C2C: Country To Country Festival - Top Tips For First-Timers [UPDATED FOR 2019]

With C2C fast approaching, I thought today I'd do a post on the festival experience for anyone who's heading to this year's event for the first time. My first C2C was in 2016, and I'm just as excited to go back this March as I was the first time. However, there were things I wish I'd known before I went, so I'm hoping this post will help any people who are C2C newbies have a great experience! Here are my tips for making your first (or fifth) C2C awesome...

It's not just about the arena. Those tickets aren't cheap, but if the budget won't stretch (or there's simply no-one you want to see) and you still want to come to the festival then I'd seriously consider buying a wristband. These cost £10 per day, are available from the O2 box office on the day you want to attend, and will get you into the Radio 2 Stage and All Bar One stages amongst others. Or there's always the free busking stages, such as Big Entrance and the ICON stage in the new outlet mall. Bear in mind that if you want to go to the Bluebird Cafe songwriters' rounds - which are great and definitely worth considering - CMA Songwriters Series on the Thursday or the aftershow parties you'll need a separate ticket, even if you have arena seats already.)

Plan, plan, plan. You're not going to get to see everyone you want to, so prioritise the three pop-up acts you want to see most each day and plan around them. I normally spend a couple of hours the weekend before sitting with a giant coffee and a schedule printout - more on those later - which always ends up absolutely covered in scribbles and circles as I try to line up who I'm seeing when and still squeeze in time to eat lunch.

Get there early too; this year the music starts around noon on Friday and 10 AM on Saturday and Sunday. On the Friday, this means you'll have the pick of the shopping and can grab some food (or scope out where to eat/drink/shop the rest of the weekend) before things get going, whilst on Saturday and Sunday it means you get the best spots for the early pop-up acts. This also applies if you're moving between venues, as there's usually a 15-minute gap between acts and the O2 is massive, so make sure you get to the next stage ASAP (which also allows time to buy a drink and use the facilities if you so desire). That said...

Be prepared to be flexible. Trying to pack in too much will leave you exhausted and you won't enjoy it as much as if you can take your time. If you have some space in your schedule, it gives you the opportunity to grab food, do a bit of shopping or just wander round and soak up the atmosphere. Plus it means you can go to see acts at short notice - in 2016 they announced The Shires were playing on Twitter at the last minute and I'm really glad I had space in my schedule to see them. Be open about seeing new bands as well; some of the best acts I've seen at the festival were the ones I'd never heard of before, although I also like to mix in smaller artists I've seen before and like to show my support.

Take five minutes to organise your bag each day. Because the O2 is quite tight on security in the arena, I only pack the essentials - tickets, map, timetable (all in a plastic folder ordered by day), purse, keys, phone, a few bits of make-up (concealer, cream blush, lipstick), breath mints, hand sanitiser, hand cream and a book or my Kindle for any queues. In 2017 I upgraded to a jazzy bright rucksack so I could also carry water, snacks, my camera and a phone power pack, as well as any purchases I might make. This is the one I have but I've also seen people using small cross-body bags (of the type that sit on your chest or under your arm) or even bumbags.

One final planning note: get the C2C app for news about competitions or meet and greets (though I found it easier to enter via Instagram and Twitter). However, if you're a visual person like me, when you're planning you might want to make a spreadsheet of stage times so you can cross-reference who's where when. I really miss the Nashville Over Here printable timetables, which were absolutely fantastic for this - the year I had them quite a few people stopped me and asked about them, so if you do make your own it might be worth bringing spares to hand out...

Wear comfortable shoes. This was by far and away the most common tip I got on Twitter, and I thoroughly agree. There is a lot of walking around involved and it's likely you'll have to sprint between venues at least once, so remember to break in your new boots well in advance! In terms of what else to wear, you'll see a real mix of outfits - the guy I sat next to in 2016 turned up every day in full-on cowboy gear - but I personally go for the classic checked shirt, band T shirt, jeans and trainers combo. Although the arena itself can get hot, March isn't exactly the warmest month and it can get chilly at the pop-up stages (particularly the Big Entrance and the outdoor Town Square stage they had in 2018, although no word on whether this is back) so layers are your friend. For that reason I'd suggest bringing a proper coat as well, as the walk from the O2 to North Greenwich station is longer than you think and it can get cold late at night.

Bring water and snacks, and eat a good breakfast before you come out. Food at the O2 is not cheap, particularly in the arena, and healthy options are limited. You can go one of two ways with this: bring your own stuff or give in and have a blowout. I went for the latter in my first year and my skin was still paying for it two weeks later, so this year I'm packing a mix of snacks (cereal bars, Haribo, Party Rings, bananas and popcorn/crisps) and my refillable water bottle to save money and not feel quite so guilty about my Sunday morning bacon sandwich. Also, you're not allowed to take food from outside into the arena so make sure to eat whatever you bring in the queue before going in!

On the water note, my approach for this is to bring a full water bottle from home, drink that during the morning/early afternoon, get a refill at Starbucks at lunchtime with my mid-afternoon coffee, drink that before going into the arena, and then get a free pint of tap water from the nearest bar and tip it into the bottle before you go in. (Now if only the bars would actually fill your bottle for you...)

If you are eating out, go early as the restaurants fill up quickly. I prefer to eat a big late lunch and then a smaller 'snack' of chips/hot dog/fajita (mainly because I refuse to pay inflated arena prices) just before the headliner if needed, although usually my snacks during the day are enough. That said, if you do want a bigger meal, I hear good things about the chicken pizza...

It might also be worth looking out for special offers or vouchers for any restaurants beforehand to help save money, although bear in mind some places won't let you use these during an event. My usual lunch choices tend to be Hollywood Bowl, Five Guys, Nando's, Water Margin for the Chinese buffet or the £10 main course, coffee and cake deal at Craft London (on the concourse outside the main entrance).

Turn up in plenty of time to get into the arena. On the Friday in 2016, they moved people sitting in level 4 because it wasn't full, and while luckily I didn't miss anything myself, there were a few people on Twitter complaining they didn't see all of Thomas Rhett's set. Similarly, in 2017 I only saw the last three songs of Jennifer Nettles' set because it took so long to get through security, so I'd get in the line 30-45 minutes before kick-off if possible. This is particularly applicable if you're going in at entrance H (near Building Six and the Intercontinental Hotel) which involves a massive trek round pretty much the whole concourse and always takes longer than you think it should.

Even if you live in London, I would consider getting a hotel, especially if you want to go to any of the late night shows. I don't live that far from the O2 but it still takes me a good hour each way to get there and back, and after three days of that I'm normally running on caffeine and fumes. I've heard good things about the Travelodge London Docklands or the Holiday Inn at Canning Town, or if you really want to splash out you can stay at the Intercontinental right next door to the O2. Alternatively, in 2018 I found that getting an Uber home worked out at a similar price to a night in a budget hotel, so if you're going to after-parties that could be a good option.

Also don't forget to check the TfL website for any engineering works affecting your route to and from the O2 on the weekend if you're using public transport! If you're driving, book your parking ASAP to save some cash.

Finally, enjoy it! It can be a bit overwhelming the first time you go, but take the opportunity to wander round, soak in the atmosphere and try something new. In my experience country fans are a really friendly bunch and happy to chat to anyone, so don't be afraid to strike up a conversation about your favourite acts or how you're finding the festival. If you're worried about being by yourself you could ask around on Twitter or Facebook to see if anyone wants someone to go with - try the C2C Attendees Facebook group - or consider a Meetup group like Play That Country Music! (which I am a member of; full disclosure and all that).

What are your tips for first-time (or even seventh-time!) C2C attendees? And who are you most looking forward to seeing this year?

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