July 15, 2024

Taylor Swift’s First Tour of Australia

Taylor Swift’s first tour of Australia was her first outside of America; a one week run playing nightclubs, a ski resort and a benefit concert at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

Taylor Swift at 16
Taylor Swift at 16

2009 was a significant year in Taylor Swift’s career.

A precocious talent, the singer-songwriter had been performing professionally from a young age. Spending time in Nashville, she initially wrote and performed country music, releasing her first, self-titled album in 2006 when she was only 16.

The album was a success; ‘Taylor Swift’ reached number 5 on the Billboard Top 200 Chart, and the lead single, ‘Tim McGraw’, became a hit.

Swift’s combination of catchy guitar hooks and emotive lyrics quickly found a wide audience. The writing was especially important: Swift wrote or co-wrote all of her songs, unusual for a young performer, personal tales based on her own experiences.

She spent most of 2006 touring the album and building her fan base.

Taylor Swift 'Fearless' album cover

Swift’s second album, ‘Fearless’, was released in the United States in November 2008. The record continued the successful approach from the first, while showing a growing maturity in music and song writing.

The lead single, ‘Love Story’, was a runaway hit, reaching # 1 on the country charts; highlighting the singer’s growing crossover appeal, it also topped the Billboard pop charts, the first country song to do so.

The album reached # 1 as well, establishing Taylor Swift as a rising young star.

‘Fearless’ was also successful overseas. It was particularly popular in Australia, where both the album and ‘Love Story’ topped the local charts.

To capitalise on this success, a short Australian tour was planned for March 2009; it would be Swift’s first outside of America.

The band room at the Tivoli, Brisbane
The band room at the Tivoli, Brisbane
A ticket from the show Taylor Swift show, Tivoli, Brisbane, 2009
A ticket from the show

The tour was planned as a quick swing down Australia’s east coast, a rapid series of dates lasting only a week. The first stop was the Tivoli, in Brisbane, on March 5.

Located in Fortitude Valley, the ‘Tiv’ is one of the city’s best-known live music venues. Originally built as a bakery in 1917, and retaining its original stylings, in 1988 it had been converted into a bar and theatre.

The capacity was around 1 500 and the show quickly sold out; an eager crowd lined up for hours beforehand.

‘We rounded the corner and there were at least a thousand people lined up, three abreast down the street. There were punters of all ages, though predominantly teenage-early 20’s girls.

 

(Inside) the room was absolutely buzzing with excitement. She rocked the place very professionally but still showed signs of a teenager when she spoke of her new love of koalas.

 

She played like a veteran, and it was the loudest crowd I have ever experienced.’

 

– Tivoli gig attendee

Swift played for just over an hour, her set including ‘Tim McGraw’ and ‘Love Story’, as well as a number of other tracks off her first two albums. Reviews were positive, with those present noting her professionalism, energy, and connection to the audience.

The tour then headed south.

Thredbo village
Thredbo village

Thredbo is a small village and ski resort in the Snowy Mountains, in the southwest of New South Wales. It is one of Australia’s best known ski destinations, with its longest runs, attracting 700 000 visitors annually.

March was outside of ski season, which typically ran from July to October. But the town was looking to attract more visitors year-round and had established a music festival in the off-season.

Taylor Swift's first tour of Australia: CMC Rocks the Snowys poster, 2009
CMC Rocks the Snowys poster, 2009

‘CMC Rocks the Snowys’ was held that year on the weekend of March 6 and 7. Local rock musician Pete Murray was the headline act on the first day, Taylor Swift on the second; other notable acts on the bill included Ash Grunwald and The Waifs.

After playing her set, Swift gave a TV interview and was asked about her rapid rise.

‘Whenever I accomplish a goal I replace it with something just a little higher. My next one is to play all over the world, and that’s starting to happen.’

 

– Taylor Swift, interview

The interview captures Swift’s youthful enthusiasm, at the same time she appears poised and confident (watch the interview, and a song from her set, here).

The modest entrance to 'Billboards', Melbourne
The modest entrance to ‘Billboard’, Melbourne

The tour then moved to Melbourne, where Swift played two shows on March 10; an all-ages show in the afternoon, and an over 18 gig in the evening.

The location was ‘Billboard’ (now called ‘170 Russell’) on Russell Street in Melbourne’s CBD.

Billboard is an unpretentious venue beneath a multi-story carpark, two flights below street level. The room is intimate; with a capacity of only 900, it would be one of Swift’s smallest crowds since the early days of her career.

Taylor Swift's first tour of Australia: Billboard, Melbourne 2009

Taylor Swift's first tour of Australia: Billboard, Melbourne 2009

Taylor Swift's first tour of Australia: Billboard, Melbourne 2009
Taylor Swift at ‘Billboard’, Melbourne, 2009

Wearing a bright gold dress, and rocking a guitar covered in sequins, the singer thrilled both audiences. Her set from the show, reflective of other concerts on the tour, was:

  1. You Belong With Me
  2. Our Song
  3. Tell Me Why
  4. Teardrops on My Guitar
  5. Forever & Always
  6. Hey Stephen
  7. White Horse
  8. Leavin’ (Jesse McCartney cover)
  9. Should’ve Said No
  10. Fearless
  11. Tim McGraw
  12. Love Story
  13. Change
  14. Encore: Picture to Burn

The gigs were both sold out and well received. With the breakneck tour already nearing its close, the singer flew to Sydney the next morning for her final show.

Black Saturday bushfires, 2009
Black Saturday bushfires, 2009

A month before Swift’s tour had begun, bushfires had ravaged Victoria.

The crisis had peaked on February 7. A record high temperature of 46° C combined with strong winds to create a widespread firestorm; 400 blazes erupted across the state, burning more than 1 million acres.

The worst hit areas were Marysville and Kinglake, north of Melbourne, and Beechworth and Bendigo in regional Victoria. 173 people were killed in one of Australia’s worst natural disasters, subsequently labelled ‘Black Saturday’.

In the aftermath, a number of aid initiatives were undertaken to assist victims. Among these was a large-scale charity concert, called ‘Sound Relief’.

Promo poster for 'Sound Relief'
Promo poster for ‘Sound Relief’

Sound Relief would be held simultaneously in Melbourne and Sydney on Saturday, March 14, with all profits donated to relief efforts. Legendary Australian band ‘Midnight Oil’ reformed to participate (their lead singer, Peter Garrett, was by that stage a member of Parliament), touring international acts ‘Coldplay’ and ‘Kings of Leon’ were among the headliners.

Taylor Swift was not originally on the bill; when the shows were announced in late February she was still in America. But once in Australia, with the bushfires still dominating local news, she readily agreed to participate.

Her tour was extended by a few days so she could play at the Sound Relief event in Sydney.

Taylor Swift on Stage at The Factory, Sydney, 2009

Taylor Swift on Stage at The Factory, Sydney, 2009

Taylor Swift on Stage at The Factory, Sydney, 2009
On stage at The Factory, Sydney, 2009

Swift’s first show in Sydney was on March 12, at the Factory Theatre in Marrickville; a purpose-built arts hub, in the city’s Western suburbs.

While most of the concerts on the tour had sold out, this one had a smaller crowd, possibly reflecting the less central location. Journalist Rob Moran, then working for ‘Girlfriend’ magazine’ was in attendance:

‘Taylor, in a sparkly dress, blonde curls falling like spaghetti, dramatically flicking her head back and forth like she was performing in an arena, rather than a small hall subdivided by a black curtain.

 

Cowboys in cowboy hats and cowboy boots, slumped against the walls, appreciative but casual… teenagers by the stage erupting into a singalong when she got to ‘Love Story’.

 

– Rob Moran, recalling the gig in ‘The Sydney Morning Herald’

It was a relatively low-key show, indicating that her star was still on the rise, rather than fully ascendant. But the tour would end on a high note.

Sound Relief on the front page of The Age
Sound Relief on the front page of ‘The Age’

Sound Relief was an emotional event. Held at the Melbourne and Sydney Cricket Grounds, with the bushfires still burning but slowly coming under control, tens of thousands of people turned out in a show of public solidarity.

In Melbourne, the bill was a showcase of local rock and pop royalty; a reformed Hunters and Collectors, Split Enz, Paul Kelly and Kylie Minogue. Prince William and Prince Harry, introduced by Kylie, addressed the crowds via video link.

As the afternoon wore on, rain fell across Victoria, further helping to douse the flames.

‘A soggy but sated 81 000 strong crowd paid tribute to Black Saturday’s firefighters and its survivors, with a whooping, swaying rain dance, in thrall of some of Australia’s most legendary music acts.’

 

– ‘The Age’ reports the Melbourne show

The Red Cross would announce that Sound Relief, and donations in the lead up, had raised $245 million.

Taylor Swift's first tour of Australia: Sound Relief

Taylor Swift's first tour of Australia: Sound Relief

Taylor Swift's first tour of Australia: Sound Relief
Sound Relief, Sydney, 2009

In Sydney, the crowds at the SCG had finer weather and the show a more international flavour. The packed scheduled kept the sets tight.

Taylor Swift played four songs mid-afternoon. In stark contrast to the show in Marrickville, now she played to one of her largest crowds; a full stadium, pressing right up to the stage.

Swift closed her mini-set with her biggest hit, which she introduced with the line, ‘I have this theory, that music is really just love stories set to a melody.’ The crowd, excited at the hint of ‘Love Story’, erupted as the song kicked off, and shouted along to the rousing, rocking version that followed (watch it, here).

As the song climaxed, and the music gave way to an approving roar, Swift looked genuinely emotional. Facing out into the mass of people in front of her, she mouthed the word, ‘Wow’.

The tour was over, but this was just the beginning.

'Imma let you finish'; a moment of pop-culture infamy
‘Imma let you finish’; a moment of pop-culture infamy

After Australia, the rest of 2009 continued Taylor Swift’s meteoric rise.

In April she started her ‘Fearless’ world tour, her first as a major headliner, with 118 shows on three continents. The album itself would eventually sell more than 10 million copies and was the highest selling in the US in 2009, making Swift the youngest artist to achieve this feat.

She would subsequently win her first Album of the Year at the Grammys.

2009 was also the year of ‘Imma let you finish’, and the first signs that enormous fame would have its downside. Swift began to transcend her origins as a popular musician, and become more of a broad pop-culture phenomenon.

She has remained one ever since.

Taylor Swift post about playing at Billboard in Melbourne 2009
Swift recalls playing at Billboard

The ‘Fearless’ world tour brought Swift back to Australia in May 2010. Twelve months on from her first stint, she had graduated to arenas, playing in front of crowds of more than 10 000 each night.

In Brisbane she played the Entertainment Centre and delighted her audience by name-checking The Tivoli. In Melbourne she played at Rod Laver arena; on a later tour she would comment how emotional she felt when someone tagged her in a picture of ‘Billboard’.

For the ‘Eras’ tour in 2024, Swift would play three shows at the MCG in Melbourne. The crowds, 96 000 per night, are the largest of her career to date.

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