C2C Country To Country: Sunday - The O2, London

Sunday at the O2 welcomed the second day of C2C Country To Country, and what on paper seemed the more cohesive line-up, lacking the mismatch of styles from the previous day. Starting thing with a bang in the lunchtime slot were hotly tipped Nashville duo Striking Matches, blowing away any hangovers with a blistering acoustic set in a packed-to-the-rafters Brooklyn Bowl. With a debut album due in a couple of weeks, this was a great platform to show off their guitar skills. Having also wowed the after party revellers the night before on the same stage - including a mid-song guitar switch that had to be seen to be believed - Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis laid claim to band of the weekend.

They paved the way in a strong BB line-up: Scotland were represented by Raintown who showcased mostly new songs, while British duo of the moment The Shires played their second set of the weekend. Opening with ‘Nashville Grey Skies’ and ‘Friday Night’, their two best known numbers, was brave but then being able to follow it up with ‘State Lines’ and ‘Made In England’ shows how strong that debut record is. The Brooklyn Bowl is an different kind of venue - quieter songs are punctuated by the clunk of bowling balls, shouts of “STRIKE!!!”, and nonplussed families on a nice Sunday out wander about looking for the exit.

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Amongst the sea of cowboy hats and plaid shirts Leicestershire band Dexeter found themselves playing to a huge audience at the Big Entrance Stage. Their real trick was to make a bunch of people stood in the concourse at the entrance of the O2 forget that and feel like they were are a proper gig. Their charmingly delivered set had good tunes and good chemistry. Over on the Music Mile Stage the first of many Georgian artists, Sonia Leigh, was smashing out a great set of not so much country but top notch indie rock, including a funky ‘Booty Call’.

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And showing the strength of Georgia as a music state was the main stage line-up of day two, where all the acts originate from the Peach State. Kip Moore gives off vibes of his hero Bruce Springsteen in his 45 minute set, delivering crowd pleasing tunes, engaging with the audience, and wearing the look of a man genuinely pleased to be in the UK. Alongside his country hits ‘Somethin’ Bout A Truck’ and ‘Beer Money’, Moore delivered a solo acoustic ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’, which turned out to be as succinct a summary of the night as there could be - this is more rock than country.

Pushing those boundaries way past the line was the gun-toting, motorbike riding intimidation machine that is Brantley Gilbert. Underneath the twin hand gun tattoos on his back and knuckleduster styling of his microphone - and aside from the speaker breaking noise of songs like ‘My Baby’s Guns and Roses’ and ‘Read Me My Rights’, and some politics - Gilbert has a concealed layer of charm. ‘You Don’t Know Her Like I Do’ and ‘One Hell Of An Amen’ are two of the nicest sentiments of the weekend but he’s a far better match for Reading & Leeds Festival than C2C.

When we spoke to Jason Aldean recently he told us how much more like an 80s rock show live country music has become, and he’s the living embodiment of that, entering to flames, twenty foot tall matches flickering on the screen, and with a liberal sprinkling of flares, sparklers and smoke throughout his hour on stage. Having toured hard in the US in recent years Aldean and his band are tight; they’re also the most country thing on the bill today despite their hard rocking style. The major problem the cowboy hatted Georgian has is that due to a lack of availability on streaming services (Aldean removed all his records from Spotify just after Taylor Swift back in October 2014), no-one really knows his songs. His collaboration with Eric Church and Luke Bryan, ‘The Only Way I Know’ gets the biggest reception but it all feels a little muted compared to the previous night.

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Lucky then that Lady Antebellum have been the most talked about band of the weekend, and that they match the hype bringing the show to a close with style. The trio are also the first of the day to introduce a bit of subtlety to the event, with a ballad laden acoustic section that includes an acapella moment, but they can rock a riff as their four guitar line-up shows. And they’re at it from the off: ‘Bartender’ and ‘Long Stretch Of Love’ are bashed out and they end the event with a sing-along to ‘We Owned The Night’ and ‘All You Need’. In contrast to their sometimes bland recordings, the band are the most engaging act of the weekend with nominal frontman Charles Kelley happy to chat at leisure, entering the crowd to don a cowboy hat and take a selfie, and Hilary Scott belying her 28 years with a motherly patter that ticks all the right boxes. It’s all a welcome shift from the macho country of the previous three hours. As far as C2C goes Scott, Kelley and “the talented one” (guitarist Dave Haywood) don’t just own the night, they own the weekend.

All photographs by Anthony D’Angio.

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