Last month saw the Country2Country music festival at the O2. Seventy-three performers playing over three days. Basically it was Country Christmas. I walked in on day one and was met with wall-to-wall plaid shirts and cowboy hats. it was like coming home. These are my people. Even the Brazilian restaurant inside the dome was playing Tammy Wynette. Absolute heaven. I was like a kid in a candy store. With a fifty pound note. And no adult supervision. There’s something wonderful about country music that brings people together. There were older couples, young girls, groups of guys. Country music doesn’t discriminate. You like steel guitars and songs with meaning? Welcome to the fold.
There was so much great country music that I will narrow it down to my personal highlights (otherwise this could be the longest blog ever…!)
Chris Stapleton. The country god in all his glory on the main stage of the arena. Just him, a guitar and his wife, who he calls his muse (How wonderful is that??) The man is a genius. Not only does he have the most incredible voice that was clearly created for singing country songs but he’s so talented that his music dives right in to your soul. Now I’m not telling you that you SHOULD listen to his latest album… I’m saying that you HAVE to. Your life is not complete unless you do. He walked past me later that day as I was standing with a group of people stage side and I swear it was like the parting of the red sea. I sort of half bowed. And I wasn’t the only one. There is so much respect for this guy its unbelievable. If he comes back to the UK you have to go and see him. Trust me on this one.
Kacey Musgraves. I saw this girl last year at the Royal Albert Hall and she is simply great. She’s kooky, bonkers and quite probably a little bit crazy but her songs are marvellous and unique and her pink, sparkly diamond clad band of troubadours are wonderful. Listen to her song Biscuits. It really is great. Whilst at the Albert Hall we noticed a small group of young girls who literally knew every word to every song. The best bit about seeing her at the O2? The same group of girls were there singing their hearts out. She clearly has a loyal following.
Lauren Alaina. This girl is relatively new to the UK scene but trust me, she is going places. Her songs are upbeat and fun and she certainly knows how to work the crowd. The guy she dragged up on stage during the song Next Boyfriend looked liked all his Christmases had come at once! The guys love her and the girls want to be her best friend. Also ladies, she has a super hot drummer in the band. Always a bonus. I don’t think it’ll be the last we hear from her…
Eric Church. Now this one was really special as I got to watch the show from the wings (don’t ask how I managed to get there but if you happened to spot someone looking for their backstage pass it wasn’t me, ok?) Eric is a country rock legend. And boy, did he give us what we wanted. Heavy electric guitar, awesome drums and songs about Jack Daniels. The man delivers. One of the highlights was a song he sings called These Boots. As I stood there I suddenly realised half the audience had taken off their cowboy boots and were waving them in the air. It was the most bizarre and also the most awesome thing ever.
On the monday after the craziness of C2C had died down I took myself off to the Hoxton Bar and Kitchen to see Old Dominion who I had missed at the Brooklyn Bowl over the weekend (I’m not complaining that there was too much country music crammed in to three days but I’m sure I wasn’t the only one torn between seeing two different bands who were performing at the same time but in different venues…) After three late nights and two full days of stomping and singing I was feeling the effects (an epic gig hangover if you like). and I almost didn’t go. But lordy, am I glad I did…
Dare I say it but I think these guys gave the best performance I saw all weekend. They blew the roof off the place. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I like this band. I have their album on constant repeat on my iPhone. When it comes down to it, what makes a good song? Well, lots of things really but ultimately it has to resonate with the listener. And this is why I love Old Dominion. It’s like they got inside my head and my heart, took all my thoughts and hopes and dreams and put them to some pretty funky music.
I think what makes these smaller venue gigs better than arena ones is there’s a room with maybe 200 people who REALLY want to be there. They dragged themselves out on a cold, dark monday night because the thought of being arm’s-length away from a band they love is too good to pass on. The band on the stage can see every face in the crowd and the feedback from the audience is phenomenal. We’re having a blast. And so are they. It feels like a group of your close friends just got together and started jamming. You don’t get that in a bigger venue no matter how awesome the band is or how loud the audience. It’s the intimacy. It’s priceless. It’s all about respect and love. Theres a LOT of love in those small bar venues.
Old Dominion started out as song writers and the band was formed to showcase their work. Two albums later and here they were absolutely killing it in London. They played most of their latest album Meat and Candy and even some of the songs they’ve written for other singers. It was awesome . Honestly… The best ten quid I’ve spent in a long time.
It amazes me how many of the American bands that come over here to play confess to never considering travelling to the UK before. Every single one of them say they are overwhelmed by the response and had no idea that country music was so popular over here. Old Dominion said they would have been happy if 35 people had turned up. That they never expected the place to be packed and for us to know ALL the words to ALL the songs. Like other American artists I’ve seen, they said they’ll be back. Well hurry the f**k up. All of you. Your audience is waiting…