Picking up where we left off from Part 1 of our Country to Country review which you can find HERE we move outside of the main arena and give you our thoughts on everything else about the return of the event and the artists that caught our eye during the daytime and after the headline act had finished in the auditorium. From my years at university back in the depths of my mind, I know this could start to resemble an essay so to depict the festival in a way that is easier on the eyes and condense it massively (GET INNNN) I am going to jump over to bullet points in more of a notebook style so I can cover more ground about the event.
Like any good story, you start at the beginning which for me like many others was on Thursday night at the CMA Songwriters Series. Hosted by Russell Dickerson, who was the perfect man for the job and wonderfully accompanied in its entirety by Luke Dick, Caitlyn Smith and Shy Carter.
My first big takeaway from the night was that the round had a fifth seat and what I absolutely loved was seeing this revolve as an opportunity for acts to be able to play a song and introduce themselves to the audience for the first time. Everette, Morgan Wade, Tiera Kennedy and Priscilla Block all had this opportunity and I really think this was a wonderful way of doing things.
Russell who I talked about his main set in the arena earlier, was joined by three people who really are songwriting royalty but all very different as performers. Luke has had cuts by Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves, Kip Moore and Miranda Lambert but it was his “I am Steve” original which had everyone smiling and they will certainly remember. Shy, we also caught on the Saturday morning for his set on the Radio 2 stage where his charisma, energy and likability just radiate. I can imagine he is probably a marmite type artist amongst fans where you will either love what he does, or you won’t but luckily, we were fans, and he brought such great fun to the songwriters show. As for Caitlyn, I saw her on stage four days running across the weekend, so she gets her own point a little later on.
Moving on to the business end and the festival itself kicking off on the Friday lunchtime where we had six daytime stages this year. I spent the majority of my time at The Town Square, Big Entrance and Garden Stages. The Garden stage was a new stage compared to previous years and was set up really well to utilise that space, so was amazing to see another larger stage being added to the festival where the sound was great, and you could very easily pop into The Observatory pub to grab a pint for bringing out to watch acts on this stage (GET INNNN). Like the Big Entrance, this stage was a completely free stage for the event that anyone could go up and watch without a ticket but had some really cool big names playing on it over the weekend.
On this stage I saw a duo who were probably my favourite act of the weekend. We spoke to Brent and Anthony from Everette over Zoom before the festival (Read HERE) and they were really cool guys to chat to who musically have a really great sound but their performance, interaction with the audience and harmonies just have such strong delivery. The musicianship is tight, they have a really decent locker of songs to play, and their sound really will appeal to everyone whether you are into more traditional, rock based or contemporary country. For anyone that missed them, you definitely missed out but I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one with this view and hope they will be back soon as I think their potential in our market is limitless.
The other standout of the festival was the person that a lot of fans tend to refer to as “winning” the festival as someone that was here for the first time but not playing the main stage, however they jump right to the top of wish lists for next year. In the past this has been Ashley McBryde, Old Dominion, Sam Hunt, Maren Morris or Russell Dickerson but this year the name on everyone’s lips was Callista Clark! This young lady opened up the entire festival in The Town Square and is a star in the making with relatable, deep and sassy songs delivered with an incredibly powerful voice but her stage presence and way she holds an audience at eighteen, whilst being stood on stage just with her acoustic guitar is just unreal. When we did the preview of the festival in the form of a draft, she was my top pick that played the festival which she more than justified and that wasn’t just because we had an extensive discussion about coffee that was so much fun (Read HERE). Everyone that saw her, just walked away with a smile knowing they really had seen the start of something special!
Photo: Luke Dyson
Another artist that brought huge smiles when people were watching or talking about fittingly was a guy who I’m pretty sure did not stop smiling the entire weekend. The UK fans completely fell in love with everything about Breland! So much talent, such great storytelling and so much natural likeability about everything he does. His ceiling is stratospheric for where his career will go but I so want to see this guy play with the full production and bring all of his energy to the biggest stages here in the not-too-distant future.
In terms of discovery of new artists that captivated the attention of the audience, for me this was Laci Kaye Booth. I knew who she was, I had listened to her music and had a lovely chat with her before the festival (Read HERE), but I just found I really appreciated what she does and wanted to pay so much more attention to her after seeing her on stage. The whole southern charm with her Texas accent and this purely angelic voice that delivers such dreamy songs is so real, honest and calming that makes me purely as a music fan want to learn so much more about.
I teased that Caitlyn Smith would be a big part of how you depict this festival and for anyone that wasn’t already on board this train, they were mesmerised. She is an absolute Goddess in the Nashville songwriting community with an unforgettable voice that hits you and can take you to places that you never knew were even possible. I felt so good to know what I was expecting and to see the awe from every mouth when she hit that note in Tacoma just really did do what she said she hoped when we spoke (read HERE) as tears were flowing wherever she took the stage. A wonderful human being, a storyteller like no other and a voice that leaves you speechless! I think that is enough to get you excited about her new album coming next month which we were privileged to hear so much of it live before its release.
One of the four times I got to see Caitlyn during the weekend was during a truly, truly magical event on Saturday lunchtime where she joined Alex Hall and Tenille Townes for a very special intimate round hosted by Maverick Magazine and Sony. Tenille (apart from being the undisputed best hugger in all of country music) has been such a big piece of my professional workings in the industry as she was the third interview that I ever did, where we have now chatted four times (you can read the most recent, that we did in the run up to the festival HERE) but also as just a fan, where she was the person that me and my best friend, who now lives back in Australia saw before anyone else on stage in Nashville, when we got to see each other again. The three of them went deep and told stories full of raw emotion to set-up unreleased songs which just pulled at every heartstring which was an honour to be able to witness.
Whilst the “captain of Team Canada” was also heading to Glasgow and Dublin to play the main stage, the rest of the contingent was absolutely rocking it in London! Me and Ian caught up with our buddy Tebey (read HERE) to discuss the inconvenience of the football fixture locations during his trip but also caught his enigmatic set which continued to build on all the traction that he gained at last year’s Buckle & Boots festival but also got to FINALLY see a well overdue first UK appearance from Jess Moskaluke. The energy and intensity you saw from one of the biggest stars in Canada was really worth the wait and justified why Ian had her as his top pick in our draft to preview the festival! Playing full band on FREE to watch stages is something we will be looking back on with an “I was there!” moment and great to see that her next UK trip is already in the diary for the end of summer where I can guarantee that “Drive Me Away” and “Country Girls” will be very high on so many playlists before then.
Photo: Anthony Mooney
Country to Country also gives our own homegrown talent the chance to shine! It was SO packed in the Town Square for Kezia Gill who would absolutely be able to do her thing and represent this side of the Atlantic on a bigger stage at the festival and Katy Hurt smashed it as much as ever being loud and proud. However, Morganway are my guys, always will be and once again showed they are a different level, which is why they rightfully were awarded the best duo or group at last year’s BCMA Awards and lead both the country and Americana genres over here.
These guys are all pretty much starting out in the world of country music, the same could be said for the only guy on the entire bill with an official UK top-ten single. The solo project from Jaret Ray Reddick in his first venture into country music is exactly what you want it to be and more. His album is so worth a listen, full of singalong toe tappers and is way more than the preconception of Bowling for Soup going country but more than anything I hope he is so right in his lyrics predicting “that the Cowboys are goin’ all the way this year” which will bring an even bigger smile to my face as seeing him live did.
Rounding off the daytime fun is an artist I have known of for a long time that that I’m now really lucky to call a friend! Her craft as a songwriter and storyteller is just incredibly real whilst her kindness and her warmth is something I have been so desperate for people to experience over here and she tried harder than anyone during the pandemic to make that happen. I first saw Ruthie Collins at CMA Fest in 2018 but to be there for seeing people that “Cold Comfort” really spoke to over here, experience it live for the first time was beautiful. I know playing this festival and coming to the UK meant so much to everyone, but I really know that she had been working for this and now that we have got her here, I hope that she keeps coming back.
My previous article was all about Friday night inside the arena, but our fun did not stop there as after Miranda had finished, we headed to The Saloon to experience the joy of the great state of Indiana to see Walker County bring the house down! We were so quick on Ivy and Sophie before the festival as we previewed how awesome and different they are with half of the duo playing drums and they featured high amongst my draft picks, but WOW anyone that can own a cover of “Alone” by Heart in that way really grabbed everyone’s attention. So much fun to watch and “Someone’s Someone” is such a great song that we hope these girls are back very soon.
It’s been a little while since I dropped a “GET INNNN” so now is time for the source to end this journey. Our only Australian representatives at the festival, who closed out the entire event at the Sunday night after party where one of them forgot what city they were in and they were guilty of every cover bands nightmare scenario by performing “Wonderwall” but the best way to end any event is with a “Good Beer” and Seaforth on stage! I don’t think there could have been a better way to end the festival and this piece really, they are wild (as I found out in my interview HERE) and so entertaining with a locker full of bangers so let’s hope they come back soon and with merch that has “GET INNNN” blazed all over it!
Photo: Luke Dyson
So that’s another year in the books. C2C: Country to Country will return in 2023, taking place between the 10th and 12th of March with very limited early bird tickets for London and Glasgow available now on their WEBSITE (one last GET INNNN!) where you can find more information about the festival or you can keep up to date socially on INSTAGRAMTWITTER or FACEBOOK.
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks