At this year’s Country to Country Festival many of the festival goers were introduced to a new name in the form of American artist Drake Milligan. Drake burst onto the scene in the States last year by finishing as a runner-up in Season 17 of America’s Got Talent and has wasted no time in pursuing the opportunity to perform in an international market. Just 5 months after finishing in third place on the show behind dance group Mayyas and pole dancer Kristy Sellars, Drake Milligan brought his band to perform at this years festival and certainly left London with a new fan base in tow. For the Texas native this was also an opportunity to head to Europe for the first time. We had a day to explore London a little bit, we went to Buckingham Palace; Abbey Road; rode the tube; did the main tourist stuff! Now it’s been time to work!
Last night you played in the Saloon Bar straight after the main set. It was fun, we packed it out. I was really surprised. It reminded me a lot of the Honky Tonk’s back home with the low ceilings and people packed in.
You’ve had a wide variety of sets this weekend, have you enjoyed the opportunity? We played the Radio 2 Stage yesterday in the Indigo and that room was great despite being about 3 o’clock on a Friday as I didn’t know what it was going to be like, but people were there, and it was kind of magical as a first performance across the pond for me and I had my band with me and we were able to rock straight away.
Does it add to the excitement of being over here when you can bring your full band with you on your first trip rather than opting for an acoustic set? I’m lucky enough to have what I think is one of the best bands around, they are great guys and I love travelling with them. I wanted them to experience London too and we have a thing on stage. We don’t just play the music we enjoy it together and get after it, I was definitely bringing the band regardless of what people suggested! As it is your first visit it’s really allowed the London crowd to see what you can do as a band rather than solo. First impressions are everything. I wanted to showcase my music in the best way possible and for me that is having a full band, but it’s also great doing solo stuff like being on the Blue Bird Stage today. I got to play with talented artists too and also sit back and listen to them for a little bit as well as play some broken down acoustic songs as people really do listen here.
It’s been a whirlwind 18 months that has brought you over to London, does it feel real? It’s been crazy. It was between about June 2021 and America’s Got Talent aired around June of 2022 and I was doing a few shows working things out, but things weren’t busy. I was touring between the rounds so I was doing shows when the audition aired and all of a sudden people were coming to shows. Then you do the first live round, and more people are coming to shows and we are doing bigger shows and then it came to the finale and we released a full length 14 track record right of the tail of that and it’s been non stop since then. We’ve been lucky.
How did you find time to record amongst all that going on? I moved to Nashville in 2017 and we actually recorded most of the record in 2019 and 2020, so we were pretty much done recording by the summer of 2020. I’ve been sitting on these songs for what feels like forever, and we were waiting for the right time. We had some attention from the show and luckily enough people reacted to my music on there and it created an audience for this record. It’s been great to do that as those songs are a few years old, but I still love playing them. Every show is a new show and I play them like it’s the first time.
Going down the AGT route, you’re encouraged to play your own songs rather than covers. Did that help when it came to your own shows that people knew the songs? It was a great way for me to tell my story and I got to have my band up there and they’re amazing. Just to tell my story and give people something to get to know me by as it’s a huge show back home. What have you noticed from the London crowds? I’ve noticed people have been coming since that first set on Friday and there’s people that have come to every set now which is definitely cool to see. There’s been new people too who didn’t know who I was came across the show and by the end are telling me they want to listen to the record and get to know all my songs as they loved the ones I played.
What was the draw to make a move to play overseas so soon after launching yourself to the American scene? It was the draw of AGT allowed me to come over as some people over here knew me from that show as they watch it here and you get the clips on YouTube. I was fortunate to have a wide audience from the get go and it was a great opportunity to get my name out over here and hopefully it’s the first steps towards doing my own tour here too.
We have to mention Elvis, as you started out as Elvis in the TV show Sun Records. You’ve dropped some Elvis covers in over the weekend, how important is that Elvis link to your set? It’s my roots and is actually how I got into music period. I grew up on my parents’ country records and I never realised it was something I could do and perform until I realised who Elvis was when I saw an Elvis impersonator when I was about 7 years old at a hamburger joint. We were having dinner and all over a sudden there’s this guy singing, he’s got the jumpsuit on, and I thought it was cool. I went home and research Elvis and found all his records. Through that, I really discovered that this is not just something I can sing but I can also perform music as Elvis was such an entertainer. That is where I put it together that this is something I can do. For some reason when I was a kid, I thought seeing people sing songs was great but I just thought that was it. It just clicked for me that that is what I want to do – I want to perform; I want to be an entertainer. I’ve now got to do an Elvis song just for that.
Do you think when it comes to shows like AGT, did that performer edge maybe help you stand out in the early rounds? Yeah, it definitely helped, and Elvis isn’t a bad person to be associated with! There’s a tone of Elvis fans still out there and his music is timeless. I like throwing in covers and from the beginning I wanted to pay tribute to Elvis in my own way; enjoy music; and do my own thing with it. I try to do my own spin on his music.
Will the day come when the last few years will sink in? You’ve got to sit down on the sofa first! I’m trying to enjoy all and being here making memories with the band drinking a few pints. With all the cities we go to, you don’t always get time to see it and may not always know what city you’re in, so it’s important to enjoy every minute while you can. I’m sure the band are planning the next trip already! We’re loving it here; I want to go everywhere and see the reach of country music. I’m not just a fan of the music, but I’m a fan of the history of country music; the reach of it; and see how people react to it. I’m looking forward to going to places like Germany and Australia – I’ll go anywhere where they’ll listen and I get to see the world while doing something I love. We’ve got a lot of stops in the States this year so hopefully next year we can plan some adventures.
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 tickets were released on Friday March 17th where full ticket information is available on the WEBSITE and socials (INSTAGRAM / TWITTER / FACEBOOK)
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks