This Melbourne lass headed to Brisbane to attend her first Ekka (aka the Royal Brisbane Exhibition), a 10 day show featuring everything from pet shows, monster truck madness, rodeos, food trucks, special strawberry sundaes, rides and, of course, country music! I was there to support some of the awesome acts performing at Hometown Fest this November.

I must admit, I underestimated how many cowboy hats I would see, but I was so into it. I sadly didn’t rise to the occasion, rocking my leopard print skirt, black boots and biker jacket like a good little metal head would. But you know, as they say, why blend in when you were born to stand out. I will definitely be updating my wardrobe with some cowboy boots before I head back to Brisbane for Hometown Fest though.

As I arrived, Hayley Jensen was doing her sound check at the Stockman’s Bar amongst people enjoying a beer, a wagyu beef roll and a rest after a long day. Some of you may remember her from her Australian Idol or The Voice days, but her star has only risen ever since. This was my first time hearing Hayley live and I thought to myself, ‘If the sound check was anything to go by, her set is going to be pretty spectacular.’

Once Hayley wrapped up sound check, fellow Australian Idol alumni Casey Barnes hit the stage with his band mates to do his own sound check.

While this was going on I spied a lady sporting a ‘Casey Barnes A-Team’ t-shirt and was intrigued. I thought perhaps it was a family member who had made the trip to support his Ekka set, but soon learned that she was a member of the self-proclaimed Casey Barnes Fan Club and her fellow club members would soon join her to support their main man.

The time had rolled around for Hayley to officially hit the stage at Stockman’s Bar. The crowd had grown and the seats were filled as many country fans and Ekka revellers alike waited with anticipation. She opened with her 2018 release, Summertime Soundtrack, the perfect country hit to open up the show and give us a taste of her powerful voice.

Hayley is one of those artists that represents versatility – her spectacular voice would suit a pop vibe just as much as she nails that country twang. Her stage presence is relaxed and laid back and you feel like she is the most easy going gal in the world that truly loves what she does.

Among her own tracks, Hayley nailed a number of cover hits including The Cranberrie’s Zombie (which saw yours truly bust out a little head banging), Little Big Town’s Day Drinking, Maren Moris’ Church, Chris Stapleton’s Tennessee Whisky, and Keith Urban’s Somebody Like You (which really got the fans pumped).

My favourite song of the night had to be stunning song she co-wrote with Nashville songwriter, Jerry Sally in honour of her husband Kris Severijns – which also played at her wedding. Although her entire set was impressive and the display of her beautiful, powerful voice was memorable the whole way though, the raw emotion in Forever Won’t Be Long Enough really resonated and I could feel how important this track was to her.

The set rounded out with her hit The Next Big Thing, a song Hayley wrote about consumerism, hype and fleeting fame in our ‘disposable society’. With so much choice at our fingertips and such short attention spans, whether it’s a TV show or a favourite song or artist, one thing comes and another goes, and we move on to the ‘next big thing’ without batting an eyelid.

The singer-songwriter who now calls Sydney home recently released her new album, Turning Up The Dial, and completed a tour in Canada where she was the only Aussie performer to hit the stage at the 2019 Calgary Stampede.

Growing up in regional Australia, Hayley was initially attracted to the honest storytelling and authenticity of country music. Her musical journey has been eclectic since bursting onto the scene through Australian Idol. In the years following this, she explored her range as an artist, ultimately returning to the genre that launched her career.

After Hayley’s set wound up and the audience had a brief reprieve to grab a fresh beverage before another hot country act hit the stage, it was time for Casey and his band to begin their set. By this time, the rest of the Casey Barnes Fan Club had turned up sporting their matching A-Team t-shirts and ready to cheer on their guy. They nabbed the best spot in the house and had their Casey Barnes posters ready to be signed.

The set kicked off with The Way We Ride, Keep Me Coming Back, and Better Days, all from his latest album The Good Life – released in 2018. The crowd was up and dancing from the get-go, letting the infectious energy of Casey and his band get them on their feet and grabbing a friend to twirl around the stage.

Casey and his band have a great energy and presence on stage, looking like a couple of mates just having a laugh and a great time entertaining the crowd.

Barnes is experiencing success after success since he first debuted on the country music scene. The Good Life debuted at #1 on the iTunes Country Album Chart and peaked at #2 on the Aria County Album Chart. Country radio has also embraced the album with a number of songs from the album hitting the airwaves; The Way We Ride, Be Mine, and his current single, Better Days. Lead single, Ain’t Coming Home – which he also ended his set with – enjoyed consecutive weeks at #1 on the Country Tracks Top 40 chart.

Barnes also enjoyed a recent trip on the PBR (professional bull riding) circuit in the US and featured at A Day on the Green with the likes of Mariah Carey and Lady Antebellum.

In August, Casey signed on with top Australia recording label, Chugg Music. Run by Michael Chugg and Andrew Stone, Chugg Music’s roster includes Sheppard, Lime Cordiale, The Griswolds, and Avalanche City.

The Good Life has also helped Casey to grow his audience to over 134,000 listeners per month across streaming services, and his recordings have generated 4.37 million streams with over 40,000 fans joining in online to tell this Gold Coast artist that they are ready for whatever he’s got in store next.

Country music is on the rise in the land down under, with the CMAA releasing their latest report showing as much, and with acts like Hayley Jensen and Casey Barnes amongst the country’s top talent, it isn’t hard to see why.

You can see Hayley and Casey live at this year’s Hometown Fest. Head here to see the full lineup and purchase tickets.