Friday, April 21, 2017

Bingo Progress Report 4


Bingo - photo taken tonight

There has not been that much progress in the past week to report. The situation between the cat and kitten is still rife with tension, with Bingo getting bolder and more playful, much to Talya’s displeasure.  She’s getting a taste of her her own medicine when I think back to when she first joined the Cat Politics domicile, and spent as much time stalking Willy as Bingo does to her.

Bingo however has progressed on the cat litter issue and now goes outside most of the time to relieve himself, though today it was raining and he didn’t fancy getting his paws wet.  He has as yet to work out the cat door, which is not all that urgent as we don’t really want him taking himself outside without supervision.

When he’s not tearing around and getting up to mischief, Bingo is a real lap cat - sweet and affectionate to his human companions.

Oh, and he retrieves.

When we throw his pink straw mouse, he picks it up and drops it near your hand to throw again. It’s not a fluke, he’s done it several times.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Easter Cup at Caulfield & Farewell Greg Miles

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Miss Vista returns to racing at Caulfield  & wins

Ostensibly I went along to the Easter Cup race meeting at Caulfield on Saturday for acclaimed race caller, Greg Miles, farewell and final call, and also to touch base with Rebecca, my photographer friend, to give her the booty I managed to score at Randwick, i.e. Winx flags and race books.

It turned out to be surprisingly interesting afternoon at the races, where several runners whom I vaguely follow were running in one or other of the races scheduled on the big 10 race program.

I intended to arrive in time to catch Race 3, and managed to do so despite just missing a train that would have got me there earlier.

The unusually marked and distinctive Miss Vista, a crowd favourite, and one of the horses I had come to see, was the star attraction in Race 3, the Bert Bryant Handicap, a race over 1000 metres.

Miss Vista, now a four year old mare, romped home to score a narrow win over the fast finishing Grey Street and Chase The Horizon. That was her fourth win in five starts.

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Miss Vista turns the corner after the finishing post after winning the Bert Bryant Handicap.

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Miss Vista returns to scale

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Grey Street returns to scale

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Chase The Horizon returns to scale

The above photos were taken from my preferred spot on the hill above the stalls area, but I thought I’d give the public lawn another go for Race 4, the Spicer Thoroughbreds Handicap, a 1400 metres race for three year olds.

Despite the hedge being clipped, I still was unable to get a clear shot over the fence, so my photos from that position were a dismal failure.

The race resulted in a dead heat for first between Plenty To Like and Waterloo Sunset, with So Poysed running third.

So it was back to the hill for the rest of the afternoon.

In the Geoff Murphy Handicap, race 5 on the program, I was interested to see how Merriest would go. I’d seen her defeat the highly regarded WA filly Whispering Brook in the Atlantic Jewel Stakes at Moonee Valley last September and thought she looked promising then.

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Merriest – a lovely, almost black filly – head shot

She justified the promise with a good win in the Geoff Murphy Handicap overtaking raceleader Snitty Kitty to win by half a length.  Selenia ran third.

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Merriest (pink silks)  &  Snitty Kitty just past the post

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Merriest returns to scale

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Snitty Kitty returns to scale

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Selenia returns to scale

Run over 2425 metres, race 6, the Robert Taranto Handicap was dominated by Boom Time who led from the start to the finish and was never headed. He won by 2¼ lengths from De Little Engine and Hans Holbein.

Boom Time is certainly a good stayer, and is entered to run in the rescheduled Sydney Cup next Saturday.

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Just after the start – Boom Time leads

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Just past the post at the finish – Boom Time still leads

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Boom Time

Both Rebecca and I were interested to see Miss Gunpowder in the next race, the M&D Dillon Constructions Handicap, a sprint over 1200 metres. She has recently changed trainers, formerly with Adelaide trainer Phillip Stokes, and now with David Hayes and Tom Dabernig. 

The change has obviously done her good, though in the past she has acquitted herself well against some classy fillies, including Jameka.

This race was an open handicap and Miss Gunpowder started as second favourite. She won the race comfortably by ¾ length from race leader Boomwaa, with Heza Ripper running third.

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Miss Gunpowder returns to scale

The feature race of the day was the Group 3 Easter Cup, scheduled as race 9, so there was one more race to be run before it was due.

This was the Group 3 My Punter Com Victoria Handicap, a race over 1400 metres.

It had a good field that included former European stallion Arod, Charmed Harmony and Hooked, for whom I have a soft spot after winning some money on him on Cox Plate Day 2014.

Hooked hadn’t won a race since September 2015, so it was pleasing to see him take out the Victoria Handicap, fighting out a close finish with Charmed Harmony, with Turbo Miss third 2.7 lengths behind them.

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Hooked & Charmed Harmony just past the post

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Hooked returns to scale

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Charmed Harmony & Turbo Miss return to scale

Throughout the afternoon, the familiar voice of Greg Miles calling half the meeting, alternating with new race caller Matt Hill, reminded us that Greg was quitting on that day. He was a great race caller, easy to hear and distinct in anunciation. Races were described accurately and in detail, and you knew where each horse was running. I was however impressed with his replacement, Matt Hill,  who’ll obviously fill Greg Miles shoes without any worries on the part of the listener.

At last it was time for the Easter Cup.

By which time, the afternoon was drawing in, the light becoming unsuitable for photographs, not to mention getting chilly at the end of a pleasantly mild, slightly overcast day.

Run over 2000 metres, the Easter Cup was won by Observational from Second Bullet and Double Bluff.

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Observational returns to scale

I didn’t stay for the last race, named in honour of Greg Miles, Bravo Greg Miles, and thus missed the official farewell, which would probably have dragged on for ages.

At Randwick last Saturday, the Sydney Autumn Carnival wound up with two Group 1 races, the Champagne Stakes and All Aged Stakes, which I watched at Caulfield in between races. The Mission won the Champagne Stakes at big odds, and Tivaci took out the All Aged Stakes at pretty good odds as well.

Next weekend the Sydney Cup will be rerun at Randwick. Let’s hope it runs without mishap this time.

As for my Saturday afternoons at the races, it is now the off season and I won’t be attending many between now and springtime.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Bingo Progress Report 3

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Bingo stealing Talya’s food (or the remainder there of)

It’s amazing that Bingo jumping on Talya last night,  when she was curled up asleep in her bed (a blanket on a chair in the living room) didn’t set the peace process back a hundred years, but cats are forgiving creatures and both cat and kitten today are acting as if it didn’t happen.

Bingo has grown noticeably bigger over the past week and is looking more like a small cat than a kitten. All too soon he’ll be grown up.

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And no wonder he’s grown, considering the enormous amounts of food he demolishes. He’ll even push Talya out of the way and try to eat her food as well. Fortunately he still eats zucchini and gets through quite a lot of it in a week - we give it to him as a snack when he’s asking for food outside of feeding times.

He’s much more active this week and is a handfull with his wicked ways, galloping all over the place and knocking stuff off shelves. We have to hide pens in drawers or he’ll lose them under furniture.

Talya’s basically given up hissing at him, though will take a swipe if he gets too close to her. But she’s coming round and doesn’t take it amiss if she sees him chasing a ball around the living room. It’s almost as if he deliberately sends a ball careering towards her to give himself the challenge of knocking out it out of her reach without attracting aggro.

Bingo spends a bit of his time outside and has been under the house, somehow knowing how to navigate from back to front and emerge cobwebbed but unscathed. But he doesn’t mind being an indoor cat and refuses to use anywhere else other than his litter tray to piss and shit in, much to B’s despair. It’s his kitten so he has to clean it.

Monty the next door neighbour’s  cat cruises through our back yard almost every day, but has yet to set eyes on the new feline resident. We don’t know how he’ll react, so we keep a close watch on Bingo when Monty’s around and hope he’ll be much bigger before the inevitable encounter takes place.

So getting a kitten was a good idea and at least gives me something to blog about, what with cat politics being constantly interesting and amusing.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Triumph & Tragedy–That’s Racing at Randwick

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Winx overtakes Hartnell at the top of the straight  on her way to winning the Queen Elizabeth Stakes

You may well ask was it worth the tedium of waiting around in  airports for delayed flights, the confusion of finding a bus that went to Randwick, and don’t mention Sydney’s Myki Card equivalent Opal when topping it up for the trip back to Sydney Airport.

The best laid plans fall into disarray when the curse of public transport strikes at inopportune times.

I know I should have booked a flight to Sydney an hour or so earlier than I decided on at the time of booking, but them’s the breaks. You have to accept the limitations placed on yourself by a foolish lack of forethought.

Anyway, it was with some relief that I arrived at Randwick Racecourse shortly after 2.00pm, though too late to buy a racebook, which had sold out.

The day was mild and sunny, perfect weather for a day at the races, and I was thankful that I had dressed for a warm day rather than a cool one.

I was in plenty of time to watch the first of the Group 1 races, the Australian Oaks no less, and I found a spot easily on the public lawn up towards the end of the straight to watch and photograph the races, where it was relatively uncrowded.

Taking photos was problematic, however, owing to the double rails surrounding the track in all of the public access lawn areas, so a great many of my photos are cropped to eliminate the rail.

Lasqueti Spirit as expected took the lead shortly after the start and drew several lengths ahead of the rest of the field, trying the same trick that won her the Victorian Oaks. But the other jockeys are wise to her habit these days, so the gap closed as they raced up the straight, with New Zealand filly Bonneval demonstrating her obvious class to seize the lead shortly before the finish line, and win by 4.5 lengths from Perfect Rhyme, the first to challenge Lasqueti Spirit, who ended up running third. 

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Lasqueti Spirit burning up the straight, Perfect Rhyme in hot pursuit

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Bonneval on her way to the starting gates

Throughout the afternoon I kept coming across groups of young men who all wanted their photo taken.

As this group were pleasant young guys, I promised I’d put the following photo on my blog for Jake, Vaughan, Eric, Donald, Kieran & Craig to download. Who knows who is who and one is missing from the photo.

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Click to enlarge

As I had been unable to buy a racebook, I thought I’d do a cruise through the crowds and see if I could find an abandoned book. I ended up with three at the end of the afternoon.  I was also keen to get a Winx flag or two, and they were easy to find lying abandoned on the ground all over the place and remarkably hadn’t been trampled.

A note on the racebooks; they were a very shoddy production with the ink on the cover rubbing off with little use and the interior falling apart if stressed too much.  Obviously the ATC save money on racebooks to pump into the ridiculously high prize money of The Championships.

Speaking of Winx, the only reason I was at Randwick, her race, the Queen Elizabeth Stakes was next to run.

As races in Sydney are run clockwise there were no opportunities from where I was standing to photograph the runners heading to the barriers.

I commandeered a chair to stand on to give me a rail free view of the field as they turned the corner into the straight.

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The QE Stakes field turns for the home straight – Winx is about to overtake Hartnell who leads at this point.

Winx of course won easily, relegating Hartnell once more to second place by a margin of 5.3  lengths, with Special Occasion running third.

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Winx steams away down the straight leaving Hartnell & The United States in her wake.

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Hartnell returning to the stalls post race

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Winx returns to the stalls after her 17th successive win

The Sydney Cup ended up being called a non race after Almoonqith broke down shortly after passing the finishing post for the first time.

His fall upset Who Shot Thebarman, who dislodged his jockey and raced riderless, doing two laps of the course before being caught.

I am glad that I was far away from this accident and didn’t witness it, but I was aware that something had happened as the field turned into the straight and only half the field appeared to be fighting out the finish with the riderless Who Shot Thebarman among them, and the remainder tailing in cautiously at walking pace.

Unfortunately Almoonqith was euthanised, but Who Shot Thebarman survived unhurt.

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Half the field race for home with a withdrawn runner in the background

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Rest in Peace  Almoonqith - on his way to the barriers for his last race

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A track hand tries to stop Who Shot Thebarman as he careers down the straight.

As there were several hours to go before I had to head back to the airport, I stayed for the final Group 1 race of the afternoon. This was the Coolmore Legacy Stakes.

I’m glad I remained as the news came yesterday that First Seal (one the few horses to have beaten Winx) has been retired, and she was one of the mares I was looking forward to seeing again. So Im pleased I got the opportunity to photograph her one last time.

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First Seal – leading the Legacy Stakes field down the straight

Three year old grey filly Foxplay was the narrow winner of the Coolmore Legacy Stakes. Zanbagh ran second with Dixie Blossoms filling third spot. First Seal ended up finishing sixth, the soft track contributing to her fading out after uncharacteristically leading into the straight.

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The Legacy Stakes field turn into the straight

I did not stay for the last race and made it back to Central Station, exiting Randwick Racecourse straight onto the express bus.

Admittedly I was a bit vague on the uses of the Opal travel card, even though it is similar to Melbourne’s Myki Card which I have been using for years.

There was no way to buy a ticket back to airport over the counter at Central Station. You had to queue up at a machine to top up. Silly me didn’t take a debit or credit card with me to Sydney, so I had to top up with cash. The first machine wouldn’t accept notes, only coins, so I had to find somewhere that could change $20.00 into coins, and succeeded in doing that.

Finally, after a lot stuffing round I had the Opal card topped up with sufficient funds to get me to the airport.

It was a long wait at the airport for my flight which was scheduled to take off at 8.25pm. However, a storm in Melbourne delayed the arrival of the plane I was supposed to catch, and the time for take off was moved to 9.00pm.  Sigh...

Luckily I had my Kindle and got through a good half of the book I was reading before the flight finally departed Sydney Airport.

I eventually got home at 12.45am, catching the Skybus from Melbourne Airport to Southern Cross Station, from where I trammed it the rest of the way.

Compared with the Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne where crowd numbers are huge, Randwick didn’t seem all that packed. It was a bigger course than Rosehill but not a patch on the wide open rose enhanced spaces of Flemington.

I wasn’t impressed with the so called “Theatre of the Horse” it reminding me of the mounting yard at Moonee Valley, which I generally give a miss, preferring to observe the runners in the parade ring. It’s like an ampitheatre with tiered rows descending to ground level – vertiginous.

Anyway, despite the transport hiccups, it was an interesting and out of the ordinary day at the races and I’m glad I went, even if I don’t think I’d repeat the experience without plenty of forethought.

And it was a thrill to see Winx win her 17th race in succession and 12th Group 1. She appears unbeatable and her winning a third Cox Plate come Spring is practically a foregone conclusion.  Kingston Town is the only horse to have accomplished this in its 95 year history, and Winx will join the greats, if she hasn’t already,  of Australian Racing History and be long remembered into the future.

As a racing fan I count myself lucky to have seen several great racing mares, particularly Sunline, Makybe Diva, Black Caviar and Winx all in the space of the last 20 years.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Sydney Bound and Winx

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Winx at Caulfield – October 2016

When you think about it, 900 kilometres seems a long way to go to attend a race meeting. But seeing Winx racing in the Group 1 Queen Elizabeth Stakes (2000 metres), and hopefully winning her 17th race in succession, is worth the time and effort of flying up to Sydney and returning the same day. I’ll be wearied by the time I get home, but in the meantime I’ll be enjoying the change of scenery and a mini adventure.

I’m looking forward to seeing Randwick Racecourse for the first time. I doubt it will be as beautiful as Flemington, but it should be bigger than Rosehill, to which I ventured to back in 2014.

Here’s hoping that you can get a spot on the fence in the public area to watch and photograph the action, and that the rails around the track are not too high to impede one’s view or stymie taking photos.

The Queen Elizabeth Stakes is run as Race 7, at the reasonable time of 3.15pm, early enough to not worry about getting back to the airport in time, and late enough to accustom myself to the course layout, and work out a good spot to stand on the public lawn fence.

It all depends on planes, trains and buses at what time I arrive at the track; with any luck it will be around 1.30pm. So I should be in plenty of time to watch the first of the four Group 1 races, which is the Australian Oaks. A rather good field of 14 staying fillies will contest the race with Victorian Oaks tearaway winner Lasqueti Spirit, New Zealand Oaks winner Bonneval,  New Zealand 1000 Guineas, and Surround Stakes winner La Bella Diosa and Victorian fillies Nurse Kitchen and Harlow Gold the top chances.

Winx faces eight rivals in the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, chief among them Hartnell, who has now raced against her six times without toppling her.

Others gunning for second spot are Exospheric, The United States and Doncaster Mile runners up Happy Clapper and Sense of Occasion. Naturally, all hearts will be hoping that Winx continues her winning streak.

The Sydney Cup, run over the 3200 metres has a rather uninspiring field of 14 runners, most of them European imports, all in with a chance of winning. There are no standouts, but recent winners Big Duke, Annus Mirabilis, Assign and Tally could be in the finish somewhere.

The final Group 1 of the afternoon is the Coolmore Legacy Stakes (fomerly known as the Queen of the Turf Stakes), a race for mares and fillies over 1600 metres. 

It has a rather nice field with some classy mares such as First Seal, William Reid Stakes winner Silent Sedition, Coolmore Classic winner Heavens Above, Zanbagh and Dixie Blossoms, and smart fillies Foxplay and Oregon’s Day.

The weather in Sydney on Saturday should be mild and dry, and the track will be much improved from the last few weeks, with little rain falling on the city this week.

No doubt Randwick will be crowded with Winx fans, but I gather the throngs are not as huge as those at Flemington during the Melbourne Cup carnival.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Bingo Progress Report 2

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Talya & Bingo in the kitchen occupying the same space

Bingo has now been a part of the Cat Politics domicile for nine days and things are looking up as far as the cat political situation is concerned.

Both cats have been learning how to cope and taking lessons from each other on how to behave. After much hissing and growling, both Bingo and Talya are coming to accept that they share the same turf.

Talya made the mistake of running away when Bingo approached her, which he mistook for a game, chasing her as she fled.

She’s now standing her ground, and Bingo is getting to the point where, instead of being obsessed by her, he ignores her. They’ve even got to the point of touching noses a couple of times, and as you can see in the photo above, the cats are able  to sit around peacefully in close proximity -  unthinkable a week ago.

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Bingo with a toy straw mousefinally a cat actually likes this toy as it’s been sitting around on the bookshelf for years

Bingo has grown a bit – he still eats ravenously – and is much more lively as he becomes used to his new life in this house.

He’s had a bit of an explore outside – supervised - and has even climbed a tree, though he had to be helped down.

A sweet natured  little cat, he is often affectionate and loves hanging out with both of us.  He even has sussed my morning habit of reading in bed and waits for me to get my coffee and climb back into bed, before settling on my lap, either above or below the covers. He also has Willy’s habit of sleeping under the covers with us at night.

And he doesn’t lack courage when dealing with a grumpy middle aged cat such as Talya, but is not aggressive, only playful. We enjoy the comical sight of a little cat arching his back and skipping stiff legged towards Talya in a show of bravado.

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Talya looking sleepy and at peace

Talya is now talking to us though is still obviously pissed off about the new feline resident.

Things can only improve, and we’re encouraged by the reasonably short time is has taken to have the cats apparently accept each other.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Some Nights You Gotta Dance–Dixie Chicks Rock Melbourne Again

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Natalie MainesDixie Chicks live at Rod Laver Arena 2/4/17

It was a chilly night in Melbourne town as my friend B and I set out for the Rod Laver Arena to catch the Dixie Chicks second Melbourne show on Sunday night.

Having last seen the Chicks eleven years ago I was keenly looking forward to the event, despite being somewhat fatigued by the experience of breaking in a new kitten to the house and the change to daylight saving that morning.

All my weariness dissipated as soon as I stepped into the venue and joined the sell out crowd streaming towards their seats.

We had excellent seats, second row from the front on the floor, though a bit to the side. Fortunately photos were permitted, so I managed to get heaps of good snaps from my vantage point of the Dixie Chicks in action.

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Martie MaguireDixie Chicks live at Rod Laver Arena 2/4/17

The opening act Avalanche City, New Zealand folk singer Dave Baxter was in progress as we took our seats. As support acts go, he was pretty good, playing a pleasant set of his own songs, that included the really catchy Love, Love, Love and Inside Out, among other tunes.

As a large crew of stage hands cleared the stage , then set it up again, the big screens showed a variety of Dixie Chicks slides – trivia notes and trivia questions along with twitter quotes regarding the new POTUS, so it was around 9.00pm when The Chicks finally made it on stage to uproarious cheers from the large audience.

The set lists for all the Dixie Chicks Australian shows are similar, with a few variations for each concert. Along with all the old Chick favourites, such as Goodbye Earl, Wide Open Spaces, Lubbock or Leave It, Travellin’ Soldier etc, they performed several excellent covers.

Dixie Chicks have been avowed fans of Patty Griffin and on Sunday night they performed a total of four of her songs – Truth#2, Let Him Fly, Top Of The World and Don’t Let Me Die in Florida.

Natalie Maines also declared that she was obsessed with Beyoncé, with whom they recently played at the 2016 Country Music Awards. The song they played on that occasion was Beyoncé’s Daddy Lessons, which they have added to their current set list. It’s not a song I am familiar with having never followed, nor even listened to Beyoncé. The Chicks version of Daddy Lessons was so stunning it makes me want to check Beyoncé out.

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Emily Robison - Dixie Chicks live at Rod Laver Arena 2/4/17

All the Chicks play multiple instruments – Natalie on guitar and percussion, Emily on banjo, mandolin and dobro, Martie on fiddle. They are all fine musicians.

They had a large supporting band that comprised a drummer, keyboard player, bass guitar and lead guitar. Several of them were Australian session players, but I failed to catch their names.

Throughout the concert a large screen at the back of the stage displayed various scenes relevant to the particular song being performed, hence the different backgrounds in the photos above.

A Dixie Chicks concert is really something to experience before you die. They are a dynamic group – smart and sassy with a rebellious attitude and superb musicianship. The music ranges from sweet ballads like Easy Silence to foot stompers such as White Trash Wedding and Sin Wagon.

The concert lasted for approximately two hours and encompassed about 23 songs.

They closed the night with a two song encore, singing everyone’s favourite Karaoke, the defiant Not Ready To Make Nice before ending with the hopeful Better Way, a cover of a Ben Harper song.

It was a throughly enjoyable evening out and sheer, unadulterated pleasure to see the Dixie Chicks live in concert again after such a long hiatus.

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Martie Maguire & Natalie MainesDixie Chicks live at Rod Laver Arena 2/4/17

Set List
(not up on Setlist.com yet, so song sequence may be different)

1. The Long Way Around

2. Lubbock or Leave It

3. Truth #2 (Patty Griffin cover)

4. Easy Silence

5. Let Him Fly (Patty Griffin cover)

6. Some Days You Gotta Dance

7. Long Time Gone

8. Something In The Air (Thunderclap Newman cover)

9. Top of the World (Patty Griffin cover)

10. Goodbye Earl

11. Travelin' Soldier (Bruce Robison cover)

12. Don't Let Me Die in Florida (Patty Griffin cover)

13. Daddy Lessons (Beyoncé cover)

14. White Trash Wedding

15. Bluegrass Instrumental

16. Ready to Run

17. Mississippi (Bob Dylan cover)

18. Landslide (Fleetwood Mac cover)

19. Cowboy Take Me Away

20. Wide Open Spaces

21. Sin Wagon

Encore:

22. Not Ready to Make Nice

23. Better Way (Ben Harper cover)