Ellen – "The time of year I look forward to the most. I count down the days after each festival for the next."
Andrew – "There is no festival or event quite like C2C, it is such a great community with amazing artists "
Amy – "I am a huge supporter of UK country music and C2C always showcase UK talent as well as the US which i love"
Helen – "We come here every year and have been since the very first one, I will always come here it is the best event in the world"
Country Music isn’t a genre you hear about a lot in the UK. In fact it's one of those genres that as a fan, if you hear someone else is a fan, you get really excited. Most people I have met think of Cotton Eyed Joe or really traditional country when I mention that I love country music – but just when you thought that Country Music was of the past or stuck in the US, there were and are a huge fan base that you probably never even knew existed, probably people you work with, are related to or maybe even a close friend who just never told you.
Country Music is family. It is one of the most friendliest and warming genres to be a fan of or even an artist of. It doesn't quite gain the credit it deserves though, especially outside the US – but if country wasn't cool then how does it sell out the entire 02 Arena for three days straight?
In 2013, some people got together and came up with the greatest idea UK country music fans will forever be grateful for – a festival bringing US country artists to the UK stage. Gone are the days when we would save our pennies to fly to Nashville to catch our favourite artists in concert. Gone are the days when we would listen to country music on our devises and never see the artists live and gone are the days where we would be the only one in our circle of friends that listened to this genre.
Ever since Country 2 Country Festival began, fans have emerged from all over and have gathered together under one roof. The first year kickstarted with a jaw dropping line up of Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw, Martina McBride, Darius Rucker, LeAnn Rimes, Little Big Town, Kristian Bush, Vince Gill and Brantley Gilbert and the festival has gone from strength to strength every year since with appearances from Zac Brown Band, Lady Antebellum, Brad Paisley, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Eric Church, Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, Andrew Combs, Maddie and Tae and Miranda Lambert to name but a few.
Over the years the festival has gone from being a two day festival to a three day festival and has added various stages across the O2 during the day that non arena and arena ticket holders can attend. These stages have enabled fans to see performances from artists such as Sam Hunt, Charlie Worsham, Striking Matches, Maren Morris, Nashville TV Show Cast, A Thousand Horses and many more.
This year has been the biggest festival yet. Not only has the main event taken place over three days but the thursday hosts a CMA Songwriters Series where some of Nashville's finest songwriters gather together to sing in the round. This year we had Maren Morris, Drake White, Liz Rose, Mac McAnally and Kristian Bush.
The main stage this year was fairly diverse, catering for fans of all ages and tastes. The headliners included Brad Paisley, Reba McIntyre and Zac Brown Band with artists such as Marty Stuart, Maren Morris, Hunter Hayes, Darius Rucker, Dan + Shay, Brothers Osborne, Jennifer Nettles and Chris Young further down the billing but all equally brilliant and deserving of a headline slot.
This year also welcomed back the addition of The Yamaha Stage which is a small stage at the back of the arena to showcase up and coming talent in between main stage acts. Not all the artists on that stage were exactly new though as most of the artists already have an amazing career and huge fan base that the majority of the audience, myself included, felt they were robbed of a main stage slot as were more than deserving of so. Those artists were Cam, Cassadee Pope, Jana Kramer, Drake White, Lucie Silvas and then up and coming rising stars such as Bailey Bryan, Seth Ennis and Chase Bryant. However, all of The Yamaha Acts had various sets across the weekend on other stages, giving fans plenty of opportunities to see them, especially when not every attendee had main arena tickets.
One of the things that is so great about C2C Festival is that as soon as you arrive, everyone is the same as you. Everyone shares the same passion. You find yourself looking around at all the other fans and getting excited over their t shirts or cowboy boots and hats. A conversation will never run dry between two people who don't know each other at C2C, there is so much common ground that you make friends instantly, in fact, so many people already know each other via social media and meet up in a huge organised pub meet up before hand and no, not just for lone attendees but groups of friends and families too. At C2C even if you do go alone, you aren't alone for long as everyone looks out for each other and everyone is welcoming. Out of all the thousands of attendees, you soon come to know a huge percentage of people even just by face.
When Country 2 Country is on, the whole of the O2 is transformed into our closest version of Broadway in Downtown Nashville. The Restaurants become Honky Tonks, there are pop up stages all over the walk ways and inside other venues within the dome. There is an area which is sectioned off and named The Town Square and holds stalls of food, clothes and music stores and another slightly larger pop up stage. This area is also a booth which hosts artist signings. Some of the other venues do require tickets though such as The Bluebird Cafe. Throughout the weekend the venue NY-LON is transformed into a similar setting of Nashville's Bluebird Cafe where songwrters and artists sing their songs in a round just the same as the above mentioned CMA Songwriters Series. There were four sessions in total and each session cost £25 a ticket. For that price, you get to see about three or four of some of country music'/ finest songwriters. This year included Josh Osborne, Mac McAnally, Seth Ennis, Charlie Worsham, Cassadee Pope, Chase Bryant, Logan Brill, Jeff Cohen, Canaan Smith and Lucie Silvas. There were also also shows inside the Indigo and Building Six as well as other venues. After each main stage act had finished, you could also buy tickets for an after party in Building Six which would have a live show followed by a live DJ. This year, the after parties artists were Cam, Drake White and Jana Kramer followed by DJ Bad Ash. Those who could not obtain a ticket or did not want to go had an alternative of a free afterparty in the Indigo with artists of equal calibre such as Canaan Smith and Lucie Silvas.
Those of us who go to many County Music gigs start to see familiar faces wherever we go during the festival and it’s also nice to see some of the pop up artists such as Ward Thomas, Temecula Road and The Worry Dolls just walking around at their own leisure amongst all the festival goers.
There is something about walking in to the O2 Arena when Country 2 Country Festival is on that is like no other event. Although it is only on its fifth year, it already feels like home. As soon as you enter the Arena you get a sudden feeling of excitement and that isn’t just over the artists or over the many stalls full of Country CD’s, Cowboy boots and Southern food, its also the excitement of the overall atmosphere.
This year was one of my favourites despite having repeat performers from previous years. The general atmosphere was more relaxed but at the same time buzzing and I think that a huge part of that is because it is like family now for both fans and artists.
Highlights weren't just the headliners but acts from the pop up stages too. I walked away with wonderful memories from Temecula Road, Cassadee Pope, The Wandering Hearts, Cam, Drake White and Jana Kramer from the pop ups and main stage acts Brothers Osborne, Marty Stuart, Zac Brown Band, Maren Morris and Darius Rucker.
Brad has played the 02 Arena twice before this years festival, once before as part of C2C and once as part of his headline tour with Darius Rucker as his support, now that was a show!
There is something very special about a Brad Paisley show, in fact there are many things that are special. Brad has the ability to make anyone a fan of his, even if it is just of his performance and not his music. This man is an entertainer and the very best at it. Not only is Brad a fantastic singer and a phenomenal guitar player but he is one of the funniest musicians to ever grace the 02 stage or perhaps any stage. It is obvious much Brad loves the UK and his British fans. He comes across so overwhelmed by his UK fans and the fact we make the effort to come out and see him. Well of course we come out to see him, he is Brad Paisley.
Temecula Road are a newly signed trio to Hollywood Records and consist of sisters Maddie and Emma Salute and good friend Dawson Anderson and they may just be the most exciting new act to emerge into the country music scene today. Having recently released their debut single ‘What If I Kissed You’ and recorded a series of Country music mash ups, as well as a killer cover of The Chainsmokers’ ‘Closer’, Temecula Road created quite a lot of buzz amongst C2C fans as soon as they were announced to play.
Temecula Road gave one of the most memorable performances of the weekend, winning over fans of all ages with their talent, wit and like able personalities. If you are not a huge fan of country, don't worry as Temecula Road have got you covered with their pop infused country songs that are so well written and so well sung with their perfect, sweet-sounding harmonies, that they belong on the mainstream charts.
Drake White is one of those soulful singer/Songwriters that should not be overlooked. One of the most phenomenal male artists I have ever heard in my life, he even gives Chris Stapleton a run for his money. Drake’s vocals are so insanely good that he doesn't even need instrumental accompaniment. His debut album Spark is without a doubt a contender for next years Grammys and his songs Story and Making Me Look Good Again are two of the most mind blowing live performances I have ever witnessed. His vocals are projective, emotive and you could hear a pin drop when he sings live. This man will not bore you live, he delivers such a steller performance that is chilling, emotional, passionate amd mesmerising.
Cassadee Pope is a country music singer who previously was lead singer of the rock band Hey Monday! Since then she auditioned for the US version of The Voice, had every chair turn, chose Blake Shelton as her mentor and won the whole show. This crown earned her a recording contract with Big Machine Records where she released her debut album Frame By Frame – one of my favourite country pop albums of all time. Cassadee has one of the most distinctive and pure, sweet-sounding voices with a rocky edge that you will ever hear.
Cassadee is quite the talent on stage. Her voice was even more flawless than her recorded sound. For me and many others, Cassadee was a highlight of the entire weekend and she wasn’t even on the main stage. Having Cassadee perform with Chris Young on the Friday night on the main stage as part of their hit single Think Of You certainly set an atmosphere for just how excited fans were to see her and people who did not know her were without a doubt going to catch one of her shows and buy her music. That performance was so insanely good that it showed the C2C audience that Cassadee has one of the best vocals in country music today. Her solo set was highly entertaining with hits such as I Wish I Could Break Your Heart, Summer and Wasting All These Tears.
Hailing from Sol-Cal Country- Cam, has taken the country music industry by storm with her breathtakingly beautiful debut single Burning House and has become one of country musics finest singers to ever grace the modern country scene. An old soul, Cam has so much to offer. Her flawless voice has a hint of Dolly Parton and a tone so pure and honeyed that she bridges the gap between traditional and modern so perfectly.
Cam is not only a delightfully refreshing artist but she is also such a joy to watch, speak to and listen to when she talks and sings. Her adorable personality is so infectious that you just want to be her best friend. She really does seem like the nicest person in the world. Cam is like sunshine, I think she could make the saddest person smile and she could light up the darkest room.
Cam began her set with My Mistake taken from her current and debut album Untamed. Beaming with delight throughout her performance and constantly smiling and slightly skipping – Cam yelped with a happy yelp each time the audience sang back to her when she held out her microphone.
Cam’s song Burning House is quite possibly one of the most beautiful songs ever written. Inspired by a dream she had about how she hurt an old flame, the melody, instrumentation, vocals and lyrics to this song are breathtakingly stunning and wonderfully perfect. The song is so chilling in the most gorgeous way and live, it is even more so and her performance was flawless and the entire arena sang back making it quite the emotional performance.
Formerly the lead singer of 90's band Hootie and The Blowfish, Darius has become one of the most loved artists in country music, bringing a wonderful and grunge sound to country music with his unique, soulful and tangy tone that is one of the best in the entire music industry. You will never get a bad show with Darius Rucker. He is such a tough act to follow and many (and I spoke to a lot of people about him) said he was the highlight for them and no one could top his performance and I would be inclined to agree. His set was beaming, energetic, homey, warm, inviting, soulful, Jazzy and it felt like he united each and every person in the arena.
Darius' moves on the stage are one of his trademarks and everyone always looks forward to them. He is not exactly a dancer but when he sways his hips, he brings a smile to every face. His song Alright is always a favourite as are Come Back Song and Southern State Of Mind. Darius always ensures to have a couple of Hootie songs in the mix and treated fans with Only Wanna Be With You and Hold My Hand which had the entire arena singing along. It is his version of Wagon Wheel that gets the crowd really going though, but the show stopper was his cover of Prince's Purple Rain which was an emotional tribute to all the great musicians we lost last year. If you ever get the opportunity to see Darius Rucker live, then you must go.
Hunter Hayes is another country artist that I feel can easily break into the mainstream charts. His music is country pop but so infectious and melodious that he would out sell artists such as Justin Bieber and Similar in a heart beat. Hunter Hayes is probably one of the most talented musicians in the world right now. A multi instrumentalist which not many people realise, this guy has a huge, long lasting career ahead of him. Hunter’s music can often be misunderstood. A lot of country fans see him as the teeny bopper of country music but if they really listened to him and if they saw him live, then I think their opinions would change quickly. Fortunately, having a slot on the main stage at C2C Festival gave Hunter the opportunity to show exactly what he is made of. Quite a few people came up to me after saying how they never realised just how good he was and had no idea that he played so many instruments or wrote his own music. Songs such as I Want Crazy and Tattoo always go down a treat as does his epic ballad Wanted.
Reba was an artist I never thought would be on the C2C line up. One of two traditional artists across the weekend, Reba caused a divide in the audience – you either loved her show or found it boring. I don't think performing straight after Darius Rucker helped as for many, he stole the show. Regardless, I loved every minute of Reba’s set and felt honoured to be there. The atmosphere in my block was buzzing full of hardcore fans which made it that much more fun. Reba is the Queen of Country Music after Dolly Parton and she certainly showed us why. She played old hits, new songs, covers and ended the set with an absolutely epic performance of her massive hit song Fancy, which made my night.
Country duo – Brothers Osborne were electrifying. Their musical stylings lean more towards an alternative country sound blended with roots, bluesy and southern rock and they gave us a solid performance that will last in peoples memories for a long time, if not forever. Everything about their set was mesmerising, especially the insane guitar/fretwork from John Osborne which blows your mind and you stand there thinking what was that? That was crazy! Their set was rocking from start to finsish with their strong southern sound and one of the most memorbale moments was when they performed their single Rum.
Providing a very satisfying set list for such a short time slot and finishing with Stay A Little Longer and That Ain’t My Fault, they left us wanting them to stay a little longer.
From pop up stage act to main stage star in just one year, Maren Morris is quite the fire cracker and certainly a force to be reckoned with. With a career that most can only dream of even over years, Maren has proven to be one of the most gifted and exciting artists of our generation. Her debut album Hero having so much success that it earned Maren four Grammy nominations at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards. The album was nominated for Best Country Album, “My Church” won Best Country Solo Performance and was nominated for Best Country Song. Morris was also nominated for the all-genre honor of Best New Artist.
With a unique sound, Maren has a blend of many genres, not just country and deserves to be recognised as not just a country singer, but a mainstream artist too. Maren could quite easily fit alongside artists such as Adele, Beyonce, Rihanna and more if the mainstream radio would only play her. I have every faith that in the UK, if she got Radio 1 airtime, she would be a number one selling artist in no time.
Maren is a phenomenal performer with real attitude, sass and allure, she commands her stage with such confidence and power and delivers a groundbreaking, show stopping set. She did not disappoint on the main stage as she strutted around commanding her stage and filling the arena with her soulful, unique voice with songs such as 80's Mercedes, Second Wind and My Church.
Marty Stuart was the most surprising act of the weekend for me. Being a more traditional artist, I expected his set to be more relaxing than the rest of the Sunday line up which consisted of Brothers Osborne, Maren Morris and Zac Brown Band. I initially thought they had placed him on the wrong day as assumed he would bring the vibe down but I couldn't have been more wrong. Marty is old school yes, but he is without a doubt the coolest cat in town and I dare you to question that. He is such a smooth, slick and bad ass performer that he is an artist other artists look up to, idolise. His music is the rocking side of country, the dark shadow, western, Johnny Cash, outlaw sound. He made his mark on the O2 Arena stage, setting the bar really high and gaining an even bigger fan base than he already had. Even the younger audience were in awe of his performance as he showed the world how it was done and showed us that traditional artists are here to stay and his music will never die, never go out of date. This man, Marty Stuart is truly a legend and I feel privileged to have seen him live.
Zac Brown Band
Zac Brown Band are not only one of the best country bands in the world but one of the best bands in the world. This eight piece band of multi talented instrumentalists always give one of the best live shows you will ever see. Their music is country, it’s rootsy, it’s bluesy, it’s alternative, rocky, poppy, everything. If you want to see a phenomenal show, then these are your guys. I have never heard a crowd roar so much as I did during their set at C2C this year. The crowd were stomping, chanting and refusing to leave their seats as they demanded more. Zac Brown Band brought the festival to a close with one of the most steller performances of the weekend. What a way to end an epic weekend, everyone left more than satisfied and excited to grab their tickets for next years festival.
So if you were ever in doubt about country music, I urge you to not just look up the artists mentioned but delve into the genre and discover even more artists as there are so many great ones out there and even more to come.
If you want to experience a festival like no other then this is the festival to expolre. Even if you go for just the free stages during the day then it will give you a sneak peak into one of the greatest genres of all time. Forget the stereotypes behind country music and be the first out of your friends and family to be converted. Country Music is hitting the big time, so don't be the last to jump on the band wagon. C2C is one of the most amazing festivals and experiences out there. How many other festivals make you feel at home and how many other festivals can you truly connect with the artists even on a one to one basis?