action.

Fittingly the entrée was 2005 title track Comin' to Your City that name checked San Antonio, Buffalo, Phoenix and other hot locales with Big Kenny and Little John jumping up and down with the power of a herd of elephants.

Big Kenny did most of the heavy lifting as Rich inherited the Marcel Marceau mike that had to be replaced thrice before he sounded nice.

It was early in the set when the duo increased the already frenetic tempo for Take Me Away, Wild West Show with The Lone Ranger and Tonto riding shotgun, Holy Water , Big Time and AC-DC cover You Shook Me All Night Long.

But they soon proved they were not one trick ponies by displaying their melodic song-writing chops with ballads Lost In The Moment and recent hit Look at You , recently resurrected on Nu Country TV.


The evocative moment was Rich explaining the history of 8 TH Of November - another Nu Country TV staple and sibling of John Schumann's Only 19 .

“He was 19 and green with a new M 16/ just doing what he had to do/ he was dropped in the jungle where the choppers would rumble/ with the smell of napalm in the air.”

Rich recalled how he met song source, Niles Harris then 58, limping and grey-haired in a South Dakota bar, long after three tours of duty in Vietnam.

The song is also a tribute to African American medic Lawrence Joel, and 173rd Airborne Brigade during a fierce battle in a Viet Cong ambush that claimed 48 American soldiers during Operation Hump on November 8, 1965.

Harris was among at least 13 soldiers saved by Joel, who later became the first living black American to receive the Medal Of Honor since the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Famous Texan actor, author and country songwriter Audie Murphy also won a Medal Of Honour for his valour in France in World War 11.

Much later 25 year Army veteran Harris gave Big Kenny the top hat he often wears in public appearances.

But Rich had a new revelation in this concert.

The Vietnam veterans were also saved by Australian allies - and the 173 rd Airborne held its reunion in Australia in April, 2014.

Rhodes Scholar and fellow former Army helicopter pilot and soldier Kris Kristofferson introduced the song and accompanying video version

Almost as tear-jerking was Live This Life inspired by a homeless man calling himself Jesus whom they met on the streets - the final track of 2004 debut disc Horse Of A Different Colour .

Rich recalled the Big & Rich brotherhood - that also launched the careers of Redneck Woman Gretchen Wilson and James Otto and resurrected John Anderson and Billy Joe Shaver - began in 1999 when Rich decamped Texas band Lone Star .

They debuted new song Run Away With You before a new storm erupted with arrival of Texas cowboy rapper Cowboy Troy - replete with black cowboy hat and Basketball champion's size and athleticism.

First it was a thundering version of his rollicking Play Chicken With The Train that segued into another Troy classic Drink Drank Drunk.

At times like this, without visual illustration, it's hard to fully describe the impact of Cowboy Troy, now 44, who was soon joined by an even bigger guest wearing a Scottish kilt and a Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy tee shirt.

Rich announced at a recent gig a woman kissed him on his moustache and he reciprocated on her moustache.

He said it was Madonna before the band launched into American Woman/She Drives Me Crazy/Like A Virgin/Free Fallin and American Pie.

But that was not all - we soon had a thin man, maybe Young's drummer, dressed as Spiderman shadow boxing and dancing with his much larger stage companions.

This was the entire package - audio and visual entertainment with ever growing momentum and seemingly limitless energy.

It was time to emulate the giant in the kilt's tee shirt as the orchestra launched into Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy ).

That wasn't all - Cowboy Troy re-joined for Big Butts, Give it Away.

There was also two encores - Rollin' (The Ballad of Big & Rich ) and Like It Loud.

With an optical appointment in the forenoon of the following day I'll do my best to report costume changes.

Big Kenny was a colourful picture of sartorial splendour in his stars and stripes shirts and jackets, triple XL cowboy chapeaux and other garments he shed as the stage warmed up and he displayed his Freedom Everybody daubed guitar.

Rich's costumier had more work as he appeared to gain more garments as the show extended - at the encore he was draped in a tiger skin dressing gown topped off with a baseball cap featuring the Australian flag.

One of his guitars had a simple message - Yee Haw or was it Hee Haw ?

There was a predictable shower of guitar picks from the stage - as a bonus Big Kenny discarded a collection of towels.

This was not your normal country concert - on the Richter scale it flew way off the charts but the music was audible, inspired and irresistible.

It's easy to judge it the best entertainment show of the young year - and maybe decade.

Now The Mavericks and Zac Brown Band have a salient yardstick to surpass - on a musical level.

Review by David Dawson with photos by Carol Taylor

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