C2C 2017: A PERSONAL VIEW

“If you see a turtle on a fence post you know that someone has lifted his ass up there” – Quote of the weekend from Drake White on the Radio 2 Stage.

Year 5 (year 4 for me). The huge collective bubble that is the Country 2 Country festival closes its doors for another year and the majority of the attendees will be packing their boots and cowboy hats away. The one glorious weekend when dipping your toes in the water and your ass in the sand is an accepted part of our vocabulary before we return to the drudge of normal life, where we are seen as those “country and western” oddballs.

There are those who turn up, take in as much as their feet and stamina will allow and embrace the talent on offer. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who plan the three days with military precision and usually fail to meet the exacting deadlines that they had set out to achieve. From past experiences I decided this year not to fret that I was missing X whilst watching Y. That’s the nature of the C2C beast. It’s as much a meeting of old mates anyway and there were occasions on the concourse when I felt like Martin Brundle on the GP grid.

After a decent period of reflection, post C2C, these are my personal highs, lows and OKs from this year’s extravaganza.

  • The after show party on Friday was a complete car crash. ‘DJ Bad Ash’ lived up to her moniker. She was bad. Very bad. Cam had performed her set to great acclaim and the crowd were well up for a country party disco. Unfortunately, LA-based ‘Ash’ decided that she would show us her mixing skills with some deft electro beats and mashups. ‘We Will Rock You’ morphed into a few bars from Blake and then returned to Disco Mix Club does funky country. Throw in some totally unexplained technical faults when the ‘music’ would cut out frequently, and it was obvious that her crowd would quickly disperse. By 1am the venue was almost empty. She had the gig on Saturday and Sunday but it seems that someone had a word. They were much better. It’s not hard to find country songs to play for a country crowd. Do we not have DJs in the UK who could play at a UK festival?
  • The Indigo door policy needs reviewing. They were allowing anyone into this venue without proper wristband or ticket checking. On Sunday, Drake White, The Shires and Cassadee Pope were on the bill. It was obvious that the crowds were going to be huge but I know people who were in possession of arena tickets who couldn’t get in. Members of the general public were able to watch these shows for free and this caused resentment.
  • I missed the Brooklyn Bowl. It’s part of C2C folklore. You could spend most of the festival in there and watch the changing acts in a venue that is as close to a Nashville music bar as we possess in the UK. Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town have performed there and the after shows were legendary. Building Six looks as though it’s designed to host the next series of Robot Wars.
  • Last year Charlie Worsham was the act that was considered the breakthrough performer of the festival. He was back this year and by all accounts was just as good but I missed his C2C performances as we were covering his UK tour the week after. This year the buzz was reserved for Drake White. How good is Drake White? This guy will surely become part of country music royalty soon. I caught his mesmerising set at the after party on Saturday. He and The Big Fire were simply amazing. He was so good that we made a point of catching up with him again for a sadly truncated set the following day. He will be coming back to tour the UK again soon and the crowds have to turn out to support him.
  • It was great to see Brad Paisley back at the O2. His performance in 2015 will be part of C2C legend. This year we knew what to expect and the crowd didn’t quite repeat the adulation. We might not have been singing ‘The Mona Lisa’ on the tube this year but Brad’s welcome back in the UK anytime. Maybe that elusive O2 headline show can be rescheduled.
  • Friday’s highlight for me was Chris Young. I confess I’ve not been his number one fan but his set on the arena stage proved the quality of his voice and his material. The standing ovation for ‘Tomorrow’ failed the dry eye test. He seemed to be very genuinely moved by the crowd’s reaction and I’m sure he went away with great memories of his London appearance.
  • I also confess that I have a lot of time for Dan + Shay. Shay Mooney has a great voice and they have some great songs. The arena is a pretty daunting venue, but bearing in mind they were the opening Saturday act, they coped extremely well. They always have great affection and time for their fans and I thought the reaction to ‘From The Ground Up’ was awesome. There’s more to come from these guys.
  • Can I just say ‘Darius Rucker’. Those of you who were there will be nodding their heads. He absolutely smashed it. Mr Rucker is one of country’s nice guys and he also has great songs, but his set really took off when he began to cover his own choice of “great songs”. ‘Friends In Low Places’ wouldn’t surprise many but Darius covering ‘No Diggity’…that came out of the blue, but for some amazing reason it sparked the crowd into full-on rapture. From then on, Darius fed on the atmosphere and I’m guessing he will struggle to better it. ‘Wagon Wheel’ was elevated into my top 3 all-time C2C performances. It was that good. It’s always interesting to see the reaction of the band after a performance and it was blindingly obvious that they enjoyed it as much as we did.
  • Follow that, Reba. Unfortunately she didn’t, in truth. Not many could. I felt a little sorry for her. The line-up didn’t do her any favours. A Dan + Shay/Hunter Hayes crowd won’t resonate with Reba and it was clear that the atmosphere drained out of the arena after Darius and his band had departed. She gave a polished, perhaps too polished, performance but she doesn’t have the material to get a boisterous crowd back on their feet. It became obvious and a little embarrassing when approximately half of the full house departed before the end of her set. The Reba fans will have loved seeing her at C2C but I’m guessing that she wouldn’t have won over too many new admirers.
  • The inevitable clashes that occur every year kicked in on Saturday. Kristian Bush at the All Bar One lounge or Holloway Road at the Big Entrance? I decided to stay outside for Holloway Road with Mrs W choosing Kristian. I have known Jack and Rob for a couple of years and have followed their development with interest. They are seen as a pop-country act but their stage presence matches anything that you would see across the festival. A very healthy crowd were royally entertained with their set and they received great acclaim. Great to see that they are now starting to be accepted into the fold. Mrs W’s reports of Kristian were also positive. He invited the crowd’s questions and the inevitable elephant in the room was addressed. Someone asked why he hadn’t appeared with Jennifer Nettles despite the fact that she was appearing at the same festival. He said that he hadn’t been asked! He also confirmed that they have 2 more albums to make as ‘Sugarland’ to satisfy contract obligations and would do so ‘as soon as she is ready’…….interesting
  • Sunday in the Arena was my best night ever at C2C. Brothers Osborne, Maren Morris, Marty Stuart and Zac Brown Band. How many of you, like me, were very surprised that Marty Stuart was invited to C2C? We had to carry out our research before the show and we were not expecting too much. I got the impression that the crowd were thinking “let’s get this out of the way and we can then enjoy Zac”. It wasn’t long before that perception changed. He basically gave 20,000 people a lesson in country music.His huge talent, superb stage presence and personality turned the polite applause into a standing ovation. His Fabulous Superlatives were just perfect and it was fun seeing Marty inviting the audience to sing along to songs from his new album that nobody had heard before. Top man, and I for one will be looking out for a repeat performance when he returns to these shores for his own tour. Unlike Reba, Marty left that stage having gained many new followers. By the way, check out the new album ‘Way Out West’. It’s superb. Immediately after his set I visited the gents and got chatting with a punter who asked me who I had enjoyed the most. I said that Marty was up there. His reply – “I didn’t know him so I didn’t go in”. It takes all sorts…..
  • Which leaves Zac Brown Band. I adore ZBB. I started listening to country music because of ZBB. I have seen them 5 times now but his previous visit to C2C was by far the worst. The Metallica covers and 10 minute guitar solos caused a mass exodus mid-set and his C2C legacy was damaged. He told us in the press conference that they were back to re-prove themselves. Word must have spread far and wide. I had hopes that we would see the best of ZBB this time but still had that trepidation that they wouldn’t be able to resist the rockier side to their persona.I needn’t have worried. Darius had raised the barrier but Zac and the band leaped over it. His set list was faultless. Practically all the hits and his cover of Bohemian Rhapsody were just awesome. ‘Chicken Fried’ could not have sounded better. I have never seen so many people leaving the arena with smiles on their faces. It was a special show and I didn’t see many people leaving this time. I would have loved to have been in their dressing room post-show; it must have been a very euphoric occasion. ZBB proved they are one of if not the best bands in the world and I can’t wait to hear their new album.

So ends another year. One final point to make to conclude – there is no need to put away the boots for another year. Country music can be heard all year round. There are plenty of gigs and festivals to keep us going until we all gather again. Let’s keep the support going folks!

Graham Wharton