The huge draw for UK country fans to the annual Country2Country festival is the diversity and range of artists that we now get to see. To see them performing in a venue as stellar as the O2 arena presents us with an opportunity to experience how those US artists perform in the US.
Artists like Reba McEntire will have spent a lifetime gracing some of the largest arenas on the planet but usually in front of her own dedicated fans. The concept of C2C has become so successful because of the fact that we have 4 acts per day on the weekend dates. The downside of course is that it’s rare for those folks to be massive fans of each of those 4 artists.
Reba’s debut at this year’s C2C was widely welcomed. She is a country music legend in every sense of the word. Her back catalogue is the envy of many and she is still able to sell vast quantities of new music. The Saturday line up on the main stage also consisted of Dan + Shay, Hunter Hayes and Darius Rucker. The first two acts were always going to attract a younger crowd and Darius crosses the country music spectrum with ease. Conversely, the majority of fans turn up to C2C anyway, whoever the performers, and we are generally easy to please.
No one could have anticipated just how well Darius Rucker’s set was received in the arena. He literally blew the roof off with his versions of ‘Wagon Wheel’ and Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’. Wherever that ‘spark’ comes from, Darius ignited it and the atmosphere was as good as it gets. The adrenaline was flowing throughout a packed house when he left the stage and there was then a short interval whilst the road crew reset.
I’m sure that most people, like me, were thinking ‘follow that, Reba’. She took to the stage backed by her 10-piece band. The touring production is well rehearsed and the set list contained selections from Reba’s vast back catalogue extending over 30 years. We were treated to 21 songs (25 if you include the hits melody) which included most of her many #1 records.
The first Reba McEntire hit song ‘Can’t Even Get the Blues’ opened the show and in the first 15 minutes, country classics such as ‘How Blue’ and ‘One Promise Too Late’ took us back to the 80’s when her music was all over country radio.
Whilst the big hits kept on coming, all delivered in a hugely professional and slick style that we would expect from some who has been performing in arenas most of her career, the spark that had shone so brightly when Darius was on stage didn’t reappear.
Whilst Reba’s music has been hugely successful stateside, she has not had the hits in the UK that give her the status afforded to Dolly Parton or Tammy Wynette. There are no ‘9 to 5’s ,’Jolene’s or ‘I Will Always Love You’s that Reba can call on to involve the audience. She has some great songs and her ballads are top drawer but we missed the sing along moments that her songs don’t inspire. It was ironic that the best reception came after the performance of her daughter-in-law Kelly Clarkson’s song ‘Because Of You’.
Her vocals remain peerless. Her band were faultless, particularly Jennifer Wrinkle on fiddle and backing vocals. The standout moment of Reba’s set was her duet with Jennifer on ‘Does He Love You’ which massively stirred the audience. Unfortunately, a large proportion of the arena crowd were not there to witness it. By this stage a lot of the full house had departed. Some to get themselves front row for Drake White’s after show party, others deciding simply that Reba was not for them. It didn’t look good and some would say that it’s hugely disrespectful to a legend like Reba McEntire.
It’s unlikely that she converted many but it’s also certain that the Reba fans would have been hugely satisfied with the performance. Her set list contained a thorough review of her own career including a superb track from her latest album ‘Back To God’. The reception from those who remained was warm and generous. Somehow, however, I doubt if this will be a performance that she is likely to look back on with huge affection.
Reba personifies country music. Her appearance at this year’s C2C was another country artist bucket list that thousands will be able to tick. Unfortunately she had to follow Darius Rucker.
Can’t Even Get The Blues
The Fear Of Being Alone
One Promise Too Late
Whoever’s In New England
Going Out Like That
You’re No Good/The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter/Walk On/I’d Rather Ride Around With You
The Greatest Man I Never Knew
Back To God
Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Because Of You
Turn On The Radio
The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia
Does He Love You
Take It Back/Why Haven’t I Heard From You
Is There Life Out There