C2C: COUNTRY TO COUNTRY // THE SSE HYDRO, GLASGOW

C2C: COUNTRY TO COUNTRY RETURNS TO GLASGOW WITH MASSIVE NEW HOME AT THE SSE HYDRO DUE TO HIGH DEMAND

★★★★★

C2C: Country to Country returned to Glasgow this year, bigger than ever, finding a new home at the SSE Hydro. Previous events had taken place across the way in the SEC Armadillo but such is the reach of country music in the UK now that only the biggest venues can facilitate a line-up like this one. With 3 stages running throughout the weekend, Scottish fans were shown the full spectrum of what passes for country music in 2018, showcasing local and international talents through a carefully curated programme of rising stars and number 1 hit-makers through to bona fide legends of the genre. Compered by BBC Radio Scotland presenter and resident country music aficionado Ricky Ross, the 3-day festival  provided the city with yet another world class cultural event.

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FRIDAY 9TH MARCH:

Taking to the main stage first up, the highly anticipated debut of Midland was met with huge enthusiasm from the crowd, as if they were already a headline act. Performing songs from their recent album On The Rocks they needed little encouragement to get the party started; their retro country rock sound paired with tight harmonies and ZZ Top-esque stage antics was exciting to witness and songs like Altitude Adjustment  and Make A Little had people dancing out of their seats. Drinking Problem saw many pints and fists raised in celebration.

On the Spotlight Stage at the back of the arena Lukas Nelson was warmed by the affection of the crowd and delivered one of the highlight performances of the weekend in response. Despite initial sound issues from the tiny platform, his 3-song set with just guitar and a singularly resonant voice captivated the audience in hushed awe.

Backed by a 5-piece band Margo Price built on her performance song by song, leading with latest album opener Don't Say It she flowed through the range of her songwriting with a graceful command of the stage. Whether jamming it out behind the drum kit on Cocaine Cowboys or flying solo at the piano for the achingly good All American Made, her energy was 100% concentrated on delivering her best performance. A fun and furious cover of Proud Mary closed the set on a massive high.

In contrast to the main stage whirlwind Ashley Campbell centred a stunningly understated performance, a distant satellite elevated amidst the expectant audience. Dedicating her brief set to her father she began with a delicate medley of some of his best-loved songs. Bringing a flood of emotion to the surface for so many fans, she followed it with her own touching tribute Remembering. A heart of stone could not resist breaking at her exquisite voice and playing. She is a tremendous asset to country music and a credit to her family.

Outside the arena at the Acoustic Stage James Edwyn without his Borrowed Band mates was providing some great original tunes and top banter for those assembled in the pop-up record store and adjacent bar. Although fairly low key the standard of performances on this stage was as good as anything you'd hope to see at a bigger show.

While the fresh talent was trying to make an impression this weekend Emmylou Harris glowed with mature professionalism and calming restraint. She demonstrates strength in her delivery, good humour and vibrancy, that allows her songs to stand alone. Her voice remains blissfully clear, even over a full band, and her words evoke wide-eyed nostalgia, as much for the landscape and lifestyle she depicts, as for the tradition of music she embodies. In the live setting all music is equal and the crowd reacts to every song like it's their favourite. The Pearl could have easily ended the night but for one final act.

Little Big Town took up the challenge of following a living legend; no small feat, but they are no small band. With 8 albums worth of material to choose from they put together something of a 'greatest hits' selection to fill their headline slot, and fill it they did. There wasn't much time for chat, there was mention of shopping and very little else, but the set moved seamlessly between big hits and ballads, sing-along pop songs and old style country foot stompers. Little Big Town have come a long way, musically, from where they started out nearly 2 decades ago but still at the core of their sound is a dynamic 4-part harmony that equips them well for filling out large arenas. Taking time during Little White Church to move among the crowd, they made their way onto the Spotlight Stage where they performed a stripped back set that really emphasised the calibre of their voices. The crowd swelled around the tiny stage as the band conjured an incredible intimacy with their attentive audience, bringing "the living room out here". The spell wasn't broken when they returned to the main stage either. Better Man and Can't Go Back ascend and hang in the air with potent majesty before they're rumbled by Tornado and Day Drinking.  When Boondocks comes to an end the room is exhausted but satisfied.

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SATURDAY 10TH MARCH

Saturday saw the largest attendance over the weekend as co-headliners Faith Hill and Tim McGraw played only their first ever show in Scotland, part of their Soul2Soul world tour. Saturday brought out further subtle variations in the realm of country music, also pleasing a wider audience. Ryan Kinder and Morgan Evans each delivered rousing sets on the Spotlight Stage; the former with his soulful melodies and "Sass Squad" backing vocalists, and the latter with his "American band" loop pedal. Evans introduced and endeared himself with 2 hefty sing-alongs including the catchy single Kiss Somebody and crowd favourite Young Again. It was hard not to be charmed by his effervescent smile and sweetly optimistic lyrics.

Ryan Kinder:

Morgan Evans:

Over on the main stage Brett Young turned on a show that saw many in the crowd up standing for the duration. Piano-lead ballad Mercy showed a tender side to the young Californian while Sleep Without You set the bounce right for Old Dominion to follow with their R&B infused twangy pop sound. Featuring songs from their latest release Happy Endings the set was loaded with chunky distorted guitar solos and boisterous choruses. Album opener No Such Thing as a Broken Heart "feels really good to sing as loud as you can" lead vocalist Matthew Ramsey assured the audience and so they obliged with many merry voices. Never taking their audience for granted the band made every effort to engage, with Ramsey abandoning the stage at one point to run high-fives across the front row. It was the kind of priceless performance you want to see at every festival, when a band sees they have everything to gain, and everything to lose, so they deliver with inspired tenacity.

Brett Young:

Old Dominion:

Katee Kross provided sweet respite over at the Acoustic Stage for anyone needing to catch their breath. Her direct and heartfelt songwriting has already set her on a path to stardom and her refreshing Johnny Cash medley only furthered her reputation as an imaginative and entertaining performer.

Sparkling from head to toe and positively beaming, Kelsea Ballerini took to the main stage with the excited energy of a pantomime hero. She wasted no time laying out her arsenal of hit singles, willing the audience to sing along with irrepressible enthusiasm. The young star took her role of warm-up act very seriously, working the stage constantly to connect with as many fans as possible. "Faith Hill let me borrow her curling iron yesterday so I think we're friends now" she declared at one point, clearly elated to be part of the same line-up. Although there were moments when her voice seemed overwhelmed by the band, songs like In Between and I Hate Love Songs, from her latest album Unapologetically, were given space and balance and really stood out.

When the moment finally arrived for headliners Faith Hill and Tim McGraw to emerge the atmosphere in the arena had shifted with so much anticipation, it was like another entire gig was about to start. Sure enough the Faith and Tim show lasted a solid 2 hours with hit after hit  after hit. The Scottish fans who had waited so long to see this couple play here could only revel in the performance they were given. A cover of I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) opened the set as the pair took opposing positions on stage. They were rarely close, but for theatrical effect, yet they somehow owned the space between them, bonded despite the distance. On Like We Never Loved At All McGraw's voice is almost indistinguishable from Hill's, their innate harmony blending into one powerful sound. Break First provided another exquisite moment between them and as the show continued their strongest performances happened when they came together. Hill took the first half delivering some of her biggest pop country hits like This Kiss, Breathe and The Way You Love Me, even venturing right back to her very early years with Wild One. Putting everything behind her voice to rise above the very loud (10-piece!) band left her sounding strained and breathless so when McGraw returned for his lead it was almost a relief. Picking up the baton for traditional country he showed the crowd exactly how he earned his place at the top, giving as lively a performance as anyone half his age. And he had fun, pausing to absorb the energy of the audience between phrases, smiling eternally, signing autographs without missing a beat. He is a peerless professional in this arena. Humble and Kind and Live Like You Were Dying elicited almighty applause. As if more was required the couple closed out their performance with a spotlit duet of I Need You into a single microphone. Silence occupied the room as if a vacuum has consumed the audience right to the final note, the crowd errupting once more as the royal couple of country left the stage hand-in-hand.

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SUNDAY 11TH MARCH

The final night of C2C: Country to Country was, for many fans, a crowd-splitter. While the previous 2 nights had walked a fairly thin line around mainstream country, Sunday's line-up was a real stretch and showed a huge diversity of sounds. Lizzie Reid brought a quirky folk side to the Acoustic Stage while Catherine McGrath proved that Brits could do hook-driven country just as well as their American contemporaries. A heady blend of Appalachian folk and southern rock on the Spotlight stage gave just a taste of what Delta Rae could bring to a live show. On the brighter side A Long and Happy Life left a saccharine sweetness on the palate that could only be countered by the dark, brooding harmonies of Bottom of the River.

Lizzie Reid:

Catherine McGrath:

Delta Rae:

Luke Combs opened the main stage with his big and bashful country rock. Drinking with the boys, playing music, watching football, and inevitable heartbreak - it's that kind of country - delivered with youthful directness by a guy with a drink in his hand; very convincing. Honky Tonk Highway, Let the Moonshine and Hurricane got the crowd fired up. It was fun, it was loud, it was early Sunday night.

With a huge following already Kip Moore joined the party with his feel good drinking anthem Beer Money and immediately had the arena behind him. His husky tone and driving guitar on recent album opener Plead the Fifth suggests he is a far more matured songwriter and performer now, and the way he kept the audience hanging on his every note of Pretty Little Girl and Guitar Man is further evidence to that. It was more than just entertainment.

The return of Sugarland after a 5 year hiatus provided the perfect buffer in Sunday's line-up. An equally joyous contrast to all that came before and all that would follow, Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush were on top form, adding unassailable flair, glamour and soul into the mix. Nettles' rendition of Stay was arguably the highlight, but mainly because it came at the end of a set where every song was as good as the last.

It would have been near impossible to top Sugarland, except by being nothing like Sugarland. Gratefully, Kacey Musgraves is nothing like Sugarland. And unlike any other headlining artist at the festival, rather than playing the 'best of' her catalogue, she used her set to showcase songs from her forthcoming 3rd album Golden Hour, not released until the end of the month. It was a bold move, even for a Grammy winning artist, yet it proved to be just what the night needed. Musgraves was completely herself; raw, poetic, sensitive and down-to-earth, she radiated from beneath her sparkly exterior. Older songs Silver Lining and It Is What It Is pulled at the heartstrings but it was the likes of Space Cowboy and the breathtaking Rainbow, with simple piano accompaniment on the Spotlight Stage, that were the real gut-punchers. In case Follow Your Arrow wasn't a jubilant enough conclusion to the event, Musgraves returned for an encore that pushed right to the boundaries of country, finishing with the disco-infused number High Horse, which featured confetti cannons and giant luminous balls bouncing into the audience. It was an accomplished performance by the young artist; honest, funny, warm and uplifting. Very modern and very country.

C2C: Country to Country is set to return to Glasgow in 2019, with tickets on sale from Friday, 16th March 2018. Tickets can be purchased here:

REVIEW + PHOTOS BY: KENDALL WILSON PHOTOGRAPHY