C2C Country To Country 2018 - The O2, London
Over its six or so years Country To Country has grown quickly, both in terms of the size of crowd and the quality (and quantity)/of American acts that populate the main stage in The O2.
The main stage is the general focus for a lot of the ticket buying public, but outside on the Festival Stages there's an increasing wealth of quality acts, this year Ashley McBryde, Lindsay Ell, LANCO, Walker Hayes, Lukas Nelson, and Jillian Jacqueline have all played multiple sets.
In the main arena returning acts dominated, with all three headliners back, Little Big Town for the third time. Most anticipated of the weekend were Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, bringing their huge Soul 2 Soul tour overseas for the first time. Their set was loud and blighted by some sound issues during their solo parts of the set but the country music power couple shone brightly when they were together. 'Telluride', 'Speak To A Girl', and the beautifully tender setting for '' Need You'.
Saturday's headliner was a little more controversial with a few social media commentators (i.e the general public) voicing some displeasure over Kacey Musgraves promotion to the top slot. Regardless of that, the 29-year-old's set was one of the highlights of the weekend, mixing classics in the making ('Follow Your Arrow') and other albums tracks ('Late To The Party' and 'High Time') with stuff from her upcoming new record. Opening with a spotlight shining only on her, and new song 'Slow Burn', is a brave move, but even braver is closing with another new track, and this one a crazy dance track 'High Horse', complete with giant blinking balls of colour, and glitter. Yet Musgrave's pulls it off in style.
To close in London were the perfect final night act. Having worked their way up the lineup since the festival's first year it's about time Little Big Town took the top slot. Their set list stuffed of party tunes, and they crank through them with zero banter: 'Day Drinkin', 'Front Porch Thing', 'Better Man', 'Tornado', 'Pontoon', and the rest. All delivered with spot-on harmonies and all the effort four people can muster. They knocked it out of the park.
Of the support acts new boys Luke Combs and Midland fared the best. Opening Saturday and Sunday respectively their combination of traditional country instrumentation with clever lyrics ('Altitude Adjustment' and 'One Number Away' just two examples) were crowd-pleasing. Combs laidback baritone and lyrics of love and being loved whipped the O2 into a frenzy before ending with his smash 'Hurricane'. The Midland trio come across a little manufactured but there's no denying their tunes, 'Make A Little' and 'Check Cashin' Country' are cracking songs, and 'Drinking Problem' a bonafide contemporary country classic already.
While Kelsea Ballerini is a very good performer her set is a little light on highlights, and the return of C2C faves Sugarland also underwhelms, it's left to the legendary Emmylou Harris to show some of the newer acts how to sustain a career while Margo Price won a heap of new fans with her modern lyrical updating of her traditional sounds, especially with an extended version of 'Cocaine Cowboy' and a hyper-energetic cover of 'Proud Mary'.
Last word though for a man surely nailed on as a future headliner, Kip Moore. There's no act better received over the weekend, as Moore rolls out song after song, from 'Beer Money' on his debut, to 'The Bull' from his latest release, everyone sings along. The love goes both ways and his closing 'Guitar Man' is a perfect way to end his set.
C2C will be returning in 2019, tickets will be on sale soon and the line up will be announced sometime in October.
Main photo courtesy Graham Joy, second photo courtesy of Anthony Mooney, third photo courtesy Luke Dyson.