C2C Country To Country 2017 - The O2, London

Another day in March, another C2C Country To Country festival is over. For around 50,000 country music fans in the UK the morning after is tinged with sadness, though run through with happy memories. And that’s the real success of this festival at London’s O2 Arena.

Now in its fifth year its secret is not just bringing over country music superstars like Brad Paisley, Marty Stuart, and Reba McEntire, who haven’t been seen on UK shores for a good few years, it’s the sense of community that it promotes. Outside of the main arena, which opens at around 4pm each day, are the Festival Stages (previously the Pop Up Stages). Here you’ll find a selection of the best up and coming UK and US acts, playing mostly on free stages. If you’re in the know there’s a chance of seeing the next Sam Hunt or Maren Morris, previous Festival Stagers who have appeared in the main arena stage.

This year’s breakout is undoubtedly Drake White. Playing both with his band, the Big Fire, or solo acoustic White wowed. An almost ubiquitous presence through the weekend his acoustic turn on the Yamaha Stage was outdone by his full band show on the BBC Radio 2 Country Stage where his accessible songs and raspy vocals, along with their soulful country rock, won hearts and minds; White even making up a song on the spot when technical difficulties threatened to derail things.

Elsewhere Tennessee’s Logan Brill showed herself to be a voice and a writer to watch out for, Yorkshire girl Twinnie had the vocals and style to surprise, youngsters Temecula Road came over like a mini-Lady Antebellum, and Sarah Darling had a huge crowd on the Town Square Stage listening to her enchanting sound and songs. There were impressive artists and bands almost everywhere you turned.

What this year showed more clearly than previous years is the growing gap between modern country fans and the traditionalists. Whilst the Friday line up of Jennifer Nettles, who opened the weekend in outstanding style, Chris Young, who reinforced his position as the UK’s country sweetheart, and headliner Brad Paisley all walked the line between the new and the old the Saturday line up didn’t. Opening acts Dan & Shay, then Hunter Hayes, were noisy and poppy, before the ever reliable Darius Rucker ushered the crowd into a more traditional space. That didn’t really help Reba McEntire too much though, the crowd thinned significantly throughout her set. And Reba’s the kind of heritage acts that rarely visits the UK, she should be a huge draw, but pairing her with the younger acts was a risk. Her well versed act is great, including true country classics like ‘How Blue’ and ‘Whoever’s In New England’, to watch and the pity is that more of the younger crowd didn’t get their money’s worth.

The closing day returned to safer ground with Zac Brown Band’s second appearance headlining the festival, and their second London arena show in a little over eighteen months. With some cracking country rock tracks like set opener ‘Homegrown’ and the ever popular duo ‘Toes’ and ‘Sweet Annie’ they’re the best received band of the weekend; even if they do pepper their set with needless covers of some of the best know songs ever, this time ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘Baba O’ Riley’. Preceding them are the more traditional, but still raucously received, Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives. They’re the out and out best act of the weekend, mixing serious guitar skills with showmanship and some cracking country songs.

C2C will be back in 2018, continuing to cater for all country tastes. The bottom line of a weekend of music, fun, and the biggest country music acts the UK will see this year is that there really was something for everyone. Kudos all round.

C2C returns on 9th March 2018 for three days. Tickets are on sale 17th March 2017 and acts will be announced later in the year.

The above review is for the London leg of the event. The same main stage acts also played in Dublin and Glasgow over the weekend.

Main photo courtesy of Luke Dyson - www.lukedyson.photography

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