Let me start off by saying that C2C Country to Country is without doubt my favourite weekend of the year. There isn’t a weekend I look forward to more and as an Early Bird ticket purchaser the week after last year’s C2C it always seems to take ages to come round.
Anyway, this was my 7th C2C – I missed the very first year but went to Glasgow and London in the same year a couple of years back. I can honestly say I’ve pretty much seen it from all angles – the nose bleed seats, the bleachers and the floor – and once you’ve been on the floor at the O2 I think its unlikely you go back (well I won’t !).
There was some extra excitement this year as my old mucker Ali Donowho had kindly asked me to represent CIMV in the press room. This added an extra dimension of which there will be more on later.
For the 2nd year running I decided to head darn sowff to take in the Thursday night curtain raiser – The CMA Songwriters event. Anyone who knows me well will tell you I’m a fan of the song and the talent that creates them. A great 2nd row seat gave me a fantastic vantage from which to watch Cam (the lovely and loveable blonde bombshell) host a traditional songwriters round. Aided and abetted by Ross Copperman, Laura Veltz, Jimmie Allen and Travis Denning, most in attendance agreed this was one of the best ‘rounds’ we’d ever seen. The humour and energy from the stage were extremely well received by all in the Indigo and Travis get’s my vote for most entertaining. Cam however stole the show with her explanation and rendition of ‘Burning House’ – but I equally loved her forthcoming Lori McKenna co-written single ‘Forgetting you when I’m alone’ from her completed new album. Jimmie Allen gets a special mention for just being so darn likeable. I think everyone agreed we’d witnessed aspecial night’s music.
Day 1 officially of C2C is Friday night and after a leisurely morning at the Premier Inn at Greenwich – with breakfast at the greasy sppon across the road – my C2C newbie pal Derek and I headed over to the O2. It’s always interesting to watch folks reaction to seeing the big white tent for the 1st time. I’m still in awe of it myself and the recent addition of world class shopping really makes a visit very worthwhile. A quick pint in the Slug & Lettuce – traditional meeting place for the C2C Attendees Facebook group – was followed by a brief Indigo visit for RaeLynn and Fairground Saints, followed by my first visit to the press room.
I was a little daunted going into the press room as in my mind I’d be in there with The Guardian, the BBC, maybe even Sky News. Turns out it’s filled with folk like me. Keen enthusiasts trying to give Country a voice in the UK through blogs and websites. A few well known faces made me feel more at ease and I settled in to see Brett ‘Sex-on-a-Stick’ (apparently !!) Eldredge and Cam. As with most country artists they came across as humble and kind (see what I did there) and were genuinely engaging. Got invited to ask Cam a question which I enjoyed and the sparkle in her eyes makes you feel very warm indeed.
The Main Arena beckoned and I didn’t want to miss the set of SCM favourite Chase Rice, quickly followed by Cam, Brett and then headliner Keith Urban. A very eclectic mix of country styles but each offering something to the listener. Inbetween main stage acts the Satellite stage hosted some less well known acts but from my vantage near the front they are only really background noise until Bob Harris comes out to announce the next act.
This was the 1st time I’ve seen Brett and I enjoyed his set a lot. I wasn’t really expecting to but he has a warmth and stage presence that keeps you interested. His song ‘Raymond’ about a woman with Alzheimer’s is touching. Keith Urban did what Keith Urban does – rocked the place and had us all up on our feet throughout his set. His guitar skills are off the chart and I was mesmerised from beginning to end.
The Afterparty and country disco were the usual mix of reacquaintances, alcohol, dodgy dancing and my annual attempt to Tush Push my way through Brooks and Dunn’s Boot Scoot Boogie without spilling my drink. My head hit the pillow circa 4 a.m.
Day 2 kicked off with a visit to the Indigo to see Runaway June followed by more psuedo journalism in the press room with Carly Pearce, and Hunter Hayes first up. Dustin Lynch was a revelation both in his interview and on stage. He was very excited to be there, describing the O2 as a ‘bucket list’ moment for him and his band. He definitely brought the ‘cowboy’ to C2C and I’d like to see him again touring his own show here in the UK later this year. Well worth seeing if his main stage show was anything to go by.
Saturday’s headliners were Lady Antebellum. We go way back as I’ve loved them from their very first single. Again they provided an engaging press conference with a genuine warmth and spirit about them. They discussed the solo projects and how the audience has grown and grown in the UK. Their set was their usual masterclass in well crafted songs and performance. Trialling a couple of new songs, they can be in no doubt they have a hit on their hands with ‘Never get over you’. ClassicLady A power ballad.
I managed to miss Saturday’s afterparty acts mostly but again the usual revelry and dancing had me crawling into bed at circa 4a.m.
Day 3 for me was gonna always be about seeing Chris Stapleton again. But first the ungodly 10a.m. start for the Bluebird songwriters round with Adam Hambrick, Kelly Archer and Michael Ray – the latter doing well to be there after seeing him in the Indigo when I left the afterparty only 7 hrs earlier. His guitarist – Jeff – was really struggling and I felt for him as he went through hell trying to keep it together !! This was a great songwriters round and they played off each other really well. The obligatory Bluebird poster in the bag with 3 signatures already and more artists to add throughout the year at gigs, as per previous form.
My final press room stint was with Jimmie Allen and Ashley McBryde. Jimmie is wonderfully engaging. A real entertainer and definitely one to watch. Ashley is well known to most given her C2C exploits last year and her support on the LukeCombs tour. She is a star in the making and it was a pleasure to put a question to her directly about how her and her band felt about playing the O2 main stage. She really has come from ‘nowhere’ to somewhere and the feedback from all who saw her Main Stage set later on was that she stole the show.
The final main stage session started with Drake White and his new band, quickly followed by Ashley’s fabulous set and then the ‘legend’ slot – this year filled by veteran Lyle Lovett. He was a revelation and I really enjoyed his set. Not as much as Marty Stuart in previous years but fantastic nevertheless.
Chris Stapleton – what can you say ? I’m a fan – a big fan! He plays and sings just like his albums. No gimmicks. No stage trickery. Many said no stage presence but I have it on good authority that live performance is not where he is comfortable and if it wasn’t for the presence of his beloved wife Morgane, he probably wouldn’t get up there. Thankfully her pregnancy didn’t lead to a late cancellation and they blew me away more than once with their fantastic set. Much has been said about the time between songs etc but for me it didn’t detract from the performance which was simply outstanding’. The ‘artist’ corner just off stage was rammed with those who’d been on stage earlier so you can tell that a Stapleton gig is on everyone’s bucket list.
Another Aftershow – this time with pocket rocket RaeLynn – was followed by a sensible departure around 12.30 a.m. as I was officially knackered.
All in all C2C 2019 delivered for me. Great mix of artists across the country genre, wonderful songs based on great stories, and a fabulous time with the one big country family who share the love that I have for Country Music. Perfect.
Early bird tickets already in the bag for 2020 !!