Over the weekend of March 10th to 12th 2023, Europe’s largest country festival; C2C: Country to Country returned to the O2 arena in North Greenwich for the events 10th anniversary. The event that has also taken place in Glasgow and Dublin since 2016, celebrated a decade of uniting country music fans by putting on what was easily the most exhilarating on stage and safest occurrence as a whole since its inception.
The event which was hosted in London by Breland and Bob Harris, saw Zac Brown Band and Lady A both return to headline the festival for the third time along with Thomas Rhett who topped the bill for the first time after initially appearing at the festival in 2016. Beyond these acts who closed each of the three nights across all three venues, fans were also treated to highlights including a first UK appearance from Mitchell Tenpenny, a triumphant and much-loved return from reigning CMA Female Vocalist of the Year Lainey Wilson, a delightful first glance at Tyler Braden, Caylee Hammack & Alana Springsteen as part the CMA Introducing Nashville round and Country Music’s very own version of the Harlem Globetrotters as Old Crow Medicine Show showed what Old Crow are all about to an audience that many may only have been familiar with their iconic singalong “Wagon Wheel”.
The festival in London is much more than three nightly arena shows as fans are treated to performances during the day time across six festival stages (three of which are completely free and accessible by the general public in attrition to ticket holders), after parties and the annual CMA Songwriters Series on the Thursday night acting as the curtain raiser which this year comprised of Dalton Dover, Nate Smith, Lainey Wilson and Ashley Gorley.
There were some evident differences to this year’s festival from last year which were overall much for the better. The biggest change was in terms of the effort to promote and ensure the safety of people attending with a much larger event security and police presence who were all very helpful along with a wristband system within the arena to reflect the area that people were sitting. Safety at concerts is something that has been very much in the public eye following the horrific events that occurred in Brixton last December which coupled with some people having an unpleasant experience at last year’s festival lead to an event in 2023 where public safety and enjoyment were the fundamental goals of the event which were completely achieved.
Whilst the BBC Radio 2 Stage in the Indigo and The Saloon upstairs in All Bar One presented by Apple Music Country were as things were in previous years (including my only negative feedback for the event being the chairs laid out on the floor during the day in The Saloon once more made the room feel overcrowded and difficult to accommodate space but my immense dislike about chairs at festivals is something I feel I write about every festival I attend, yet I can still hope for change) beyond that the daytime festivities had a cool (and definitely in one case a cold) new feel to them.
Following last year’s temporary closure of the factory outlet in the complex due to storm damage to the roof, The ICON stage returned to its home from before the pandemic where we saw the amazing Monument Records, sister duo Tigirlily Gold justifiably found the crowd blocking off that entire area with one of the most up-tempo and energetic acoustic sets in festival history which centred around their country radio debut “Shoot Tequila” which already had the entire crowd singing along to.
Last year’s debuting Garden Stage took a ninety degree clockwise turn to relaunch as The Wayside Stage for me was one of this year’s biggest positives as the space felt much better utilised, allowed a bigger audience area that didn’t disrupt foot traffic around the complex and even its own bar so it was no surprise to see really healthy crowds for a rocking morning set from Dan Davidson to wake everybody up and the beautiful vocals and personality of Hannah Ellis playing her first London show along with favourites from closer to home like Jade Helliwell and Two Ways Home winning a whole host of new fans.
Putting a stage outdoors for the first time in March obviously was a bit of a gamble in planning but situationally (had we not had snow on the Wednesday) and positionally worked. It created the best and most prominent advertisement for the festival and the relocation of The Big Entrance Stage (despite the cold) really has a lot of upside which seemed to be a roaring success due to a constantly large audience to catch artists including Jess & The Bandits, Adam Doleac, Remember Monday, Chase McDaniel and Alyssa Bonagura.
The other area outside of the arena saw some changes which again really enhanced the whole experience with the stage in the Town Square now having its own designated area that was segregated from the trading stalls. The aesthetic and atmosphere of the new Barrelhouse was just perfect. It looked great, sounded even better and really helped the traffic of people that wanted to shop around the market. We headed in there on Saturday evening for our favourite bar in north London taking over the venue to bring the full Dukes of Highgate atmosphere which gave an additional option for people not attending the main arena shows and definitely showed scope to explore more of this again in future.
Further highlights from across the three days were seeing 49 Winchester become the events most talked about act after bringing some serious energy every time that they set foot on stage, a very welcome return to C2C for Caroline Jones performing her own set along with playing as part of Zac Brown Band in the UK for the first time, the wit and Texas charm of our biggest discovery of the weekend Catie Offerman, an epic and much deserving mainstage debut for Lindsay Ell and witnessing Madeline Edwards practically blow the roof off the Indigo with one of the most remarkable voices you will ever hear live.
Celebrating a decade of this magical genre, friends old and new coming together, camaraderie and initial musical introductions to UK country music fans for artists such as: Maren Morris, Old Dominion, Sam Hunt, Ashley McBryde, Priscilla Block, Hailey Whitters, LANCO, Jimmie Allen and Breland to name just a few, this anniversary exceeded so many expectations and showcased once more how our little island really is one of the number one priorities for artists from Nashville. The event was safe, it was welcoming and as always it was one hell of a party that your friends wish they were a part of, and we can’t wait to do it all again in 2024 as the vibe of C2C ’23 really felt like the best one yet!
C2C: Country to Country will return to the O2 Arena in London and OVO Hydro in Glasgow on 8th to 10th March 2024 where the festival will also head to Belfast at the SSE Arena for the first time. Early Bird pre-sale tickets go on sale Friday March 17th where full ticket information is available on their WEBSITE and socials (INSTAGRAM / TWITTER / FACEBOOK)
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks