CMA Songwriters Series – Indigo At The O2 (10/03/16)

CVPUETLW4AATQSY.jpg-largeCountry music fans came from up and down the country in order to see five of Nashville’s most talented songwriters on display at the Indigo at the O2 on Thursday 10th March. If ever an event served as a more appropriate curtain raiser to the 3-day Country2Country event then this was certainly it.

For just over 3 hours the audience were treated to a delightful set of songs from host Shane McAnally, Ashley Monroe, Charlie Worsham, Charles Esten and Lori McKenna – and I have to say, of the whole four days I was in London, this was possibly my favourite. All five artists were in awe of the audience who sat in silence and listened to stories of how some of their favourite songs came to be written, before erupting in unanimous applause when each song had been performed. Having attended this event last year, I instantly brought tickets for this year when they went on sale before the line-up had been announced. This is firstly because the IndigO2 is the perfect venue for this type of show. It is big enough to fit in a couple of thousand fans, yet still intimate enough to be acoustically perfect and leave the audience hanging on every word leaving the artists mouth. Also, having enjoyed last year’s event so much I knew that I had to be at this years too!

Shane McAnally needs no introduction – he is one of country music’s hottest properties having worked with the likes of Kacey Musgraves and Sam Hunt on their latest albums and producing an array of other hits – so much so that he forgot the words to one of his Number One songs, leading to Charles Esten remarking that he has so many hits he can’t even remember them. He opened the show with ‘American Kids’ (made famous by Kenny Chesney) and instantly got the crowd singing along and sitting on the edge of their seats to hear what the next song would be. In fact, all 5 artists had the audience in the palm of their hands the whole evening and all came across as extremely grateful and appreciative of the support they were receiving. It was the first time performing in London for many of the artists (other than Charles Esten who played Buddy Holly in the West End), and they were all astounded by the welcome they received. McAnally remarked that the crowd were definitely affecting them more than they were affecting the crowd.

McAnally treated the audience to many other hits including ‘Follow Your Arrow’, ‘Merry Go Round’, ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’, ‘John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16’, and it was wonderful to hear the stories of how these songs came to be written and how they are so personal to the artists.

Ashley Monroe has the voice of an angel. I was so thrilled when I found out she would be at this event, as I didn’t understand why she was only given a slot on the Yamaha Music Stage in the O2 arena and not the main stage. Her latest album, ‘The Blade’, is possibly my favourite album of 2015, second only to Chris Stapleton’s ‘Traveller’. She puts a whole host of emotions into her songs, and sang personal hits such as ‘Like A Rose’ and ‘Has Anybody Ever Told You’, before showing her more humorous side in songs such as ‘Weed Instead Of Roses’ and a duet with Charlie Worsham called ‘I Hope I’m Stoned’. Ashely joked that she wasn’t sure how the audience in the UK would respond to songs about drugs, leading to a big roar of applause from the audience and the other artists calling her ‘Hashley’ for the rest of the night.

She also performed a song made famous by Jason Aldean called ‘The Truth’ (which I never knew she had written) and explained the story of how she missed a boy that inspired her to write the track. She ended the night by performing one of my favourite Miranda Lambert songs, ‘Heart Like Mine’, which she co-wrote with Miranda. My mouth literally hit the floor when Miranda walked out to perform it with her. Shane McAnally introduced the song by saying “Wouldn’t it be funny if Miranda was here?” before she walked out on stage to huge cheers to perform her first ever song in front of an audience in the UK! Before she sang, she remarked that she had been watching as a fan all night and was so proud of the talent that was on stage, leading to further applause from the audience.

Charlie Worsham was definitely a highlight of the evening for me. Having only really listened to a couple of his songs (‘Rubberband’ and ‘How I Learned To Pray’) I knew he was talented, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how good he would be. His guitar skills are a wonder to behold and his pure enthusiasm for music is extremely refreshing and caused the audience to want to hear more and more from him. He admitted that playing in London was a dream come true and was able to perform songs from his current album and songs from his upcoming album too.

What I loved about Charlie is that even when the other artist were playing he would come in with a guitar solo or play along with them with a smile on his face. How great it must be to be so talented that you only have to hear a song once (or not even the full song) and are able to come in with a brilliant guitar solo that you’d think was part of the song. Charles Esten admitted that he might need a little help from Charlie when he performed some of his songs, and he did not disappoint, coming in more than once to help out his companion. Charlie sang the wonderful song from his debut album ‘Mississippi In July’ which sounded perfect at the Indigo and has been stuck in my head since the event. He also sang a host of other songs including ‘Rubberband’ (the title of his album) and ‘Lawn Chair Don’t Care’. If you get chance to see Charlie Worsham (he has said he would love to get back over here as soon as possible once the C2C festivities and his support of Frankie Ballard come to a close) I would highly recommend it, you will not be disappointed!

Charles Esten was definitely a crowd favourite. Having played Deacon Claybourne in the TV show ‘Nashville’ for the last 4 years, he has quite the fan base over in the UK. He openly admitted to feeling out of his depth on stage with such talented songwriters, remarking that since taking the role  as Deacon, he has felt out of his depth so many times but he just keeps swimming and manages to keep his head above the water. Despite the fact that Charles has an acting career behind him and not a song writing or musical career like the other artists, he is still a hugely talented musician. He admitted that he finds it easier writing songs from Deacon’s perspective as he has a lot more stories to tell, but Charles also sang songs he had written from his own perspective (including a co-write with Chris Janson).

Charles was extremely funny and had the audience in stiches when he joked that his next song was going the be about meth, after ‘Hashley’ Monroe and Charlie Worsham had both performed songs about being stoned. The highlight of Charles’ set for me was the song ‘I Know How To Love You Now’, which is again from Deacon’s perspective. He told the story of how ‘Nashville’ creator Callie Khouri (who he said has changed his life in ways he couldn’t have imagined) came to him when Deacon was about to propose to Rayna and asked him if he had any ideas of what Deacon would say. Having just written this song, Charles said to her that he thinks Deacon would say ‘I know how to love you now’. This line was used in the episode and the song was actually performed by Charles live from the Bluebird when ‘Nashville’ did a special live segment of their show.

I think the best artist may have been saved till last. Lori McKenna was absolutely superb and had the audience in the palm of her hand throughout the show. She was extremely humbled by the reaction she was given and although relatively shy, when she began singing the whole room was hypnotised by her lyrics and vocals. She performed Tim McGraw’s new single ‘Humble and Kind’, and I had a tear in my eye as it was so perfect. She admitted that she wrote that song and emailed it straight to Tim McGraw but did not hear anything for over a year and thought that he must not have liked it. I for one am glad he did like it, as it is a remarkable song which I think both artists will be remembered for. Her rendition of ‘Your Next Lover’ was also a highlight, but the best was yet to come with her closing song ‘Girl Crush’. Having won Song of the year and Single of The Year at the CMA’s and also Best Country Song at The Grammys, it was an honour to be able to hear it performed by one of the co-writers, who sang it perfectly. After the song was performed, Shane McAnally said that they all wanted to hear us sing it, so the whole of the IndigO2 stood up to sing the chorus which made Lori so overwhelmed that she began to cry – it was a fitting way to end what was a perfect night and one that will certainly be remembered for a long time to come.

Writer: Andy Cox (Twitter – @MrAndyCox_)