C2C: Country To Country Festival 2016

'We can build our own Nashville underneath these grey skies / People will come from far and wide / They'll leave their village greens and the big cities behind / We can build our own Nashville, it's about time...'

The Shires might have sung about building a British Nashville, but for three days earlier this month Nashville took over a small corner of south-east London in the shape of Country to Country (or C2C). Regular readers will know I am a massive country music fan and have been looking forward to C2C for months, so when it finally rolled around I was ridiculously excited, to the extent I've already booked to come back next year!

As my initial draft of this turned into a bit of an essay (hence why it's so late!), I decided to break it up into two. The first is a mini 'awards'-type post for the arena acts and then later this week I'll

Best Band Outfits: This was very easily won by Kacey Musgraves, who brought out her group of 'raspberry-suited young men' (in her own words) complete with light up collars and trouser legs, topped off with white Stetsons and excellent moustaches. Her set was brilliant - all rhinestones and pink lights and twangy, down-home country tunes. She constantly kept the audience's spirits up and had everyone singing and clapping along, and threw in some little surprises like a costume change and even a bit of harmonica playing. I was a fan before I saw her but this show made me love her even more (and wish I'd seen her play the Royal Albert Hall last year!). The only thing I'm gutted about is she didn't play 'Dimestore Cowgirl'.

Weirdest Cover: Kacey Musgraves did not one, but three cover versions in her set (Gnarls Barkley's 'Crazy', 'A Spoonful of Sugar' from Mary Poppins and a slightly more conventional rendition of 'These Boots Are Made For Walkin''). But it has to go to Chris Stapleton for turning 'You Are My Sunshine' into a heartbreaking duet of a love song with his wife. His whole set was wonderful; just four performers up on stage, the twanging of a guitar and his voice ringing out through the arena (especially on his acoustic version of 'Whiskey and You' and set closer 'Tennessee Whiskey'). Plus he came across as just the loveliest guy and seemed genuinely overwhelmed by it all, compared to some of the more seasoned performers. Fingers crossed he'll be coming back in future years further up the bill.

Longest Intro: Eric Church. He was supposed to come on at 8.35 and ended up walking out 13 minutes later. I'd been really up and down about him since he was announced, as I hated his then-current single but then fell in love with the Mr Misunderstood album, so was oddly disappointed in the show itself. At Little Big Town and Miranda Lambert I felt like they were getting the crowd involved even when they didn't know the words, but I didn't get that at Eric Church and it meant I didn't enjoy it as much as I'd wanted to. All that said, his finishing on 'Springsteen' and hearing thousands of fans singing 'whoa oh oh-oh-oh' was an absolutely wonderful moment and the perfect way to end my first C2C, so I'm glad to have gone away with that 'melody sounds like a memory'.

Guiltiest Pleasure: Shaking my 'south side' to Thomas Rhett, and feeling no shame in it. As someone who has conflict over bro-country (catchy tunes: good, dodgy lyrics: bad), I really wanted not to like him. That lasted all of 30 seconds. He just had the nicest, most personable manner and you can tell that he was enjoying himself, but also wanted to give us a really good show. The set was packed with party songs and full of energy, and in the slower moments like 'Die A Happy Man' he had everyone singing and swaying along. My only wish is he could have played longer, so I've already booked to see him when he comes back to London in November...

Most Surprising Act: I didn't expect to like Dwight Yoakam when the headliners were announced, but I was prepared to give him a chance (country is about nothing if not being open-minded). Although he didn't chat to the audience much, unlike most of the other acts, he kept the tempo up throughout in a set packed with hits and showed off some pretty incredible dance moves too! Highlights for me were his classics 'Honky Tonk Man' and 'Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc' but the whole performance was incredibly tight and a really good way to transition between Thomas Rhett and Miranda Lambert. Definitely one for the country traditionalists but great to see a true professional at work.

Forgot to take photos in Dwight Yoakam's set so here's the legendary 'Whispering' Bob Harris instead.
Best Use of Lighting Effects: Little Big Town. Specifically 'Tornado', which bathed Karen Fairchild in red light as she swirled her cape about like the most beautiful vengeful demon that ever walked the earth. Hell hath no fury indeed. They were also the best act for getting the crowd involved, really encouraging us all to sing along and let go, and created a truly magical moment where they asked everyone to turn the lights on on their phones and sway along (as well as opening with a great a capella version of 'Jolene'). I will admit to not knowing all that many of their songs before I saw them but they're definitely the act I've been listening to most since the festival. Consider me a new fan!

Best Costume: Has to be Andrew Combs for his denim shirt, jeans and blanket jacket combo (though Karen Fairchild ran him close in her silver bomber jacket and glittery gold trousers). I'd heard a bit of his stuff on Bob Harris Country but was really impressed with his live show. His music is much more traditional and Americana-influenced compared to many of the other acts this weekend, but despite the slower tempo of most of his tracks he did a really good job of engaging with the audience and even getting all of us singing along to 'Emily', a foot-tapping tune that disguises its melancholy lyrics and my new favourite song. Overall I felt it was a great introduction to him as an artist and I'll definitely be checking out his current album, 'A Head Full Of Dreams', as soon as I can.

Favourite Moment: I full-on squealed when Miranda Lambert brought out Ashley Monroe right at the end of her set. If they'd played a Pistol Annies song it would have been perfect, but their rendition of 'You've Got A Friend' still did nicely; their voices just sound so beautiful together. Other than that, her set was really fun with a nice balance between the more uptempo tracks and the slower songs - 'The House That Built Me' got the biggest reaction, though I personally loved 'Little Red Wagon' and 'Gunpowder and Lead' - and although she said beforehand she was nervous you'd never have known it. I'd been looking forward to her coming over for so long and she definitely didn't disappoint, so here's hoping she comes back soon...

Biggest Reaction: Sam Hunt - I don't think large sections of the audience stopped screaming the entire time he was on stage. Much like Rhett he gave us a party set, filled with his hits like 'Leave The Night On' and 'House Party' but also some nice slower moments such as his version of 'Cop Car', He also got a huge response when he joined Carrie Underwood on stage for 'Heartbeat' during her set. Overall he was a great showcase for where modern country is going and with the success of his 'Montevallo' album I'm really looking forward to hear what he's going to do next. Having heard him on Bob Harris Country the week before C2C I'd have liked him to include more acoustic stuff and I felt the set ended a little abruptly (don't get me wrong, I love 'Break Up In A Small Town' but am not sure it's the right song to finish on), but overall he did a great job.

Most Audience Interaction: Maddie & Tae. Bless them, they were so excited to be there. Like Thomas Rhett they were so keen to get everyone dancing and enjoying themselves and did a great job getting the audience's energy up before an evening of country music. I loved that they gave nods to the legends as well as their modern influences, adding a snippet of Loretta Lynn's 'You Ain't Woman Enough (To Take My Man)' to their own track 'Sierra' and countryfying both 'Mirrors' by Justin Timberlake and 'Umbrella' by Rihanna. They looked like they were having so much fun and the audience completely responded to that, particularly on 'Shut Up And Fish' and the finale 'Girl In A Country Song' where everyone was singing and clapping. A great start to the best night of the weekend. (Plus, I found out that the one I always thought was Maddie is actually Tae and vice versa!)

Best Overall Show: The queen herself, Carrie Underwood. Her show was  a great mix of the uptempo stomping numbers alongside the slower songs, with a nice balance between her big hits and tracks from her new album. Particular highlights were her showing off her harmonica skills, a gorgeous acoustic version of 'I Will Always Love You', the mash-up of 'Last Name' and her duet with Miranda Lambert, 'Somethin' Bad', and the finale 'Something In The Water', which sounded just as fresh as note-perfect as 'Renegade Runaway' did two hours earlier. At the risk of sounding shallow, she also looked incredible - I had serious eye make-up envy!

Did you go to C2C? Who was your favourite act of the weekend?

30 Days of Outfits Week 2

Welcome back to a (very belated) 30 Days of Outfits post! As mentioned in last week's post, this week I spent three days at the Country to Country festival at the O2 (more on that tomorrow and Sunday) which meant I needed practical clothes to walk round in and that wouldn't be too hot in the arena but were still OK to wear in March. I'm also trying to do a day working from home once a week so am dressing down a bit more for that compared to how I would in the office.

Top row (L-R): Monday, Tuesday; bottom row (L-R): Wednesday, Thursday
Monday: Dorothy Perkins top, Joy geometric print skirt, M&S tights and shoes.
Tuesday: Working from home day as had to take the cats to the vets (they're OK, just a claw clipping but have put on weight so are going on a diet - no more Dreamies!). Dorothy Perkins star print dress, Primark cardigan and leggings, M&S boots,
Wednesday: Joy cockatiel print dress, Primark cardigan, M&S tights and shoes
Thursday: Dorothy Perkins top, world map print skirt from BeckyQueenOfFrocks, M&S tights and boots

Left: Friday; top right: Saturday; bottom right: Sunday
Friday: First day of Country to Country! Dolly Parton T-shirt (Truffleshuffle), red and white checked shirt (H&M), jeans (Gap), winter Converse.
Saturday: C2C day two - festival T-shirt (which I am annoyed is too big because I didn't realise I hadn't got the ladies' one until I got it home) over Dorothy Perkins top, Gap jeans, winter Converse and Topshop leather jacket.
Sunday: Last day of C2C - T-shirt from Animal, shirt from H&M, Gap black jeans, winter Converse and a cowboy hat necklace I bought at the festival.

I had the horrible realisation today that I broke the 'no repeat items' rule because I wore the same shoes three times in a row. Whoops. I would try to defend it by blaming tiredness and needing stuff that was warm and easy to throw on, but given I have two pairs of Converse and it wasn't that cold I don't really have an excuse.

Oh well, onwards and upwards for next week! Hope you're enjoying the series so far. Do you have any favourite outfits from this post?

Empties: January and February 2016

It's the first Wednesday of the month again so that means it's empties roundup time! If this month's post had a theme, it would definitely be 'skincare and samples'; I've set myself a goal to try and use up all those bits of things that are hanging around and taking up space this year, and so far it seems to be going quite well. This is a bit of a bumper post as well as I didn't manage to do a January empties post, so grab yourself a cuppa and get settled in. Here's what I finished off so far this year...

Soap & Glory The Ultimelt
I really, really loved this cleanser. It's got a nice rich creamy texture, feels lovely and soft on the skin, and is great for removing makeup and clearing out pores. For best results you do need to take it off with a hot flannel but I found it worked well just as a wash-off cleanser too. I also felt it made a considerable difference to my skin; I had a really terrible breakout in early December and this has helped to reduce the spot scars and improve my skin texture. I've got a mountain of cleanser to work through at the moment but would definitely repurchase this one once I'm done.

Origins Super Spot Remover
Although I haven't had as many breakouts since getting back into a proper evening skincare routine, I still like having a spot treatment in my kit. This one has definitely been helpful both in terms of making spots go down quicker and in reducing scarring, and doesn't sting too much when applied - rather a tingle to let you know it's working. I do find it works better once the spots have come to a head though rather than for those ones that lurk under the skin for ages (the Estee Lauder Clear Difference Targeted Blemish Treatment - which I reviewed here - is better for that). Also it does have a tendency to feel a bit 'crusty' on the skin once it dries so it's probably more of an evening treatment

Liz Earle Botanical Shine Shampoo
This was in a Birchbox a few months ago and was a feature of my travel beauty bag for a while as it's a good size for taking on trips away. I will say my favourite thing about it is the smell - it's like orange sweets and kept making me want to shake my hair like a shampoo advert just so I could catch a whiff of it! I also liked the fact that it lathered up really nicely, which is unusual in an SLS-free product. It also gave my hair a really nice shine and made it feel clean but without weighing it down. The only thing putting me off is that it's a little more than I'd normally pay for a hair product, but if you want something to treat your hair I'd suggest giving this a go.

Sainsbury's Little Ones Baby Shampoo
As well as for cleaning my make-up brushes, I've been using this  to wash my fringe and make sure it doesn't go stringy. It's really good for that as whilst it gets the hair really clean it also isn't too harsh or stripping, which is what you want when you're using it every day. I also really like the smell - it's light and fresh but still with a little bit of warmth to it rather than being overly sharp - and the fact the bottle is so big means it lasts for ages (in my case over six months as I've had it since before we moved). Plus how cute is that whale? Overall, definitely worth purchasing if you need a new brush cleaner.

Lush Lord Of Misrule Shower Cream
It's not often I say this but I am completely, utterly in love with this product. For me its woody, fresh, green fragrance really reminiscent of Tramp, my favourite Lush scent of all time (and now sadly discontinued), but with a slightly sweeter note from the inclusion of vanilla. It also lathers up really nicely and isn't too drying on the skin; I still found I had to use a body lotion afterwards but if you don't have dry skin you might be OK. A word of warning though: there will be blobs of green stuff all over your shower after using this so I'd strongly advise you give it a wipe down in case it stains! I'll definitely be stocking up on a big bottle of this when it comes back in the autumn.

Bliss Fabulous Foaming Face Wash
Another Birchbox product and another one from the travel beauty bag. I'm not normally keen on cleansers with beads in them as they can be quite scratchy - I'd rather exfoliate with a hot muslin cloth or flannel - but I found that this did the job whilst still being very gentle and not overly drying. It had a nice fresh scent too which I really liked. Overall, a good little travel extra and a nice occasional morning cleanser which I'm pleased to have tried, but not necessarily one I'd buy again.

Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine Cream
I wrote about this in my December Birchbox post and, having now tried it further, I really rather like it. It's rich enough to cope with the battering my skin gets in winter but without being too heavy and causing me to break out. Plus it has worked wonders on the lines on my forehead, wiping out a smaller one and considerably reducing a second that was much deeper. And it smells nice, in a sort of 'expensive older lady' way. The only thing putting me off reinvesting is the frankly ridiculous price tag.

L'Oreal Skin Perfection Purifying Cleansing Wipes
I know there are people who hate wipes with a passion, but I see them as the skincare equivalent of fast food - sometimes you're too tired to make a proper meal/take your make-up off and you know it's bad for you, but you need something quick and it's better than nothing. These ones are pretty good as wipes go; they don't dry my skin out too much but don't leave that horrible film some wipes do, and are pretty good at removing make-up (though I did have to scrub my eyelashes a little bit to get all the mascara off). I've got another couple of packs of wipes in my stash so won't need to restock for a while, but if you need some in a pinch these do the jobs

Benefit Puff Off!
Another December Birchbox sample! I must admit I really loved the iron-themed packaging on this; I'm a sucker for anything with retro styling and as usual Benefit delivered that in spades. However I wasn't enormously wowed by the product. Although it sank in quickly and was nicely cooling on the skin, I didn't feel it necessarily did a lot for me. I should caveat that by saying I don't tend to puffy eyes anyway, so if you do it might work better. Unfortunately this isn't a repurchase for me and I think I'll stick with my It's Potent!

Dove Original Anti Perspirant
Not the most exciting product to finish on I'm afraid - it serves its purpose, in that it smells OK in a neutral clean way and keeps sweat at bay, but other than that it's not much to write home about. That said, given that I don't necessarily want my deodorant to do more other than what it says on the can, it's perfectly acceptable. I like the blue and white design of the can as well - it looks clean but without being overly girly. I'd alternate between this and the Vaseline one depending which is on offer as I don't really prefer one over the other.

So that's everything I've used up in the first two months of the year - pretty good going I think!

30 Days of Outfits: Week 1

So I'm a week into my 30 Days of Outfits challenge and so far it's going OK. I must admit I've been slack with Instagramming outfits (more of that next week, I promise!), but I've found that the challenge has pushed me to try some slightly different combinations and given me a couple of ideas for other ways to wear things. So without further ado, here's what I wore in the last seven days...

I should point out that unfortunately most of this stuff is quite old, but hopefully it'll show you how I put outfits together and give you some ideas for how to wear different things. I'm also experimenting with taking the photos at different times of day and angles so apologies that these don't all match!

Clockwise from top left: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Tuesday part 2
Monday: Top and skirt from Dorothy Perkins, tights and shoes from Marks & Spencer
Tuesday: Channelling my inner Jess from New Girl today. Dress from Oasis, Primark leggings and shoes
Tuesday part 2: WI meeting so swapped my work outfit for my Joy fawn jumper, Gap indigo straight leg jeans and my winter Converse.
Wednesday: Black dress with hearts and stars print from Asos, tights and shoes from M&S

Clockwise from top left: Thursday, Friday, Sunday, Saturday
Thursday: Meeting friends in the pub after work - dress from Queenie & Ted over long sleeved white top from Dorothy Perkins, with Marks & Spencer tights and boots
Friday: Raccoons T-shirt from Truffleshuffle over long sleeved top from Dorothy Perkins, Gap jeans and winter Converse.
Saturday: Day at home doing blog work then round to a friend's house for dinner. Topshop cake jumper, skirt made from an old pair of jeans (not by me - I'm not that good at sewing yet!), Marks & Spencer tights and boots.
Sunday: Cosmonauts exhibition at the Science Museum then meeting Nick and his mum for lunch. Unicorn jumper from Joy, Gap jeans, winter Converse.

I'm a bit nervous that I've used up quite a few staple outfits this week, but hopefully that will pay off later in the month as it'll force me to be more creative. It's also given me an idea that I very much hae a 'work look' and a 'weekend look', so I'm going to try and cross those over a bit more rather than keeping them separate. Next week should be interesting as I'm at Country to Country for three days - expect a lot of checked shirt/T shirt/jeans combos...

What did you think of this week's outfits?

Favourites: February 2016

For all that January is supposed to be about fresh starts, I actually feel that February has been a month of getting into new things for me. I've started my 30 Days of Outfits challenge, read different genres of books and got back into good habits, and it's produced some favourites that I feel are a sign of turning a corner in my life. So here are the things I've been loving in the last month!

Image sources: skirt, Clarins exfoliator, And Then There Were None, Montevallo, Tattoo Fixers cast, parkrun logo

Favourite item of clothing: BeckyQueenOfFrocks world map print skirt
Do you have those items that you lust after for ages, then when you get them wear them to death? This was that for me; I spotted it in a post on the (now sadly defunct) Domestic Sluttery blog, but as it wasn't cheap I felt a little bit nervous about having a big splurge on it. Howevever, I finally took the plunge and am in love with it. The fact it's neutral but has loads of different colours in it means it goes with everything, and the fit is really nice too. I also like that it works for loads of different occasions, from work to weekends, and the fact that whenever I wear it I get loads of compliments is a huge bonus. In fact I love it so much I'm going to do a  post on how I put different outfits together with it in the next few weeks so make sure you look out for that!

Favourite beauty product: Clarins Gentle Exfoliator
This is one of those products that you don't think you need when you first get it, and then you stop using it and realise just how much difference it makes to your skin. Think of it as a more effective replacement for toner - after cleansing, you put some on a pad, swipe it over your face and it 'eats' all the dead skin cells to help prevent spots and deal with dry patches. (Sorry for the gross image, but I do love the idea of a liquid exfoliator chomping through dead skin, Pacman-style.)

Favourite book: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
I reviewed this in my Season's Readings post last week so you can go over there for more detail, but suffice to say it's brilliant and you should go and read it right now.

Favourite music: Sam Hunt - Montevallo
Ahead of Country to Country (FIVE DAYS TO GO!!! *claps hands excitedly, bounces in seat* Ahem. As you were.), I've been re-listening to the headliners' latest albums and greatest hits to prepare myself for singing along at the shows. As someone who has conflicting views about bro-country (catchy melodies - good, dodgy lyrics - bad), I was a bit apprehensive about Sam Hunt's Montevallo album. I needn't have worried. Yes, there are hip-hop hooks aplenty; yes, there is the slightly dubious 'Single For The Summer'. But overall it's a brilliant album, blending country with pop and R&B elements and feeling really current and fresh, whilst all tied with Sam's rich voice and a great sense of storytelling. Standout tracks for me are 'Break Up In A Small Town' and Sam's version of 'Cop Car' (which he co-wrote but was previously a hit for Keith Urban). He also did a great session on Bob Harris' radio show next week which I recommend you listen to here - hoping there'll be some of this in his set on Saturday!

Favourite TV programme: Tattoo Fixers
If you follow me on Twitter you'll know that I am a bit obsessed with Tattoo Fixers. Now in its second series (you can watch all the previous episodes here), it does what it says on the tin - three tattoo artists fix the UK's dodgiest tattoos. I am the first to admit I'm not a tattoo expert - despite the frankly ridiculous amount of tattoo shows I watch - and yes they're not perfect every time, but given what they've often got to work with these guys do an amazing job, with loads of beautiful tattoos to make up for the previous terrible body art. Plus I love the banter between the cast; it's like hanging out with your funniest mates as they all bounce off each other and mock each other relentlessly yet lovingly. Oh, and (depending whether you like your men bearded and muscly or pierced and floppy-haired) Jay and Sketch aren't half bad to look at. The only slightly bad thing about it is it's making me really want to get a tattoo...

Favourite thing to do: parkrun
I'd gone to parkrun on and off when we lived in our previous flat, but since the move I'd fallen off the wagon due to everything else that was going on. However, at the start of the year I decided to start again and have managed to go almost every week since. As well as the excitement of seeing myself improve (I managed to finish the month with a new personal best of 33:44 - granted it's not exactly super-speedy but it's definitely something to build on for March), I've also met some really lovely people through post-parkrun coffees and am enjoying getting out in the fresh air to work out at least once a week. It's got to the stage now where I wake up on Saturday excited to go and feel sad if I have to miss a week. Definitely worth trying if you want to get into running.

What were your favourite things in February?