C2C: Country To Country is the first country music festival to take place at London’s O2 Arena. It’s no secret that the UK and country music aren’t the best of friends but there’s clearly an appetite for more country music on UK shores judging by the turn-out at Day 1 of the festival. Taking place over two days, C2C features headliners Tim McGraw (Saturday) and Carrie Underwood (Sunday) as well as a host of country stars that regularly top the charts back in the US.
After chatting with the stars of the first day, we took our seat in The O2 Arena to watch the four shows that were scheduled over the festival’s first day. Opening C2C was Sugarland’s Kristian Bush. Kristian is no stranger to the stage having found lots of success as one part of US award-winning band Sugarland. With his partner Jennifer Nettles, Kristian won prestigious awards such as Grammys and has become a household name on the other side of the pond. The singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has been spending some time in the UK in the past few weeks to talk about his songwriting and promote country over here!
Kristian warmed everyone up playing some of his Sugarland hits such as Baby Girl as well as performing his own solo material such as Love or Money, which he got the crowd to sing along to. The O2 was filled with cowboy hats and people seemed genuinely happy to enjoy some country music. Kristian’s set was filled with good hooks, great melodies and positivity and was naturally talented with the crowd. We couldn’t have asked for a better opening.
Following in his foosteps was country quartet Little Big Town. They’re a band whose name we’re familiar with but their music hasn’t really impacted in the UK yet. This could be about to change after their 60 minute set yesterday. Performing selections from across their five studio albums, Little Big Town showcased killer harmonies and great songs. The four members – Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Roads, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook – shared the lead vocals over their set each taking their turn in the spotlight.
The thing that really struck us is how good they are as singers individually and as a group. Aside from an ill-advised country cover of Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, the group impressed with their catalogue of songs. Early hit Boondocks with Jimi on the lead vocals was one of the most warmly-received moments whilst award-winning 2010 hit Little White Church got the crowd on their feet and singing along. Recent hits Pontoon and Tornado showed the most potential to cross over into the UK charts.
Throughout their set the band interacted with the crowd talking about their hangover recipes which apparently consist of hash browns and waffles (we’re going to give that a try). Despite enjoying their set we felt there was something that was missing with Little Big Town. We can’t put our finger on what it was but they just weren’t as captivating as other performers on the day. Perhaps it’s simply that they were one of the lesser-known acts on the bill.
Up next was country legend Vince Gill. Vince thanked the crowd as soon as he got on stage saying: “London, you have always believed in me since day one. I had to tell people back in the day, in America: yeah, I’m a singer, but nobody believed me – because no one had my records! You believed in me seven or eight years before anybody else did and I thank you guys for that!” The guitar maestro got the whole 02 Arena rocking and up on their feet. It was a great sight to see. People of all ages had come to see Vince and everybody knew his songs. He sung When I Call Your Name to a great reception and everyone loved it!
His set showcased his amazing guitar skills, which we were mesmerised to watch, especially when the camera did close ups of his set. He announced that it was the anniversary of the death of his brother, before launching into Go Rest High On That Mountain, which was an absolute highlight. Just taking a look around the huge 02 Arena, it was clear to see that everybody in that room was totally captivated by the song. The way he sung it, with such emotion and it was incredibly stunning. After this song, it was back to the up-lifting songs of his set and he announced “now, let’s get this party on”! He introduced the entire band to the audience, who all gave them a warm welcome. It was great to see the talent of his band too. Vince spoke about his love of his guitar hero Eric Clapton, before launching into an incredible guitar solo. This was the first time that we’ve seen Vince Gill live and we’re now big fans. His songs are timeless, whether they were written last year, or twenty years ago – they stand the test of time, which is a testament to his songwriting and talent as a musician. What a show! Thank you Vince Gill.
9:15pm and it was time for Tim McGraw! Tim McGraw has sold an unbelievable amount of records throughout his long career, but surprisingly, this is the first concert that he’s even played in London! The hoards of people that flocked to the 02 Arena this weekend had been waiting all day for a glimpse of Tim McGraw. Everyone that we spoke to on the way there were really looking forward to seeing Tim and everyone was decked out in t-shirts, cowboy hats and boots! It was some sight, we felt like we were in America, rather than in North Greenwich and it was great to be there with the people who loved country music.
When Tim hit the stage, the entire arena came on fire. He came onto the stage, to a heroes welcome – it has been a long wait to see him, for his UK fans! He has the entire arena rocking in no time at all. For A Little While went down a storm, with a backdrop of bubbles/multi-coloured disco balls behind him – the 02 Arena was truly one big county party!! Tim announced that he doesn’t like to talk too much in his shows and just get down to doing what he loves best – performing his music. He clearly adores his fans and made time for them, by jumping down from the stage and high-riving the audience members who rushed to shake hands with their hero. An amass of guitars were on stage, at one point, we counted a total of six, which completely rocked the 02, something we didn’t think country music was capable of doing! Tim had incredible energy and looked model-good, with his chiselled features and was in great physical shape and put on a very high-energy show. Songs from his new album Two Lanes of Freedom went down a storm with his fans too and everybody knew the songs, even though it has only just been released!
We would dub the show as country-rock, because that’s exactly what he did. Real Good Man had the female audience smiling ever more so than they already were and his cheeky glint in his eye as he sang the song, no one was complaining! Truck Yeah was his final song. A song which has country stamped all over it. Boy, did we enjoy his set!! We hope to see him again soon and that he doesn’t leave it so long to come to see us again. The crowd absolutely loved him and thanked him for coming to the UK for us.
As Tim McGraw left the stage the first day of C2C came to a close and we battled out way back onto the tube to make our way home. We’d say the day was easily a hit and we left excited to see what Day 2 would bring with performances from Carrie Underwood, LeAnn Rimes, Darius Rucker and Brantley Gilbert. Tim McGraw was definitely the highlight of the day and we’re still pretty shocked to discover this was his debut UK live show. Consider us well and truly in love with a bit of country.