C2C 2015 – The Main Stage Reviewed

Saturday 7th March 2015

21Brandy Clark

Brandy Clark opened the main stage this year. Brandy came in to the festival having just performed with Dwight Yoakam at the Grammy’s and really (in the mind of country fans) stolen the show so there was a real sense of expectation from us.

She kicked off the set with the upbeat Stripes, a song about not wanting to shoot her man because she doesn’t like the colour of the prison clothing, which was a good strong opener and got toes tapping. Early on, and this could have been to do with where I was sitting, I struggled to make out what she was actually singing and the mix seemed to be a bit off. There seem to have been a few grumbles about the sound mixing this year and I wasn’t the only one saying it.
Having released her first album, 12 Stories, last year Clark dipped into this pool and played a lot of the tracks including the tender Hold My Hand, which was a real highlight, and the raucous

Crazy Women. On top of these songs she also showcased some of the material that she has written for other performers, which included Mama’s Broken Heartthat was recorded by Miranda Lambert.
Brandy seemed genuinely excited to be playing these songs for us and the smile couldn’t be removed from her face – when we are in stage where country is growing in the UK it’s reassuring to see just how much this means to the American acts coming over. Clark went so far as to say she felt like her songs and album had been received better over here, perhaps we are just more open to modern and forward thinking opinions.
Overall she was a superb opening to the festival and really proved why there is so much hype around her brand of country.

The Satellite Stage: Sam Hunt

Sam Hunt was the first act to play on the new ‘Satellite Stage’ at the back of the auditorium. Although his style is definitely leaning towards R&B as well as country he put on a captivating performance and kept the crowd  going in between songs. He’s currently a tour mate of Lady Antebellum on their Wheels Up tour and big things  are expected of him so this was a good early prelude as to what he can do.

 

22Lee Ann Womack

Lee Ann Womack is certainly a country performer who has done her time on the circuit and earned her stripes. As her set kicked off it immediately drew comparisons with those from LeAnn Rimes and Martina McBride in years before her. This is understandable as their live shows rely heavily on some amazing vocal gymnastics.

There can be absolutely no doubting that she has an amazing voice on her and her band are as well drilled as any Nashville backing band. There was a noticeable difference in excitement between Womack and Clark but that being said Brandy Clark is a newcomer to the scene and Lee Ann has seenit all before.

Admittedly I didn’t find this the most exciting performance of the weekend and Womack didn’t really seem to be putting as much into it as she could. I don’t mean to play down the quality of her performance and it could be because this just isn’t my kind of country. This is the beauty of the festival though – there is something for everyone from Brantley Gilbert through to Lee Ann Womack and everything in between.

Womack finished her set with her CMA Song of the Year I Hope You Dance which really got the crowd involved. For me it was definitely a high point in her set but was too little too late to really impress me.

23The Satellite Stage: Sam Palladio

This was a huge moment for British actor and one of the stars of US TV show Nashville Palladio and you could see it in everything he did. He kicked off with the energetic and infectious Lightening Bones to a huge cheer and really impressed. We all know him as Gunnar in the TV show  but I have a feeling that we will be getting to know him better as Sam Palladio the musician before long. He also played the song Wake Me Up In Nashville which he’d also played at the CMA songwriters show the night before. On top of his great performance having one of  the stars of the hugely popular TV show there made a great moment for the festival.

24Florida Georgia Line

When the line up for C2C was announced I would admit to (rather ignorantly) turning my nose up at this duo. I’m not against ‘bro-country’ per se but I never really got on board with these two. However this begun to change when I heard the single Dirt which really impressed me and I began to warm to them.

One thing has to be said about their set is that they gave absolutely everything they had unto to putting on an amazing show and that was obvious. The energy from Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard was just non-stop as they moved from side to side of the stage, fist pumping each other at every opportunity. They looked like two guys who were loving every minute of their ride to the top and this made it so much easier to enjoy their show.

Musically it was loud. So loud in fact that my Stetson nearly vibrated off my head during the intro! As with Brandy Clark it was difficult to actually hear what they were singing at times but this could, again, be down to where I was sat.
FLAGAL have a whole host of feel-good party tunes to pull from and showcased this with Cruise and the outstanding This Is How We Roll but the real high point for me was the performance of their hit song Dirt.

It was probably the most heartfelt moment of the entire set and, from an act that are often discredited for their throwaway drinking songs, showed just how much talent the two have. Tyler Hubbard said that this wasn’t just their favourite song to perform but it was their favourite song of all time and I can see that being the case for a lot of other people. If they can find more songs like this and add them to their arsenal then they could easy take the jump across to many other fans of country.

Florida Georgia Line are a huge act so it feels strange to say it but they were one of the biggest surprise packages of the weekend for me. They happily told the crowd how big a moment this was for them and Brian Kelley even tweeted after that he ‘had tears in his eyes’ for most of the show.

Luke Bryan

When the CMA Entertainer of the Year comes to town he really needs no introduction. He’s proved time and time again that he is one of the best around at what he does and getting him over to our humble island was an honour. Again, this just goes to prove what Country 2 Country, and the hard work of the people behind, it has done for country fans in England. This just would not have happened three years a go.
25The set opened with That’s My Kind of Night and was met by huge cheers from the crowd. Just the sight of Bryan hitting the stage in his trademark baseball cap lit the place up and got the crowd on their feet. He then slipped in to All My Friends Say, which is one of his earlier cuts but had the energy to really keep things trucking along (no truck pun intended).

Bryan is another who has been on the country scene for years and didn’t seem phased or overawed by the occasion – after all he’s played stadium shows all over the USA.
Throughout the show Bryan switched between playing songs on his acoustic guitar as well as taking the mic for a walk and getting involved with the fans. He commented on how he’s drunk more on this tour of Europe than ever before – perhaps we will get some new European themed drinking songs soon!

As a performer Bryan is known for his mix of upbeat party themed country and heartfelt ballads and this was evident throughout the show. My personal highpoint was the song Drink A Beer in which Luke urged us to sing a long in memory of people we had lost who we used to drink a beer with. When you know a little bit about Luke Bryan’s back story and how he lost his brother at a young age this created a really tender moment in the night. The set ended with the modern classic Country Girl (Shake It For Me), which got the crowd singing and dancing along and ended  with a real bang.
Overall this was the kind of set you would expect from an Entertainer of the Year. The set was well balanced and Bryan’s voice was on top form. There perhaps wasn’t the interaction with audience that I may have expected but musically it was as good as we could hope it to be.

Sunday 8th March

Kip Moore

The main stage on Sunday was opened by an act that I was very excited about seeing in Kip Moore.

26Having done an interview with him the week before and listening to his Up All Night record on repeat I couldn’t wait to see what he had in store for the crowd. The show opened with a lot of noise. Kip was joined on stage by two other guitarists and the sound of these combined guitars was something to behold. At the start of the set this volume and punch in the guitars was great and combined perfectly with Kip’s gravelly vocals – you knew he was here meaning business. As with Brandy Clark and  Florida Georgia Line on the previous day, he made it clear just how much this opportunity meant tohim and it sent the crowd wild every time he mentioned it. It seems that a lot of the up and coming acts do seem to hold Europe in high regard and we are all hopeful that we will see more and more of them coming over.
Aside from the crunching guitars there was a brief moment where Kip picked up his acoustic guitar and went solo. This was an incredibly brave move on it’s own but coupled with the fact that he played a cover of Oasis Don’t Look Back In Anger. This was big in two ways; firstly covering one of the biggest British acts of the last 20 years is bold and secondly, the country loving British public (in my experience) aren’t likely to be the biggest Oasis fans! As it went the song was expertly performed and led to a great sing-a-long moment after which Kip said he loved the crowd so much that he was going to go to the main lobby and sign autographs until he had reached everyone. I’m not sure if he’s still there now!

The set ended on Kip’s most successful track Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck which was all again a little loud and blended into one big noise.
Overall Kips performance was a mixed bag for me. It lacked a little of the subtlety that I would have liked to have seen but at the same time was as passionate and hard hitting as you’d expect from the man.

Check out our interview with Kip Moore in the Getting To Know… Section of the site.

The Satellite Stage: Ward Thomas

27The first of the well hyped British bands at the festival to play the Satellite Stage was Ward Thomas who gave a good account of themselves with an energetic performance. Both the satellite acts had a big job on Sunday after they followed some extremely loud and heavy shows. They performed Push For The Stride and current single Town Called Ugley which went down very well. It was clear that the sisters were very nervous which is to be expected and they came across as a bit flustered but very humbled. All in all it was a good outing for Ward Thomas ahead of their UK tour.

 

Brantley Gilbert

28Brantley Gilbert made C2C history this weekend in being the first act to appear on the main stage at two different festivals. Since his last performance here he had released his latest album Just As I Am and been nominated for various awards. I should start this review by pointing out that Brantley Gilbert is really not my cup of tea but every time I say that I feel I should also point out that the diversity of main stage acts is what makes the festival so special. After an intro that was motorbike and gun heavy Brantley strutted on stage to the sound of Pantera-esque riffs and started as he meant to go on.
One thing about Brantley Gilbert is that he is an incredibly passionate guy. He means what he says between songs and has so much confidence in himself. Before playing his current single One Hell Of An Amen he showed his softer side in telling us about the story behind the song and dedicating it to the lives and the tragedy of those lost before their times.
The other side of Gilbert is the badass side. He told us that he will happily ‘stomp’ any man who touches a woman and gave us a long speech about how nobody will ever take his guns away. I applaud passion like that in any walk of life but he perhaps underestimated the conservative British crowd in front of him who didn’t give him much change on the guns comment.
The set itself didn’t have too many high points for me and it must be hard for him to perform at such a

festival where the musical tastes in the crowd are so diverse. As he did in 2013 he ended his set by jumping to the crowd and walking around shaking hands and high fiving.

The Satellite Stage: The Shires

As The Shires took to the stage on Sunday night they had no idea just how important a night it would be for them. Not only did they play their first ever arena show (well, kind of) they achieved the first ever UK country album to get into the top 10. Their performance was polished as always and was always going to feel mellow after Hurricane Gilbert that had preceded it. It’ll be nice to hopefully see them with a full band soon and hopefully done justice to. All in all it was a strong set which gave them an exposure to a huge audience who, I’m sure, will have spotted to hundreds of adverts for their album around the arena.

Jason Aldean

Aldean was perhaps one of the most intriguing acts of the weekend for me. His records, with the exception of My Kinda 30Party, never really kept my attention but I know that he is one of the most successful touring country acts out there. I wandered if it would take me seeing him live to really get the appeal.
The show itself was pyrotechnics heavy and had fireworks flying everywhere. It almost felt a bit like wewere ringing in the New Year at one point. Unfortunately for me the performance didn’t match the fireworks on stage and left me feeling a bit flat.
There is no doubt that Aldean is a great singer but (again) I could barely hear what he was singing overthe chugging over the overly loud guitars. Every song just felt the same to me; the set just seemed like itcomprised of a collection of mid-tempo rockers that, for me, never really went anywhere.
There was the odd moment that I really enjoyed such as the songs My Kinda Party and set closer She’s Country. All this being said I may have enjoyed it more if my ears weren’t already bleeding from Kip Moore and Brantley Gilbert. It just felt like there wasn’t a whole lot of subtlety on show at the start of this Sunday and it all blended into one loud noise.

Lady Antebellum

We waited all weekend for this and the moment finally came at 20:45 on Sunday evening that Lady Antebellum brought their show to the O2 Arena for the first time. After the acts that had come before them that day I was just hoping for something a little less brash and in your face than we had been treated to already.
Opening up with Bartender Lady A certainly did everything I’d been hoping for and more. The sound was great and the band looked ready to put on a real show. The set started off really upbeat and fast moving but didn’t have any of the deafening guitars that the earlier acts had been hindered by.

31As they rattled through Long Stretch of Love, Just a Kiss and others the band kept up the participation with the audience with Charles Kelley even leaving the stage at one point to go and shake hands with fans and sing along in the crowd.
There was a nice mix of their older songs like American Honey and Love Don’t live here mixed with songs from their recent album 747. Along with this they performed a great cover of Islands In The Stream which got the whole arena singing along and stripped down to a quiet acoustic set before promising it was “full speed after that”.

The encore opened with their huge hit Need You Now and was followed by a cover of Avicii’s Wake Me Up. I thought it was great how they chose to end on that song with it being a little more upbeat and providing opportunity for the crowd to get on their feet and sing along.

As far as C2C headliners go Lady Antebellum will go into the hall of fame alongside Brad Paisley as the best we have seen. The energy of the show was matched by a great musical performance that is not always achieved equally. The fact that Charles Kelley chose to refer to the night as a “bucket list moment” was obvious in their enthusiasm and level of performance. What a way to end an amazing weekend.

Overall

I’ll be the first to admit that the line up for this year’s festival did not exactly fill me with excitement when it was announced. I’m not saying it was a bad line up because it was definitely not that by any stretch of the imagination it just wasn’t as much to my taste as the previous year. I thought I would give it a go and was so pleased that I did. The most important thing about C2C is not just the main stage acts but the whole experience of the festival, the main stage is just an amazing bonus. If I was to pick out high points from the main stage it’d be without doubt Brandy Clark, Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and Lady Antebellum. Their performance just managed to balance that passion with a quality and varied performance. The others all did well at what they do and were entertaining but for me they just didn’t blow me away.

The Satellite Stage was a great addition this year and made that wait between acts a drag a little less. Not only that it gave an amazing platform for exposure for up and coming bands. I can see that this stage will be a vital part of the growth of C2C in the future. I’d even like them to give a little more time to the acts on there to really get into the swing of things. Sam Palladio was definitely my highlight on this stage but every act put in a great performance which will surely have earned them many new fans.

Every single performer on that stage was there on great merit and credit has to go to the guys at C2C who put together such a talented roster of stars every year. I just can’t wait to see who they have in store for next year…

All photos courtesy of Hels Bels Photography

@helsbelsphoto

facebook.com/helsbelsphotography

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