An early start due to the public holiday meant a sparse room at the start of Ruby Boots’ set but by its conclusion the room had filled considerably. Back in town after a year in Nashville, she started off tentatively with a new song, from her forthcoming album and what a superb song it was, still with that sassy ache of a voice but it (and the other new songs she aired) showed yet another step up in her songwriting.
Jonny Fritz has become a regular visitor to these shores and his sideman Joshua Hedley (fiddle) even more so. Fritz has slowly built a devoted audience for his unique take on country music that is equal parts cutting social commentary, laugh-out-loud humour and quite the magical way with melodies that bind all the parts together. In matching tomato-coloured suits, the pair played a brilliantly entertaining set that drew from his recent Sweet Creep album plus a preview of his forthcoming Traveller project with Robert Ellis and Cory Chisel. From the vaudevillian Stadium Inn to the surreal Chihuahua Rescue and some exceptional harmony singing, Fritz was the undisputed star of the night.
Henry Wagons has become a household name over the years with his music, TV and radio work and he announced from the stage that he’s taking a break from live shows for the rest of 2017 to cook up a new musical project. As a result his set took on the feel of a career round-up to this point. There were fine covers (Springsteen’s State Trooper, Townes Van Zandt’s If I Needed You), a co-write with All Our Exes Live In Texas, performed with one of the group, Wagons songs like Love You Like I Love You and Keep Your Eyes Off My Sister alongside tracks from his fine solo album of last year. The consummate entertainer, Wagons stomped, prowled, hammed it up and channelled the dark Elvis before most of the night’s players joined him for a Roger Miller cover and an all-in celebratory rendition of Willie Nelson that will hopefully echo through the NSC walls long after live music has sadly departed it.