Music review: Zach Bryan, Flemington Racecourse

The US country star was joined by Dermot Kennedy and Daniel Ricciardo for a boot-stompin’ night of fun.
Zach Bryan. Image is a man in jeans and Budweiser T shirt playing an acoustic guitar in front of a band on stage. His right arm is heavily tattooed.

US country icon Zach Bryan performed at Flemington Racecourse on 9 December as part of the ALWAYS LIVE Festival. The show sold out in under 20 minutes, with 30,000 fans pouring into the racecourse for the one-night-only show and Bryan’s debut performance in Australia. 

Arrernte/Gurindji artist Dan Sultan welcomed the crowd, as they battled through the horizontal rain for prime positions. His music was captivating and pure, and his appreciation for the spot in Bryan’s show endearing. 

Near the start of Bryan’s set, the country star said, ‘I think music is the most beautiful thing in the world, bringing us all here to Melbourne, Australia.’ Both his music and his powerful connection to the audience made the entire evening vibrant and heart-warming.

Thanking everyone for attending, he opened the show with a series of crowd-pleasing favourites, including ‘Open the Gate’. With the audience singing along, it felt wild, loud and free by the chorus of ‘God Speed’, and that was just a taste of how the energy would pick up throughout the rest of the night. 

The band started to truly shine with ‘Quittin’ Time’, with exceptional work across keys, drums, trumpet, banjo and fiddle. Speaking to the bond between them, Bryan dedicated ‘Highway Boys’ to the band.

Some tracks offered something new for the live show. ‘Dawns’, for example, moved away from the raw harmonies of Bryan and Maggie Rogers to a fierce, fuller sound utilising the full force of the band. The live version retained the original movement and build of the song, but heightened it with fresh features, including a powerful violin solo.

Bryan charmed the audience when he announced ‘The Good I’ll Do’, confessing that he may forget some of it. He needn’t have worried – the audience filled in any gaps in Bryan’s memory, singing each and every word back to him. Bryan also invited a fan holding a sign that read ‘Can I play “Heading South” with you?’ up to the stage, handed him a guitar and guided him through the track, delighting the sold-out venue.

An appearance from Irish singer Dermot Kennedy, currently in Australia for his own tour, thrilled audiences for ‘Boys of Faith’ and ‘Hey Driver’. Their vocals fused seamlessly, as if they’d been performing together for years. He came back for ‘Revival’ to end the show and, perhaps surprising fans a little more, was joined by Australian Formula 1 icon Daniel Ricciardo. It was clear that Kennedy, Ricciardo and Bryan were simply having fun – and the audience certainly was too.

Read: Music review: Eric Prydz, HOLO, ALWAYS LIVE, Rod Laver Arena

A final celebration of the band with extended solos allowed for a due recognition of talent and created a rowdy, joyous end to the show. At each repetition of the chorus from ‘Revival’, the crowd stomped their boots so hard, it felt as if it was going to bring the house down (or, in this case, the viewing platform).

Zach Bryan played Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne for one night only on 9 December 2023. The event was part of ALWAYS LIVE, which ran from 24 November – 10 December.

Savannah Indigo is a researcher and copywriter, trained in publishing, dance, literature and law. Passionate about gender issues and promoting equity through tech design, she has researched Indigenous Data Sovereignty for the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector and is developing a paper about harassment in the Metaverse. She has written for Brow Books, Books+Publishing magazine, The Journal of Supernatural Literature (Deakin University) and the Science and Technology Law Association, and is a 2022 Hot Desk Fellow at The Wheeler Centre.