The Country to Country festival, otherwise known as C2C, started big and has been growing in scale year on year. Prior to its inauguration in 2013, there had long been demand for a country music festival of its type, and it’s clear from the 60,000+ patrons across the three-day weekend this year that the demand is only increasing. The US acts coming over were keen to point out on numerous occasions that no line-up like this had ever existed at an American festival, and from a personal standpoint I would certainly suggest that the fourth edition of this festival was the best yet.
Even for sheer number of events occurring, C2C 2016 blew everything else out the water. Three simultaneous festivals, in Dublin, Glasgow and London, with pop-up stages featured at the latter two. Three days chock full of music, with eleven main stage acts in total, six Yamaha Music Stage artists (a small acoustic stage at the back of the main arena, where artists played during the intervals), countless pop-up stage acts, multiple special appearances, signings, market stalls, Bluebird Café shows, a dedicated digital radio station, cinema screenings, press conferences, talks and finally two different after-parties for each night with DJ sets and performances from some of Nashville’s finest. That’s not to mention the CMA Songwriters Series that kicked off the festival, and you can find my review of that here.
Still, the main arena shows were always the highlight of the evening. With Saturday devoted to country pop and Sunday devoted to an edgier, rootsier sound, Friday felt a little bit like the leftovers the organisers couldn’t squeeze onto the other days. With a shortened evening Ashley Monroe was relegated to the Yamaha Music Stage along with Charles Esten (Deacon in Nashville), and they shined in between Thomas Rhett, Dwight Yoakam and Miranda Lambert. I will admit the line-up on Friday did feel a bit choppy, but it was nice getting to see music even during the intervals.
Thomas Rhett opened the night with ‘South Side’, probably the worst song on his album ‘Tangled Up’, and that set him up to divide the audience. The couple sitting behind us remarked (in their repulsion) “That was terrible” in between songs, although Thomas began to win some of the crowd back over during offerings like ‘Die A Happy Man’. He’s certainly an acquired taste, and while he clearly knows how to move and I didn’t hate his performance, it was pretty forgettable as the festival progressed.
After the bluesy tones of Charles Esten (one original, one from Nashville, and a cover), it was time for Dwight Yoakam to hit the stage. I am not hugely familiar with much of Dwight’s back catalogue I must admit, so the performance fell a little flat for me. I don’t mind the songs and I did try to engage with it, but I just couldn’t get into it as a casual listener. I think this set would largely only have been enjoyable for those who are fans of Dwight, or those who remember him on the charts from years past, since nothing really stood out to me and his bored eyes and lacklustre Elvis hip-wagging did nothing to capture my enthusiasm.
Ashley Monroe played a pitifully short acoustic set next, stunning the crowd as usual with her aching vocals, before her BFF Miranda Lambert arrived to headline. Launching with ‘Kerosene’ and playing a number of hits equally balanced across each of her albums (plus the new ‘In The Sweet By and By’ and one or two rock covers), I will admit I am incredibly biased when it comes to this performance. I am a huge fan of Miranda’s and after 10 years of listening to her this was my first time being able to see her live, so I was up and dancing and singing (screaming) along. This meant I didn’t pay as much attention to the technical aspects of her performance.
Still, considering reports from some of her shows in 2015, it seems like this year brings a bigger and better Miranda Lambert. She seemed happier and more into the performance than I was initially expecting, her vocals were on point, and she moved around to engage the crowd. She smiled when I yelled out “I love you!” at a pause, replying “I love you too,” and honestly that is good enough for me (told you, biased). There was no new material and I was a little disappointed she ended her initial set on a rock song I didn’t know (I’m so bad in that area) instead of one of her own, but the encore with Ashley Monroe acoustically singing ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ was a total winner. I also felt Miranda’s vocals were perfectly on point throughout, something which isn’t easy.
Day one of C2C was a great show, largely due to Miranda, although fans of the other acts may disagree with me. However, it paled in comparison to days two and three.