Before I start, this post contains a lot of images that I didn’t take (linked to originals etc.) I only had my phone with me and wasn’t really close enough to get good images of most of the artists. A shame but I was more bothered about enjoying myself!
Back in March, my friends and I had a great day out at the O2 Arena in London attending C2C Festival. This three-day festival is a Country Music event held here in the UK. Since it’s inception at the O2 in 2013, where it was originally a two-day festival with Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw headlining, the festival has gone from strength to strength. In 2014 Dublin was added to the schedule, with the event taking place in both cities concurrently, with artists switching venues during the weekend a-la Reading and Leeds style.
By 2016 Glasgow was added to the rotation and a third day added. Other cities that host C2C on other weekends include Berlin, Amsterdam, Sydney and Brisbane, showing the event is doing rather well to say the least! With over 50,000 fans attending the UK C2C fest in 2018, it’s pretty clear that the Country Music genre is alive and kicking here in the UK, showing it’s not just limited to the States.
My friends and I had bought tickets back in November 2018 so the excitement had been building and by the time the Saturday in March came around, we were brimming with excitement about going to see some of our very favourite artists (and not having to head state-side to do so!). We decided to drive down to North London and then get the tube down to the O2, arriving there about 2pm. We found ourselves a programme and thanks to that and the app, planned our afternoon of what we wanted to catch on the smaller stages.
The overall set up of the festival is an afternoon of artists playing across I think it was 5 stages, set up in the smaller rooms and a marquee around the O2, with these wrapping up around 4pm. At this point everyone heads into the main arena for 4 acts on the main stage, interspersed with some breakthrough acts playing on a ‘spotlight stage’ (more about that later).
Our first stop for the day was the Radio 2 stage in the O2 Indigo for Runaway June. This female 3-piece were full of energy and really knew how to hold the room. They were fantastic! I’d heard one of their songs before on the radio, ‘Buy My Own Drinks’, so it was great to be able to sing along when that came on, but they played a range of songs from their (at the time, now released) upcoming album. Some were loud and upbeat, some were quieter ballads and I shed a little tear at the beautiful ‘Blue Roses’. This is the title track of their album that was subsequently released in June and is about loss of relatives and is particularly moving.
Overall, it was a great way to kick off the festival and I am keeping an eye out for when they’re back in the UK, they’re a great band for a feel-good, girl’s night out show.
We then decided to head to the record store tent and pick up some great CDs. The range of CDs was brilliant, including lots of signed versions of Albums. My own purchases were the C2C 2019 compilation album and a signed copy of Kip Moore’s (one of my very favourites!) Up All Night album.
From there we decided to head in to the Town Square Marquee that’s set up just outside the O2 itself. What we found inside was so much more than we imagined. As it’s called the ‘Town Square Stage’ we though the marquee would be just a stage but it was so much more. There were various bars, including a prosecco bar (yes, we sampled) and a range of stalls selling all sorts from guitars to country-style/western wear. It was fabulous. We explored the stalls and yes, I bought a cowboy hat. I don’t care if it’s a cliché. I love a good hat and I was by no means the only one with their cowboy hat jammed firmly on for the day.
My love of country music has been slow burning. I enjoyed listening to Bob Harris’ Country show on Radio 2 as my childhood soundtrack was Radio 2 thanks to my parents. His show was on most weeks and I always enjoyed it. When Carrie Underwood burst onto the radio in 2004 with ‘Before He Cheats’, my interest piqued, and I have been a fan of hers ever since. The same can be said for Lady Antebellum as Need You Now hit the UK in 2010, but overall, I wasn’t hugely into the genre. This changed in around 2017 as I started to listen to a Spotify Playlist (by a random choice back in early 2017) of the genre and at that point I was in hook, line and sinker. 2 and a half years later and nothing has changed.
One of the first songs that I really paid attention to in 2017 was RaeLynn’s single ‘Lonlely Call’. This was by no means a discovery of a new up-and-coming artist, she’s been on the scene since competing in The Voice (USA) in 2012, but this was my first time hearing her music and I thought it was great. I listened to the album when it was released in 2017 and have been following her releases ever since. When I found out she was playing at the festival she was one of my ‘must see’ artists.
RaeLynn did not disappoint. This Texan pocket-rocket had more energy in half an hour than I could muster in 3 weeks. Her voice was brilliant and her sassy quips and crowd interaction were great. Unfortunately, I missed her on Maren Morris’ UK tour earlier this year but I’m hoping I’ll catch her again in the future. I’m looking forward to more music from this lady. Her single ‘Rowdy’ is a party anthem and I’ll maintain that opinion for a long time.
At this point, one of our party headed back into the O2 itself to catch an artist she really likes called Robert Vincent. He was also most excellent, playing a really intimate set on the stage in the O2 entrance space. She loved it!
Meanwhile, the other two of us decided to chance our arm and see who the ‘surprise act’ was following Rae-Lynn on the Town Square stage. It was Catherine McGrath! Result!
The Northern Irish singer has been leading the way (along with the likes of the Shires and Ward Thomas) to put British/NI country music on the map. At only 22, she is making waves for sure and has been heavily championed by Bob Harris on his show and has legions of fans on both sides of the pond and further afield.
Her song ‘Lost in the Middle’ perfectly sums up how we all feel about listening to Country Music when you’re not able to immerse yourself in it, like in the US (especially when it’s raining…) and ‘Wild’ spoke of being second best to someone when you feel like that shouldn’t be the case. Her honest songwriting and beautiful voice made for a very, very good show indeed and it was so nice to see her, when didn’t think we’d get to catch her outside of the arena.
At this point, it was time to find some food before heading into the arena. So far it had been an excellent afternoon, being surrounded by so many others who were appreciating a genre of music that is quite frankly, shunned by most in the UK. Not only that, it was great to watch a series of talented, female artists who are taking on the industry head on, to prove that Country isn’t just a boy’s beer fest. Also, this is just the tip of the iceberg of the things going on during the day in the London venue, there’s a stage in All Bar One, you can purchase extra tickets to The Bluebird Café stage which is a homage to the iconic Nashville café and after parties each night.
The first artist in the arena was another lady making waves in the Country scene. Carly Pearce has released a string of brilliantly powerful singles, the biggest so far being the ballad ‘Every Little Thing’. In enviable sparkly hotpants, Carly Pearce took to the main stage and owned it. She continued with hits such as ‘Hide the Wine’, which is probably my favourite of her singles and ‘Closer to You’ (all about those Long-Distance Relationship vibes) starting the party in style. She had an incredible energy for a big room and just seemed so lovely! I wanted more than anything to be her pal, she was so down to earth and engaging!
At this point, the aforementioned Spotlight Stage took over. Set up towards the back of the floor in the arena, three emerging artists took to the stage as the main stage was changing over for the next act. First up was Californian 3 piece, Fairground Saints. Their stripped back, acoustic vibe was really refreshing and they reminded me a bit of Fleetwood Mac. Not a direct comparison, obviously, but they had the ethereal feeling that Stevie Nicks brings to Fleetwood Mac. Anyway, I loved them. Their single ‘Somewhere Down the Line’ is a particular favourite with harmonies to die for. If you like The Wandering Hearts, check these guys out.
It was back to the main stage next for Dustin Lynch. I’ll admit, I like the hits he’s had, but hadn’t listened to him lots before. Oh. My. Word. He was incredible. Dare I say it, probably my favourite set of the day! He knows how to put on a show that’s for sure. His modern-mainstream country style with heavy undertones of rock influence provided an incredible set. ‘Small Town Boy’, ‘Riding Roads’, ‘Hell of a Night’ and ‘Seeing Red’ were played amongst others and all three of us were hooked. Part way through the set, someone from the floor heckled about Crash My Playa (a country music festival in Mexico) and next thing you know the stadium is joining in with a particularly excellent rendition of Garth Brooks’ ‘Friends in Low Places’ which was fab.
Since seeing him, I’ve been listening to him a lot more and I’m really hoping that there’ll be a Dustin Lynch UK tour at some point in the future, I very much want to be there!
(Sidenote, yes he is that good looking in real life…)
Back to the spotlight stage for round 2, and a second chance to see Catherine McGrath. She was as brilliant as earlier in the day and from the crowd that gathered around the stage down on the floor, it was clear to see she was a really popular choice for the stage.
The third act on the main stage was Hunter Hayes. Again, I’ve heard the singles and enjoyed them, especially more recent ones such as ‘One Shot’ and ‘Dear God’ but I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan. I’ve just never really got into his stuff before but as a big player on the country music scene, I was intrigued to see him.
My two friends have seen him multiple times before (one of them isn’t the biggest country music fan, but joined her sister and I because of Hunter Hayes being on the line up) and confirmed he has put on much better shows in the past, but unfortunately this wasn’t his finest show. He wasn’t terrible, by no means, but he didn’t seem to keep crowd engaged or have the energy in the way that Carly Pearce and Dustin Lynch had done before him. Catherine McGrath made another appearance as she joined him on stage for their duet Don’t Let Me Forget which was good, but again, didn’t manage to fill the stadium.
It was a shame, but if I was at a show where he was playing again and was presented with the opportunity to see him again, I probably would. If I’m brutally honest though, I’m not going to be rushing to join my friends at one of his future shows though.
The last act on the Spotlight Stage was Michael Ray. Fiancé to Carly Pearce who had opened the main stage, his feelgood hits are pretty damn good. I enjoyed hearing the ones I knew such as ‘Think A Little Less’ and ‘One That Got Away’. I’ve yet to get round to listening to an album but based on the show, I doubt I’d be disappointed and wouldn’t turn down another opportunity to see him.
The final act on the main stage was hands down, the reason we bought tickets to the show. I’d have bought tickets for this show even if I hadn’t heard of anyone else on the line up. The headliner was country music heavyweights, Lady Antebellum.
I still vividly remember hearing their single ‘Need You Now’ on the radio in the summer of 2009. It was whilst we were on holiday and was playing a lot in the car and I couldn’t wait to hear more. I subsequently found out this was from their upcoming second album and promptly bought the first. ‘Need You Now’ is still their biggest single to date but they have followed it up with an equally brilliant string of hits ever since and I was so excited to see them.
It took a few songs to pick the crowd back up again, but they did that soon enough and the set was utterly fantastic. Charles Kelley is very, very funny when chatting between songs and him, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood make a fantastic trio. It was clear to see why they have been at the top of the Country tree for over 10 years now.
They rattled through a string of hits including ‘Bartender’ (perfect girls getting ready/psot-breakup song), ‘Compass’, the beautiful ballad ‘American Honey’, ‘Run to You’ and ‘Need You Now’ amongst many others and also played a couple of new songs including what is now their single ‘What If I Never Get Over You’.
Overall, they were truly fantastic and I hope this isn’t the only time I get to see them. I would really like to catch them in a stadium as a headline act and get to see their set for even longer.
It rounded off a truly wonderful day and we’re already keep an eye out for ticket and line up information for next year. I can’t wait to go back! It was a perfect opportunity to see a range of artists, both up and coming and the genre’s most famous faces (other nights of this year included Ashley McBride, Chris Stapleton, Brett Eldridge, Cam and Keith Urban!).
To see more of my own images and video clips that I took at the time, head to my Instagram where I saved all my C2C things in a story highlight.