Behind the music: Milly from The O2 Arena

Hey Milly, can you introduce yourself to us, and tell us a bit about your background?

The short way of describing what I do, is to say that I’m an in-house promoter/producer for The O2. My role is very specific to creating new events with a view that they are annual, could be exported or grow into other venues. Some of these we promote on our own, others we co-promote.

What kind of events have you been involved in?
I started here with Sundance London, Robert Redford’s independent film festival - and produced a slice of that here for three years with him and his team. At The O2 apart from the arena we have three 1000+ capacity venues and a cinema complex, plus loads of nooks and crannies we can prise events into - so it’s a flexible location for doing events across multiple venues but under one roof.
Since then we’ve developed Country to Country, our annual country music festival, Stone Free, which is an annual classic rock festival. We also promote our own annual Asian music event each year and a series of shows in the lead up to the BRIT Awards called BRITs Week. I worked with Live Nation to bring Blues Fest to The O2.

And how responsible are you for these events being a success?
I’m responsible for the success or failure - and I’ve had both, but as a company we’re very entrepreneurial about developing content, and we do want to try new things, and we allow an incubation period of a couple of years to develop events.

How did you get working for the O2 Arena?
I’ve worked in the music business since I left school. From music magazines, to managing bands, running venues, tour managing and independent promoting. But it does still amaze me that I work for The O2!

You’re Festival Director for Country To Country, what was your first involvement with that?
AEG who own The O2 are an American company who promote country acts in the US. I can’t take the credit for the original idea of trying it out in the UK but as soon as I heard our CEO talking about it I put my hand up! So we joined with SJM Concerts to start up a country festival in 2013 and now we have an annual three day festival in London, Glasgow and Dublin.
Are you surprised at the huge increase in popularity of country music (and the festival!) in the UK since it launched?
Yes, I think. Although we all saw the potential in year one, none of us anticipated how fast it would grow. We now sell over 60,000 ticket across all C2C’s in one weekend. The country fans are very very engaged so it’s a very cool event to do, as it’s very well received and successful and you can’t really beat that combination as a promoter or producer!

How risky was the move to Scotland and Ireland over the same weekend?
Chris York at SJM made the call to move to Dublin in our second year and he was right on about that. We took more time to develop Glasgow as we know fans travelled from Scotland to the London show. But now Glasgow sells out very early on so the next step will be going bigger in Scotland.

And the expansion to three days last year gave you 50% more slots to fill, what was that challenge like?
The big event challenges are - booking the arena line up - obviously we’re always after the biggest US country acts. Now that we’re a proven success on the one hand that gets easier, but it’s an expensive business that the plummeting pound doesn't help. I think the other challenge for me, is to provide new experiences for fans every year. In London apart from the arena - we programme over 50 new UK and US country acts a day and it’s important to me that those stages feature the next generation of acts and that the C2C fans get wowed by them.

Seeing acts like Carrie Underwood, Brad Paisley and Zac Brown Band come back must show that you’re doing something right?
Yes, for acts that are wanting to develop an international career they recognise that C2C is a must play to reach the biggest audience. We also have a huge social reach and a great partnership with BBC Radio 2.
This is a tough question, but which act have you enjoyed most?
I usually have a couple of festival crushes every year but 2016 was a pretty staggering C2C - from Maren Morris, and Old Dominion on the Festival stages through to Chris Stapleton, Little Big Town and Miranda Lambert in the arena.

Who are the acts we should really see this year?
From the new acts my ones to watch are: Bailey Bryan, Drake White, Chase Bryant and UK act The Wandering Hearts. In the arena - Brothers Osborne, Jennifer Nettles, Marty Stuart and Maren Morris. The headliners are of course incredible but I’m always into who is coming up through the ranks.

And who would you like to get over here that has so far escaped your grasp?
They are still on future lists - we’re not giving up.

Where did the idea for the pop-up stages come from?
I’m renaming them Festival Stages this year. That idea was to really give it a festival vibe and to bring the whole of The O2 into the festival. It’s works so well when it comes to giving new acts who aren’t in the arena a good sized open minded audience to play to. I just love seeing big crowds gathered around a little stage - and think - wow that band no one has heard of is currently playing to 500 people right now! I like programming and developing new experiences for fans, so that’s really what that was about.
Do you get a chance to enjoy any of the festival or is it just too manic a weekend?
I enjoy seeing it all come to life and happen. So I am generally enjoying it via whizzing around the place checking on things. I have a brilliant lean team that mean for the most part I’m not freaking out about anything.

What acts are you really excited about in the UK at the moment?
I’m excited to see some new blood! - be great to see how The Wandering Hearts, Una Healy and Catherine McGrath in particular go down at C2C this year.

And have you got any names we should look out for coming out of the US this year?
I think we have them all on the bill already!

If you could only listen to one song this week, what would it be?
If it’s one country music song it’s Bailey Bryan’s 'Own It'.

What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
What’s the most fun anyone can have at C2C… go to any of the late night stage shows after the arena show, and keep the party going.

A few tickets are still available for C2C, the festival is running 10th - 12th March in London, Glasgow, and Dublin. All the details are on the festival website.

Photo credit (for C2C images) to Liam Dyson.

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