Kicking off Country to Country's Saturday festivities was 2017's breakout artist Luke Combs. The North Carolina native, who picked up the guitar age 21, credits Eric Church with encouraging his young disenfranchised self back into country music. Evoking his mountain roots with moonshine-laced lyrics and the folksy sounds of the slide guitar, Combs delighted fans with renditions of number one hits Hurricane, and When It Rains It Pours.
Showcasing the talent of up and coming artists, the arena's Spotlight stage saw some stellar acoustic performances throughout the night, from Ashley Campbell (sparkling as she played a touching tribute to her father, the late country legend Glen Campbell), powerhouse Ashley McBryde, an emotional Jillian Jacqueline, and Lukas Nelson.
Kip Moore brought down the house with his trademark sound of big guitar and even bigger vocals, adding a refreshing rock flavour to the assembled country mix. Showing his incredible vocal talent with an acoustic rendition of Guitar Man - and clearly gracious and appreciative of his UK fans - let's hope he delivers on his promise to return to the UK, 'just him and his guitar'.
Next up was one of the of the highlights of the night: the epic vocals and polished performance of seasoned veterans Sugarland. Recently re-formed after a six years hiatus, the duo performed a mix of old hits (including Stuck Like Glue, Stay, and Something More), as well as new work from their forthcoming album. Personable front woman Jennifer Nettles spoke to the power of country music to 'celebrate brokenness…in a way that helps people to heal'. The duo closed out with a stirring rendition of Simple Minds' Alive and Kicking, and left no doubt as to their enduring appeal to country fans worldwide.
Headliner Kacey Musgraves didn't fail to disappoint, with her trademark mix of beautiful vocals, quirky humour and old style glamour. Recently married and showcasing a new softer sound, the songstress cast a gorgeous lyrical spell over the O2. Infusing even old classics such as Keep it to Yourself with the hypnotic new sound, the highlights of her set were nonetheless renditions of tracks from her forthcoming album Golden Hour.
With Kacey Musgraves and Luke Combs already set to return to the UK in 2018, its clear these big hitting country acts have made their mark on UK audiences - and are here to stay.
As well as the stadium line up and ticket only smaller venues like the BBC radio 2 stage, C2C festival also includes free stages for anyone to enjoy around the perimeter of the O2. After a bite to eat at lunch-time on Sunday we caught the stunning vocals of Kerry Watt tucked away on the Busking Stage. The Glasgow born artist fell in love with Americana and headed to California solo when she was just sixteen. She’s currently recording in Nashville, with her first headline UK tour this Autumn. Definitely one to watch.
On the larger Entrance Stage duo American Young pulled a huge crowd with a powerful set. No surprise for those of us who caught Jon Stone and Kristy Osmunson at Bush Hall last year. Their chemistry is genuine and the emotions raw with storytelling that spins from light-hearted and funny, to dark and intense. It’s refreshing to see a duo without the gloss that characterises much of the pop end of country music.
Sunday nights line up in the O2 stadium was impressive – it really did offer something for everyone, defying those who might consider country music to be a limited genre. First up were the cheeky male trio, Midland whose debut single - ‘Drinkin’ Problem’ had been getting a lot of UK airplay. Originally formed in Dripping Springs, Texas they made their name in the Texan club circuit and retain a laid back playfulness, joking about illicit substances and partying. Lead vocalist Mark Wystrach (also an actor) is undeniably handsome in black Stetson and linen suit whilst lead guitarist Jess Carson and bass player Cameron Duddy style more radical seventies inspired look. Which makes sense as their music nods to the wild west is reminiscent of the 70s and 80s country music, albeit with a modern day twist.
Margo Price is a rare liberal voice in country music, recently speaking out about gun control. Her debut album, ‘Midwest Farmer’s Daughter’ 2016 with ten original tracks about her life, including the tragic death of her daughter and her struggles in the music business has been widely praised by critics and catapulted her into the limelight. Whilst songs like ‘Cocaine Cowboy’ showed off her sharp, engaging song-writing and the entire set was rich in texture and content, Price is not a showy performer. It was only when she invited Will Nelson’s son ‘Lukas Nelson to join her for ‘Learning to Lose’ that she seemed to relax into her set and the magic started. Later she took to the drums for a long riff, changed into a sparkling dress and woed the audience with flowers.
Next up was the legend, Emmylou Harris. Looking fantastic at 70, with total command of both band and the stadium she can still pack an emotional punch and share a laid back joke with the crowd. Born in the deep South, ‘I had a very happy childhood so I couldn’t write about that.’ she smiles wryly, ‘so… I had to make stuff up’. Perhaps a gentle nudge at a new generation obsessed by telling their own stories? ‘Michaelangelo’ was a heart-wrenching highlight and she treated us to the epic ‘Boulder to Birmingham for the encore. Let’s just say that alone was reason enough to attend C2C.
If things were getting a bit old school, headliner’s Little Big Town totally changed the vibe with a pop infused set full of crowd pleasures. They opened with a stunning rendition of ‘Rocket Man’ – dramatically lit beneath a huge spinning globe. It was impossible to stay seated. With an extensive list of Top ten singles to choose from, fans were soon singing along to Pontoon, Little White Church, Tornado and Day drinking. As C2C came to the end of it’s sixth year there’s no denying the curators really got the cream of the country crop.
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