“There are so many things that mean so much to me that don’t mean a thing to anybody else.”
Oddly enough, there is a beautiful simplicity afforded to those attending a Luke Combs concert: not once do you need to question whether you’ve got the date wrong or whether you’re at the right show. The car park was a bustling cornucopia of country essentials. From the cowboy boots and flannels on every third person to the Amaroks squeezed into every fifth park – even the Wild Turkey cans that lay abandoned in the bins – it’d be impossible to question who’s performing.
In life, ‘full circle’ moments are often shrouded in a certain serendipitous irony. For seventeen-year-old Lane Pittman, I’d imagine that touring with Combs would have this exact effect; it was only last year that Pittman was covering Combs’s Even Though I’m Leaving in his blind audition on The Voice stage. Tonight, he supported Combs in front of a sold-out arena performing his new single Love In A Country Town. “I’ll be outside near the Canadian Club tent. Grab a drink and a photo!” Pittman flashed a charming smile as his set – refreshingly soulful – came to a close.
After they’ve finished, it’s rare for an artist to openly interact with the crowd at a concert of this scale, but that didn’t appear to deter him in the slightest. Making good music is one thing, but being a good person is an entirely different ballpark. It’s a true delight to see that Pittman excels in both mediums.
A cacophonous blend of hollering and screeching greeted American singer-songwriter Cody Johnson as he strolled into the spotlight to perform his first-ever Australian show. “Put your hand up if you’ve ever had a dream that didn’t come true” seemed at first glance a relatively sure-fire way to introduce the wrong sort of blues – the emotional kind, not the country kind.
Unsurprisingly, the entire arena raised their hands (mine included. Unfortunately, my dream of becoming a multi-millionaire clown had to take a seat on the back burner). Johnson nodded, understanding all of us, knowing that failure is a fundamental aspect of humanity that makes us who we are. “I’m living proof that just because a dream doesn’t come true, it doesn’t mean if you work hard, that a dream won’t come true.”
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There’s a strange loveliness in knowing that the dream that was meant for you isn’t necessarily the dream you originally desired, but as Johnson reminded us – it’s yours nevertheless and isn’t worth any less, for that matter. If anyone in future tries to argue that country music isn’t philosophical or meaningful – kindly refer them to Cody Johnson and tell them to suck eggs.
Eight-fifty was fast approaching, and the ever-restless crowd started their own trends to pass the time. Someone on the floor had the grand idea to stand on their chair and corral the whole arena into chanting for them while they did a shoey. What followed had to be some record – at least twenty other shoeys were enacted across the centre in the following two minutes, and if the lights hadn’t dimmed there and then, I’d wager the number would’ve hit the forties by the five-minute mark.
When Luke Combs finally surfaced, it was as if a secret genie had told him the exact recipe to garner Australian audiences' favour. Most international acts charge forward immediately with a typical “Aussie Aussie Aussie!” and although we’ll reply in turn, a little tact is always appreciated – at least leave it to the middle of the set when everyone is riled up, so it doesn’t appear that the singular catchphrase is the only thing you know about Australia.
Credit: Justin Ma
Combs, however, knew the exact intoxicating concoction to set everyone’s blood on fire. The band strolled onto the stage, covered in lights that pulsed a heady, deep, dark red. And then they started to play Thunderstruck. And everyone went ballistic. Combs then ran up through the back of the stage and kicked off his set with a shoey. That moment alone should’ve been enough to induct him into the Australian Hall of Fame as an honorary member. Most artists find themselves coerced by the crowd into doing a shoey, which takes almost an entire show of convincing. But not Combs, you see, this is a man of the people.
Wearing jeans, a dark button-up, and his classic Blue Otter Polarized cap, Combs launched into Lovin’ On You from his 2019 album What You See Is What You Get – punchy yet groovy and complete with a tasty electric solo.
Combs took a swig of his drink. “It’s a pleasure to be here in your beautiful country; we’ve had so much fun already. I remember writing this next song sitting on the porch with two good friends of mine…two of us were married at the time, and one of us was going through a really bad breakup. We wanted to try and write a song we could all relate to.” With that, he transitioned into the beautifully evocative track from his newest album Gettin’ Old released in March this year – Love You Anyway. A father in front of the stage lifted his little girl, her hair tied up in Princess Leia buns, onto his shoulders while everyone turned on their phone flashlights and swayed them in the air.
When introducing Beautiful Crazy, slightly sheepish, Combs admitted: “I wrote this song about my wife…I was so nervous to play this for her. To be honest, I thought she was gonna think I was weird for writing a song about her two weeks after we met. Long story short, it ended up working out.” Everyone laughed, relieved that the story ended well. “I always think about her when I play this song,” he continued. “My wife and son are sleeping six thousand or so miles away right now; I’d like them to feel this one.”
Combs strolled around the stage, leaning forward close to the front row. “There are so many things I have, whether they’re memories or something that my mum gave me or a magnet on my refrigerator…there are so many things that mean so much to me that don’t mean a thing to anybody else.” It’s a wholesome human idiosyncrasy to think about, and you could almost hear the gears in everyone’s head turn as they thought of their own mundane yet special aspects of life no one else would understand. “Those were the things I was thinking about when I wrote this next song.” That next song was, of course, Does To Me, initially featuring Eric Church.
Few people can claim to know how to write a decent song, and even fewer can claim to write a decent song with two people they don’t know. Combs has never been one to take the easy road because his next song was genuinely written with two people he hadn’t met before. “I never thought in a million years anyone would hear this song outside of the bars I was playing in North Carolina, and here we are literally across the world in Australia tonight. This one’s called She Got the Best of Me.”
During the encore, a couple in front of the stage held up a black balloon, asking if Combs would do a public gender reveal for them. “I’ve never done a balloon one before…I don’t know how the hell I’m gonna pop this thing.” The stage crew scurried behind like ants, frantically searching for something sharp to pop it with. “What do we think – boy or girl? What do you want it to be?” Everyone in the arena saw fit to give their two cents worth, the two words sounding from thousands of mouths combining in a lovely blend of ‘birl’ and ‘goy.’
Combs leant forward, talking to the parents. “You want it to be a boy? But you’re gonna be happy either way?” He popped it. Thank goodness the couple had agreed to his previous question because otherwise, this next moment would’ve been considerably awkward for everyone. “It’s a girl! Congrats!”
Credit: Justin Ma
His final song of the night, The Kind Of Love We Make, from his 2022 album Growin’ Up, proved to be a perfectly fitting track for the new parents, to which everyone laughed at upon hearing the opening riff. In the stands, people had long left their seats behind, instead opting for dancing along the stair aisles. On the floor, everybody in the front mosh had linked arms and swayed back and forth like a mesmerised sea anemone – whether they knew each other or not was completely irrelevant. Everyone was there for the same reason: to forget the cruel and cold world outside and dance together to the music that made life just that inch more manageable, to the music that made it just that bit easier to breathe.
Even after Combs had retreated backstage, the band continued to play for a while, and no one ran off early to try and beat the car park rush either. After all, why would you ever want to leave when a show was as magic as this?