Country 2 Country returns to Scotland for another outstanding Sold-Out weekend at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro featuring headline performances from Chris Stapleton, Keith Urban and Lady Antebellum.
The opening night of the Country2Country festival in Glasgow was a triumph, with a line-up of distinctive country acts and sublime sound quality, attendees left delighted.
It was a dreary night and the downpour seemed relentless. But many had spring in their step in Glasgow, as they were heading down to the Clyde-side venue the SSE Hydro to be part of the opening night of the biggest country festival outside America. After beginning in 2013, the festival has developed in stature greatly. Starting as a one-night event in London, by the following year, the show was also taking place concurrently in Dublin. In 2015, it expanded overseas to Norway and Sweden and it was 2016 when Country2Country (C2C) launched in Glasgow and the event became a three-night affair. It was initially being held in the Clyde Auditorium before moving to the Hydro in 2018. 2019 made way for the most ambitious C2C to date as they began their transpacific expansion, playing its first weekend in Australia as well starting up in Germany and the Netherlands.
Drake White and the Big Fire Band were first to take to the main stage. White is every bit the cowboy heartthrob. Since 2011, his uplifting take on wonderful guitar pick country has brought smiles to the faces of listeners and White performed the whole night with the warmest of smiles on his face. The crowd was still arriving in out of the rain and White’s sound was the earnest embrace they needed to pick up their energy. Everyone in the band looked filled with a genuine enjoyment of their art and it was infectious. White spoke a touching word to his wife and interacted playfully with the crowd. The track ‘Livin’ the Dream,’ ‘It Feels Good’ and the bouncing cover of Queen’s ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ were the highlights of his bright set.
The Spotlight Stage was used to fill the area with sound while the main stage was reset. Straight after Drake White, The Wandering Hearts started their performance and it followed his vibe perfectly. The London based group have a colourful, folky sound and could be described as the more country equivalent of Mumford and Sons. They kept the cheerful atmosphere going fiercely.
Ashley McBryde brought the punk rock country to the evening. The Arkansas born, powerful singer has a Bruce Springsteen vibes to her music. She comes across with a beautiful mix of confidence and humility; with charm and rebellion. She brings emotion and humour with heartfelt stories and some powerhouse ballads. She is so easy to connect to, joking about the trials of wearing spandex for hours. Some of the highlighting songs from McBryde’s set included ‘American Scandal,’ ‘Blue Jeans’ and ‘Rattlesnake Preacher’.
Lyle Lovett was arguably the most experienced performer of the whole festival and his set was breathtaking. This is a man with over four decades of experience in the music industry, a multitude of acting credits in TV and Films, and was the ex-husband of serene actress Julia Roberts. At the Hydro, Lovett is joined by a glorious band. There’s a mandolin guitar, a steel guitar, an upright bass and a fiddle, to name but a few of the instruments that built the unique swinging, folk, bluegrass, country sound of the set. But the crowning glory of Lovett’s stage is singer Francine Reed. Her immense gospel voice stuns listeners with its beauty and strength. Without her, the sound still would have been marvellous but she takes the performance to a whole new level, a level that affected the listener to their core. Standout moments included the songs ‘My Baby Don’t Tolerate,’ ‘Here I Am,’ and ‘Twelfth of June,’ as well as Reed’s words in support of International Women’s Day followed by a powerful gospel song that she performed.
Headliner Chris Stapleton stole the show. The Kentucky born superstar was the only act of the night to keep pretty much every member of the crowd on their feet for the entirety of his set. Stapleton is known for his vocal prowess, his passion for songwriting, and his masterful talent on guitar. His music is a hybrid of styles; the strongest influences arguably being bluegrass and outlaw country. Stapleton really soared to fame when he performed with Justin Timberlake at CMA awards and the rumble of Stapleton’s talent started to reach the masses. He has performed at previous C2C celebrations but this was his first year as the main event. He took to the stage to the sound of heavy guitars and Stapleton’s deep voice drove the audience up to their feet. He is a man who could sing any style he desired. There is such an air of mystery around him and his band. Stapleton’s hat shadows his face for most of the set and he is joined by a small band of three. His heavily pregnant wife Morgane singings support on stage and she seems to channel Stevie Nicks in her sound and look. The quality of the sound is amazing. The soft beauty ‘Millionaire’ creates a sway amongst the audience. Stapleton somehow finds an oxymoronic balance of powerful strength and delicate vulnerabilities. ‘Drink a Beer’ and ‘Might as Well Get Stoned’ are tracks that will stay with attendees long after the night ended but it was, of course, ‘Tennessee Whiskey’ that seemed to rock the crowd the most. Lovers gripped each other and the lonely shed a tear, this cover almost completely belongs to Stapleton.
Day two of the festival saw a slight improvement of improvement in the weather but it was the line-up that seemed cause the commotion with a strong pop country presence. This was a change in pace to the first night of the festival where there seemed to be a display of a much more varied definition of country. There was a particular buzz among fans from the offset of this second night. This was the most popular night from ticket sales over the weekend and the sense of community between attendees, who had just met the night prior and bonded over there shared love of the spectrum of country music, created a sincere atmosphere of care and openness.
Chase Rice is the first act to take to the mainstage and his modern country sound and ‘cool guy’ vibe effortlessly delights crowd at first. He is known for the stripped back bare feel to his music and acoustically and atheistically he is a dreamboat. He has starred in the reality TV completion Survivor, where he was the runner-up in the set-up island competition. Rice looked strong and relaxed on stage, too relaxed, however. He pulled an audience member on stage and serenaded her and made a remark about things getting sexual. This seemed a bit too much for this crowd and his set would have been improved without this feature. With a new album ‘Lions and Lambs,’ Rice is in a position where he can’t be alienating fans with stunts like that. The songs ‘Eyes on You,’ ‘Gonna Wanna Tonight’ and ‘Ready Set Roll’ were clear crowd favourites.
Camaron Marvel Ochs, stage name CAM, is the more pop equivalent of Dolly Parton. She is beautiful and delicate all the while seeming bright and fun. ‘Forgetting You When I’m Alone’ was one of the biggest displays of CAM’s vocal ability and another emotion belter that brought tears to a lot of the eyes that were watching her. She included some covers in her set, always a good idea at festival performances, and plays the Miley Cyrus and Mark Ronson recent hit ‘Nothing Breaks Like a Heart’ and Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene.’ She mixes up the covers and looks like she has a lot of fun while performing them which is incredibly refreshing. She finishes with her biggest single to date ‘Burning House,’ a melancholy and moving track that was performed so beautifully that audience seemed to turn completely silent to take in the track’s beauty.
Brett Eldridge takes to the stage exploding like a popcorn kernel of energy with his high octane performance. Eldridge is hugely popular in the States and his albums have done very well in the US country charts. His style is rockier than the night’s previous acts but still has the lightness of country-pop. He opens with the track ‘Lose My Mind’ and the crowd are instantly aware that he is going to deliver a knock outperformance. Another Queen is thrown into C2C as ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ is played and suited Eldridge’s contagious energy perfectly. He also mixes a Temptations cover of ‘My Girl’ with his track ‘The Reason’ and it highlights his creativity and passion for showmanship. He comes across incredibly free-spirited and talented and his bright charisma lingers long after he left the stage.
And before anyone knew it, the night was arriving at its headliner Keith Urban. The New Zealand born singer-songwriter has reached superstar fame with his successful pop-rock country music, his leading roles as a judge on TV talent shows The Voice and The X Factor, and his marriage to the iconic Australian actress Nicole Kidman. Urban has spoken about his troubles with addiction but his success is proof that he is a man who can triumph over adversity. As the week of C2C approached, it marked Urban’s first performance in the UK in over a decade and the crowd were ecstatic to see him. He headlined the London festival on the Friday before rapidly whizzing up to Glasgow. At the start of the set, there seem to be issued with the video monitors, which were just black screens, in an arena as big as the Hydro this is disastrous as it meant a huge percentage of fans were struggling him on the stage. This disruption didn’t last too long and eventually, the screen kicked in and fans further away got the view they needed. Urban even, like Chase Rice, had a fan on stage with him but, unlike Rice, the interaction was pleasant and displayed Urban’s sense of humour is a kind-hearted way. ‘Parallel Line’ was sung and dedicated to Ed Sheeran, a definite highlight of the ninety-minute set. As was the track ‘The Fighter,’ where Carrie Underwood was shown in a video singing her elevating parts to the track. For banjo lovers, ‘Here Today (Gone Tomorrow)’ was where this unique instrument, which features heavily in Urban’s music, shone it’s brightest. To finish the set, confetti fell and left the crowd celebrating in their gratitude for the legend they had just witnessed.
By the third night of this country extravaganza, attendees seemed tired. Maybe alcohol consumption was a factor, maybe it was the Hydro’s greasy, over-priced food or maybe it was all the after-parties; however, the fans still came ready to give everything they had left to finish this country spectacular in style.
Dustin Lynch was a huge act to place on early on this final night. With his song scoring very highly in various country charts; he looks set for great success if he continues as he is doing right now. Initially, he was set to study as a medic but, as his country career took off, he threw himself into his musical work. His tracks are catchy and on stage, his positive character creates excitement instantly from the second his cowboy hat appears. ‘Good Girl,’ ‘Cowboys and Angels’ and ‘Small Town Boy’ were some of his best tracks of the night as well his ambitious but wonderfully executed Adele cover of ‘Someone Like You’ and Gareth Brooks cover of ‘Friends in Low Places.’
The performance of Hunter Hayes was certainly a unique one. This rising star is reaching notoriety and racking-up awards and nominations left, right and centre. This young man makes his musical talent blatantly obvious from the wide range of styles and paces he has to his set. Opening tracks ‘One Shot’ and ‘Yesterday’s Song’ get huge reactions from the crowd who are delighted for the bright-faced star’s performance. The softer songs ‘Somebody’s Heartbreak’ and ‘Don’t Let Me Forget’ are two standouts of his set. On the latter, Catherine McGrath joins Hayes on stage and their performance together is transfixing. Hayes moves from guitar to keyboard for track ‘Invisible.’ He speaks about the meaning behind the song being times of his own feelings of isolation and separation from others. His honesty is beautiful and then he follows this track with a bare version of ‘Dear God.’ This section of his set creates watery eyes throughout the crowd. He then picks up his guitar and the tempo again with ‘Tattoo’ and ‘Storm Warning.’ Filled with jaw-dropping riffs, these are brilliant tracks to end his set on an upbeat high.
Lady Antebellum was the most commercially successful act to play the festival. With a whopping nine number-one singles, their pop-country style is beloved by people who don’t listen to country music. They’re a wholesome group who have done a lot of charity work, particularly to aid disadvantage children. This was their second year headlining at C2C but with new music on the way, which they dipped into on the night, their performance was a must-see for fans. They opened with the huge singles ‘I Run to You’ and ‘Just a Kiss.’ A standout of their performance was the epic cover of One Directioner Niall Horan’s song ‘Slow Hands’ where they were joined on stage by Carly Pearce and Hunter Hayes. It’s easy to see how the spirit comradery extend so effortlessly between fans when it feels so genuine between musicians. In their encore, they played their most popular track ‘Need You Now’ and the crowd was screaming in delight. Vocalist Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley killed it and Lady Antebellum proved that they are a force to be reckoned with.