Luke Combs // 49 Winchester // Writers Round // Live Review // The SSE Arena // Belfast
A chilly October Saturday evening sees the arrival of North Carolina’s own Luke Combs to Belfast’s SSE Arena. Ireland and Northern Ireland have a great love affair with country music and tonight is no different with a sold-out show at The SSE a forgone formality for one of modern-day country’s biggest hitters.
In tow Luke has the majestic 49 Winchester for company and Writer’s Round featuring Ray Fulcher, Drew Parker, and James McNair, this will ensure a sublime night’s musicianship as The SSE usually home to pop and rock bands will be packed to the brim with Cowboys and Cowgirls as far as the eye can see! Combs has been ripping it up since his arrival in the scene in what feels like a little ago but in reality it has only been a modest few years since his debut “This Ones For You” dropped in 2017 and in that short time he has collected a plethora of accolades and marched his away now across the globe on a sold-out tour.
Not bad for a kid from Huntersville, North Carolina. I am sure he must be pinching himself every day to see just how far his music has taken him, from a modest beginning and penning his classics on an acoustic guitar to translating them to the big stages and arenas of the world the power of music knows no boundaries and a massively excitable Belfast crowd awaits his arrival on this iconic stage.
First up of course are Writers Round in the form of Ray Fulcher, Drew Parker, and James McNair, the trio take their places on the gargantuan stage to a packed out crowd and between them warm up the Belfast crowd with a glorious collection of heartwarming country tracks that engaged the crowd and whet their appetite for one of the biggest nights in Country in good ol’ Norn’ Iron in a while! Writers Round is a collective of some of the best talent Nashville has to offer, 7 days a week, 365 days a year you can find it’s devoted members right across music city’s finest music establishments plying their trade. A true Nashville experience if there ever was one, Belfast was given a real treat this evening.
A short break allows the Belfast crowd to catch their breaths before one of the hottest acts in modern-day country takes to the stage, Formed on Winchester Street in the small mountain town of Castlewood, Virginia (population: 2,045), 49 Winchester started as a group of neighbourhood teenage friends set on a calculated DIY path. In 2014 they independently released their eponymous debut, followed by 2018’s The Wind, and 2020’s celebrated III. 49 Winchester are a soulful-sounding, bluesy-packed band deeply rooted in Country Music. You can tell form the moment they kick off that they are something pretty special, hitting that sizeable stage with a swagger they took Belfast by storm,
49 Winchester have been on the road for the past year in support of their critically acclaimed New West Records debut Fortune Favors the Bold. The new album has quickly generated over 40 million global streams and over 17 million global streams for the single ‘Russell County Line‘. The band has also been selected as a Spotify “Hot Country Artist to Watch in 2023” and an Apple Music “Country Riser in 2022.” Fortune Favors the Bold debuted at #7 on the Billboard Top New Artist Chart, #7 on the Billboard Current Country Chart, and #10 on the Billboard Folk Americana Chart as well. All of this translates to an extremely polished band that captures your imagination from the off, glorious storytelling and highly addictive song-writing ensure Belfast gives them the warmest of welcomes ad they know that they have made their mark on this foreign city, they may be thousands of miles from home but they will always be welcome in Belfast.
Now, the pent up energy in The SSE has reached boiling point! The lights drop and AC/DC”s Thunderstruck wails over the monstrous PA system and the crowd goes wild, one by one the band members take to the stage until the song builds to a crescendo and then the man of the hour is here! It is a night to remember for so many in Belfast as country music sensation Luke Combs finally takes the stage at SSE Arena for the very first time during his highly anticipated 2023 tour. The energy was palpable, the audience electric, and Combs, along with his band, delivered a showstopping performance that will have fans raving for weeks to come. The one this that is noticeable and was commented on earlier this evening is just how youthful this crowd actually is, the makeup of the sold-out crowd is remarkably young and it speaks volumes about the nature of Country Music here in Northern Ireland, young rural communities, young farmers, good old fashioned culchies hitting the big sticks in style and making their mark on a city and venue usually known for pop and rock acts. Tonight is theirs!
Luke Combs is a name that has become synonymous with modern country music. Known for his chart-topping hits like “Beer Never Broke My Heart,” “When It Rains It Pours,” and “Beautiful Crazy,” Combs has carved out a niche in the genre, earning legions of loyal fans worldwide. While he has become a mainstay on country radio and streaming platforms, his live performances are where he truly shines, and his first-ever appearance at Belfast’s SSE Arena proved no exception. The evening was packed with an air of excitement as attendees streamed in the arena, clad in plaid shirts, cowboy boots, and hats, creating an atmosphere that was reminiscent of the American South, Belfast has indeed been transformed into a scene from a Hollywood movie, all we need are horses tied by the saloon and damsels in distress needing rescued to top it all off! The party has truly started and Luke with beer in hand is steering the Belfast audience at his will, What truly sets Luke Combs apart as a live performer is his genuine connection with the audience. Throughout the night, he engaged in banter, shared personal anecdotes, and made fans feel like they were part of an intimate gathering despite being in a massive arena. He expressed his gratitude for the warm reception he received in Belfast, which only endeared him further to the crowd. Every song has the Belfast audience in transfixed, The band backing Combs was top-notch, providing a dynamic and energetic accompaniment to his vocals. Their chemistry on stage was evident, and it was clear that they were not just a group of musicians but a tight-knit unit passionate about the music they were creating together. You can always guarantee musicianship of the finest quality from any country band, these guys are usually multi-instrumentalists, multi-talented, vocalists and musicians all wrapped up into one as the competition in the Nashville scene is so competitive any additional weapon in their arsenal will help them catch a gig.
I actually was delighted to see Luke’s guitarist playing a gorgeous Gold-Top PRS DGT, for those not in the know it’s a Dave Grissom signature model guitar and Dave himself is one of Nashville’s finest session musicians and his guitar has trascended well beyond his fame on the local scene, much like tonights performance the demand for tickets, the passion of the Northern Irish crowd has turned Belfast into something really special tonight. There are so many fan favourites in his setlist but his current single and his cover of Tracy Chapmans’ ‘Fast Car’ may have got the loudest cheer of the night.
Luke Combs’ 2023 tour stop at SSE Arena Belfast was a musical triumph. Combs’ remarkable ability to connect with his audience, deliver powerful performances, and bring a taste of authentic American country music to Northern Ireland made for a memorable night. Whether you’re a die-hard country fan or simply appreciate the art of live performance, catching Luke Combs on tour is an experience not to be missed. His Belfast debut was a night that fans will cherish for years to come, and it’s a testament to his undeniable talent and the universal appeal of his music.
Where do we all go from here? Out int the ether craving more Country Music! But fear not as C2C hits our glorious city in 2024 and with it an army of country artists making their way to Ireland between now and then to keep the momentum going, so save those tears, keep the faith, dry those eyes and keep the cowboy boots on!