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?


  1. I'm so jealous that you went; I wanted to get tickets but couldn't get the time off work! I realllly want to go next year though!


    1. Definitely go if you can - it's such a good weekend and really good value! And come say hi if you manage to get there :)