Ever since its 2013 debut, Country 2 Country has grown into a ceremony of modern country music, with artists such as Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town, Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves and Eric Church gracing the ever growing festival. The sheer variety of acts could be seen in the diversity of the audience; from hard core fans wearing cowboy hats and draped in star spangled banners, to the dedicated Radio 2 listeners, to families with small children, C2C brought together country fans from far and wide.
The three-day long festival hosted a huge variety of acts, many of which performed on the free stages around the O2, including artists such as Maren Morris as well as Old Dominion and Lauren Alaina who performed on the BBC Radio 2 Country Stage, which provided more intimate performances but with an electric energy.
Day two of C2C featured a truly packed and impressive line-up. Maddie and Tae kicked off the main stage performances on the Saturday night very successfully. The young duo began the night with tunes form their album ‘Start Here’. Their set was packed full of energy with their tight harmonies and catchy choruses. Although their performance was short, the duo highlighted themselves as one of the favourite acts of the night.
The Canadian duo High Valley were the first act of the night to perform on the Yamaha stage, with a short three-song set Their current single ‘Make You Mine’ went down well with the audience, given its driving tempo and brothers Brad and Curtis’ tight harmonies. This band showed great promise and are definitely a band to look out for.
Sam Hunt had was next to woo the crowd with his somewhat progressive take on country music. His country fusion is perhaps an acquired taste, mixing R&B influences into his tracks, but this factor distinguishes his music from every other artist at C2C. Beginning his set with a performance of ‘Leave the Night On,’ Hunt delivered an energetic performance and even hopped off stage to join his fans in the audience during his set.
Little Big Town were next to hit the main stage and, as expected, the four-piece band demonstrated how they’ve remained in the limelight for such a long time. The group’s tight harmonies and incredible chemistry really shone through as they sang hits old and new, from their 2015 track ‘Girl Crush’ to the old school hit ‘Boondocks’. Opening their set with an acappella rendition of the Dolly Parton classic ‘Jolene’, they set the bar high for the remainder of the show. The group’s harmonies remained flawless throughout their performance and are what sets this group apart from everyone else.
Queen of country Carrie Underwood returned to C2C with a bang as she performed a variety of songs from her album ‘Storyteller’, as well as hits from a few years back such as ‘Jesus Take the Wheel’. Underwood’s vocal stamina is something to be admired as she belted out hit after hit. She reminds us why she’s gained so much international success. Sam Hunt returned to the stage to perform ‘Heartbeat’, raising the pulses of fans having just recovered from his previous performance. Underwood’s set was jam-packed with a stream of uptempo, power-driven hits such as ‘Two Black Cadillacs’, ‘Little Toy Guns’ and ‘Before He Cheats’ to name a few. The audience couldn’t possibly bore of her setlist with a string of number 1 hits to her name, and the variety in her performance is huge. She closed the set with a powerful performance of ‘Something in the Water’ and – even after 21 songs – her set didn’t feel long enough.
Day three of C2C did not disappoint either, as the very humble Andrew Combs opened the main stage with a set that, although flawless, would be more suited to a smaller audience in a more intimate setting. The big open space of the O2 wasn’t suited to his style. However, his quirky set was well received, with the audience singing along to his song ‘Emily’.
Striking Matches were first on the Yamaha stage, demonstrating their admirable guitar shredding skills. Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis in their three-song set certainly made an impact. Their live performance blew their recorded work out of the water. This duo ooze talent and the live stage is where they belong.
Every now and then, you see an artist that truly reaches your soul – giving you goosebumps and that shiver you can’t shake even after the performance has finished. Chris Stapleton was that artist. With raw talent oozing from every pore, Stapleton, donning his signature hat, entered the stage with his band and his wife Morgane and – unlike other artists – Stapleton didn’t require any theatrics. His vocals and musical ability spoke for itself. The man has an incredible range and depth to his voice that really touches an audience. Stapleton truly belongs on stage. The rising country star has gained huge success in America after winning the Country Music Award for Best Male Vocalist, New Artist of the Year and Album of the year for his debut album ‘Traveller’ in 2015.
He kicked off his set with ‘Nobody to Blame,’ with the audience hanging on every word. Stapleton went on to perform many tracks from the album ‘Traveller’ including the title track, and ‘Might As Well Get Stoned’. After his performance of ‘Whisky and You’, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house – including Stapleton’s. He became so overwhelmed by the huge support he has from his UK audience that he had to take a moment to take it all in. As if this performance hadn’t stirred the audience enough, Stapleton and his wife sang an incredibly sincere duet of ‘You are my Sunshine’. His astonishingly moving set came to a close with the track ‘Tennessee Whisky’ and he received a standing ovation and deafening applause from the audience. Although Stapleton is artist who tends to remain fairly low key, his music certainly doesn’t. With so much talent, this man will surely be returning to the UK and, if the world is set to right, this man will be the next headline act at C2C.
It would be hard for anyone to follow an act like Stapleton, and perhaps the nerves of following such an artist kicked in, but Frankie Ballard’s vocals were a little shaky and his voice was hard to hear throughout his short set, but this was probably because of sound mix issues. Unfortunately, his set was a little disappointing and, what’s more, was possibly the only set to have been somewhat uninspired.
Kacey Musgraves was the penultimate act, following her salmon suited band onto the main stage looking truly dazzling in a rhinestone pageant dress and white cowboy boots. Musgraves has a way of mixing sarcasm with observational humour, a trait that fits well with the cynical English humour and her sweet, honest and catchy tunes. She performed a range of songs from her albums ‘Same Trailer, Different Park’ and ‘Pageant Material’, which peaked at number 11 on the UK chart, as well as a cover of Gnarls Barkey’s ‘Crazy’ and her rendition of ‘A Spoonful of Sugar’. Musgraves injected a new lease of life into the audience after the previously slower tempo performance from Stapleton. Although her performance was accompanied with lavish costumes and impressive lighting, Musgraves proved she can perform with beautiful simplicity, taking to the stage alone with her guitar as she performed ‘Merry Go Round’, a song that grabbed the hearts of many of the audience. She closed her set with a rendition of ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’, which suited her character to a T as her band increased the tempo until it felt like the arena was about to explode. Parading in her lit up boots, Musgraves received rapturous applause from her surprisingly varied fanbase.
To end the incredible three-day event, Eric Church finally hit the main stage and had the whole arena singing every word of every song back to him. He has clearly reached a stage in his career where his following is so faithful and dedicated that he could have gotten away without singing a single word for his entire set. However, it took a few songs until the set was in full swing and Church had warmed up. His bad boy persona was displayed all over the stage with a giant skull residing on the back wall and references to Jack Daniels every which way. His hard core set was split up, with the more laid back track ‘Talladega’ coming before Church cranked up the tempo again with ‘That’s Damn Rock’n’Roll’. He closed his set with the mellow hit ‘Three Year Old’ and, although it was filled with countless hits, his set seemed to lack the electricity that was expected from such a high-profile performer.
Overall C2C demonstrated how country music is a growing genre in the UK, with high-calibre performances from a variety of acts. No doubt Country 2 Country will be back in 2017 even bigger and better than before.
This Country 2 Country article was written by Samantha Melrose, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Zoe Anderson and Ian Bourne.