Well, the dust has well and truly settled now on this year’s glorious Country 2 Country festival, the 5th one and in terms of its vision and scope, the best.
The size of the event and the sheer panoply of music on offer is immense and easily justifies the cost of a ticket. The big step forward this year was the music on offer outside of the arena – in many ways being able to see Drake White, Logan Brill, Canaan Smith, The Shires and Cassadee Pope in the Indigo and the Bluebird was just as exciting as the main arena acts and it is the expansion of this aspect of the festival that is costing more, also don’t forget the main arena acts will need to be paid in dollars, so thanks to Farage, Gove & Johnson that is now more costly than it was this time last year.
Going forward with the planning stages for 2018 the organisers have got a couple of issues, some tricky, some good to have, regarding the line up. A good problem to have is that there must be loads of Nashville based acts who now want to play the festival, just like a football manager who has two or three players for each place in the starting eleven, the organisers have got to narrow down the field to provide the best line up possible. There was some consternation about ‘repeat acts’ on this year’s line up, although I think Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker and, particularly, Zac Brown more than showed what they could do and why they were there. The ‘no repeat acts’ cry is an odd one because if you are a fan of someone in particular who doesn’t come to the UK very often, like most of the artists in this particular genre, surely you would want to take every opportunity to see them as and when you could? I for one would love to see Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley or Carrie Underwood again because I am a huge fan of their music and I don’t get to see them often.
Another consideration is the move towards having 1 or 2 older, more traditional acts on the bill. There is a clear schism between some sets of fans on this one. Newer converts want to see the more modern, rockier, funkier brand of Country on the bill and older, more traditional fans have been shouting for a presence for a few years now and the organisers and CMA have clearly listened to them. This year saw Reba McEntire and Marty Stuart representing the ‘old school’ of Country music with mixed results. Marty Stuart was an unqualified success, gaining plaudits from all sides with his charming stage manner and musical skill whilst Reba ended up playing to a half empty crowd on the Saturday night, something which has never happened before on what is usually the most popular day of the three.
The ‘Reba’ issue is something for the organisers to consider – the tickets sold well in advance and so that side of the issue isn’t a problem but many people chose to leave for one reason or another. A combination of Reba’s set list choices, Drake White meet and greets, aftershow party excitement and just general apathy seem to have been behind the reasons voiced on social media but this little thorny problem is something the organisers, who are clearly very good at listening to fan feedback, need to consider for 2018. But again, that is a nice problem to have, a tweak rather than a fix.
What is clear is that for many people, this is one of their most important and most enjoyable weekends of the year, myself included. From the CMA song writers night on the Thursday to the last echoing twang of steel guitar on the Sunday night the Festival runs like clockwork and provides enough entertainment across all its platforms for fans to engage with many differing aspects of Country music.
Obviously, I am not party to any ideas the CMA might have about the direction they would like the festival to go or any of the political issues that record labels might have about whether they want their artists on the bill or not. I don’t know what the budget is for next year’s show either so what follows is just my ideas as a fan and observer of the genre and its purveyors. Writing, as I do, for a few different genre platforms, I have a good handle on emerging artists and younger, newer talent but am going to deal with the Festival Stages a little later in the year when we have seen and heard a few more debut albums and new album releases from potential Indigo and Bluebird acts, this article will just concern itself with the main stages and is simply an ‘In an Ideal World’ wishlist!!
Dierks is a ‘must’ repeat act for me and would shift a number of tickets on the previously ‘problematic’ Friday night when many people are still at work or travelling down for the weekend. Jake Owen has, as far as I am aware, never been to the UK and is someone very popular with the UK fans, so again, there will be some demand for him and Lauren Alaina, an Indigo act from 2016, has released one of the strongest albums of 2017 so far, which many people will be keen to hear live. She has a great stage presence too so can easily make the step up to the main arena.
Blake Shelton or Jason Aldean
The organisers are fully aware of the clamour each year to bring Blake Shelton over but he has always had TV commitments during the Spring months that will have prevented that from happening. I’m also not sure how keen he is to actually come but I have no eveidence at all on what to base that idea on!! Entertainer of the Year Jason Aldean is not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ but would put on a great show for the Saturday night crowd.
Trace Adkins has just released his strongest album in many years in ‘Something’s Going On’ and would fulfil that ‘older artist, Nashville legend’ slot but would also get people up on their feet and dancing, something I think Reba failed to do this year. His ‘Dreamin’ Out Loud’ album was one of the very first Country CD’s I bought back in 1996 and I feel he would be an act that bridges the gap between the traditional and modern camps!
Lee Brice, similarly to Jake Owen, has never played the UK before and would a huge draw for many fans. A great live act and award winning artist, Brice would light up the Saturday show and turn it into a real ‘parking lot party’!!
Raelynn is a new artist who just last week released her debut album, ‘Wild Horse’. It is a mature and accomplished piece of work that is going to sell bucket loads and propel her into the same leagues as acts like Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris. She also has close ties with Blake Shelton, given his mentoring of her, so would make sense to have them on the same day, like Chris Young and Brad Paisley this year.
Similar to Blake Shelton, there have been strong calls for Keith Urban to appear on the bill for many years now. I last saw Keith in Birmingham on the ‘Days Go By’ tour back in 2005 and he hasn’t been back to the UK since, aside from living here for a summer when Nicole Kidman was filming a movie in London a couple of years ago. Again, Keith always seems to have lots of things going on preventing him from coming over but I get the sense with ‘Ripcord’ that he has committed a bit more of himself to the whole record, promote, tour cycle that comes with each album release so 2018 might finally be our lucky year!
Vince Gill played the very first C2C and is a CMA legend. One of it’s illuminati, if you will! He would fill that ‘Marty Stuart’ slot on the Sunday and be wildly popular with both older and newer fans alike.
Drake White absolutely slayed it everywhere he played this year and without doubt will be high on everybody’s list of ‘must see returning acts’ for next year. Placed on my bill on the Sunday, he would shift tickets without a doubt.
Lindsay Ell would be a great opener and is very much a zeitgeist act of the moment, alongside Raelynn and Drake White. Produced by Kristian Bush, her newly released EP, ‘Worth the Wait’ is another accomplished piece of work from a relatively new name. There might also be an opportunity for the organisers to bring over Mr Ell, popular radio DJ Bobby Bones and get him to do some presenting or even arrange for his band, The Raging Idiots, to play the Indigo or one of the other festival stages. Bones literally makes or breaks acts in America via his radio show and to see him at C2C would be awesome.
So there you have it – my uninformed, some would say ill-informed, thoughts on this year, next year and a lot more besides. You could sit 5 different fans down and each would come up with an amazing yet totally different bill, such is the (welcome) problem the organisers have. For now, we need to be content with the speculation and keep putting money aside in our little tins, or whatever we use to squirrel away the pounds, because C2C is now a whole year round undertaking for those of us committed to its future. After all, there’s only another 49 weeks till the next one!
James Daykin (@rockjames)