It was a typically grey day in Glasgow but the Hydro was lit up in red, white and blue for the arrival of Nashville’s best for Country to Country festival. Now in its fourth full year in Scotland the event continues to grow in popularity (it certainly seemed to be busier than the equivalent Friday last year). This first night kicked off with some of the genre’s more traditional artists including Chris Stapleton, Lyle Lovett, Ashley McBryde and Drake White & The Big Fire.
Firstly before I get to the music I want to address a couple of issues with the organisation of the event. In a previous post I suggested that introducing standing to C2C might be a good idea. However what I didn’t expect was that DF Concerts would introduce standing but only in small sections at the front of the stage.
When the early bird tickets were released last year many people bought their seats in good faith, thinking that VIP meant they would be in the first few rows. Others rebought the same seats as last year expecting to be in the exact same spot. It was not made clear to them that their view would include a standing section in front of them. Now personally I think it’s a mistake to spend hundreds of pounds for a ‘VIP’ ticket which is just a seat nearer to the stage, but those who have done so should at least be treated with respect by the organisers of the event.
And similar to the farce that was the TRNSMT ‘golden circle’, the standing pods did not sell. In fact some fans were upgraded in order to fill them up. Not only that but they were bad for the atmosphere because of the added barriers and dead space between the stage and the majority of seated fans. It should either be all standing downstairs (my preference) or all seating – this mix and match did not work at all.
And my second criticism of the event was the set up of spotlight stage. Last year the spotlight stage was at the back of the venue which was good for those sitting further back. However it was plagued by sound problems which may have been part of the reason it was moved this year to in front of the main stage. In the end that was a dumb decision because it was only used for about twenty minutes the whole night (by The Wandering Hearts and Michael Ray, both of whom engaged the crowd well) and just resulted in the main acts being much further away from the fans. It would have been better if this extra section of stage was removed and the spotlight acts could have just played on the main stage itself.
Thankfully the music at C2C never disappoints and each of the artists put on a fantastic show. Drake White and the Big Fire got the crowd going perfectly with their blend of warm country rock. Highlights included songs Heartbeat and Back to Free, which showcased White’s excellent voice. A random cover of Queen’s ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ was another unexpected highlight. Starting a show this early is never easy when the venue isn’t full so credit to White and his band for bringing energy and heart to the stage.
Ashley McBryde previously played Scotland supporting Luke Combs and was welcomed back to the country like an old friend (she even unfurled a Scottish flag at one point, much to the delight of the crowd). Fresh from her Grammy nomination for Country Album of the Year, Ashley rocked the crowd with her classic songs and kick ass band (she joked that they were called ‘dead horse’ because you can’t beat them). What was even more impressive was that they had to play with borrowed instruments, after her equipment was lost en route. Stand outs from her set included American Scandal and A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega but the killer song in her catalogue is Girl Goin’ Nowhere – a perfect anthem for dreamers and strivers everywhere. It was a seriously spine-tingling moment hearing everyone singing along. She finished with Tired of Being Happy and left everyone in the room on their feet – hopefully they all rush to buy tickets for her return to U.K. in September.
C2C usually includes one classic act (like Emmylou last year and Dwight Yoakum before that) and I think this is one of the strengths of the event. This year’s choice was Lyle Lovett, whose blend of jazz, blues and country was enjoyable – if not a little bizarre when grouped beside the rockier acts on the rest of the bill. His excellent band included brilliant blues singer Francine Reed, who performed solo on the song Wild Women (Don’t Get the Blues) which was perfect for International Women’s Day. Lovett finished with a Townes Van Zandt cover in honour of his birthday and it was a nice moment to end his set.
The Scottish crowd had waited a long time to see Chris Stapleton again, with his only previous show a thirty minute opening set at C2C in 2016. His band, including pregnant wife Morgane, formed a tight circle at the front of the stage and made the cavernous hydro feel like we were in his living room. Chris is a serious and reserved performer who lets his music do the talking. His stunning voice really has to be heard live to be believed, and credit must also go to Morgane for delivering some beautiful vocals and energy throughout the set too. Opener Midnight Train To Memphis introduced the style of bluesy country rock which has made Stapleton one of the most popular artists in American music. Millionaire was the first big crowd favourite, showing he can sing a straight country radio hit as well as rock out on extended guitar solos. Broken Halos was my personal favourite song of the night (sorry to those who had to listen to my out of tune singalong). Most people probably came to hear songs from his iconic Traveler album and they were treated to brilliant versions of Parachute and Might as Well Get Stoned, plus a perfect rendition of Whiskey and You, which was worth the ticket price alone. Finishing off the evening with Tennessee Whiskey and Outlaw State of Mind sentthe appreciative crowd home happy and desperately hoping he returns to Scotland soon.
Booking quality artists like Stapleton means C2C can keep expanding and bringing in fans who might be under the incorrect illusion that country music is still all big hats and line dancing. We need this event to grow and keep being a success because it has made such a difference for country music in the U.K. – giving artists exposure which allows them to tour beyond the limits of this one weekend a year. The music never lets us down, so it is vital the organisers also gives fans the experience they deserve.