Before you read this blog, I must emphasise that all the acts involved in Country to Country were brilliant, the the ‘festival’ was not. I will elaborate on this more, but first, we need to talk about Tim McGraw.
Many of you know that between 2001 and 2004, I lived in Oklahoma. I was 10, and it was there that I fell in love with country music. Before America, I remember saying to my friend that, ‘I didn’t like music much.’ Up until I was 12 I had wanted to be a vet with that same friend. But that changed. Country music made me feel, for the first time in my life, that I was a part of something bigger, a community. I remember the exact day that I decided I wanted my career to be in country music. It was the day Lance Miller was voted off Nashville Star. You may remember Lance from my Nashville blogs. I first heard him on Nashville star, a talent show with alumni including Miranda Lambert and Buddy Jewell, and he’s now writing songs for stars such as Tim McGraw, Lee Brice, Thomas Rhett, and many more, and I’m also honoured to now call him my friend. The day he was voted off, I cried, I couldn’t understand how the best singer I had ever heard hadn’t won. But I was going to do something about it. I decided that I was going to be on Nashville Star (it was cancelled in 2008), and on that very day I made a list of all the songs I was going to sing, I even wrote 2 new songs for the original song episodes. But out of the 8 songs I short listed, 3 were Tim McGraw songs.
I didn’t grow up listening to traditional country music, I got into that later, when I moved back to England. So to me Tim McGraw was my Hank Williams, my Johnny Cash. He was (and is) a superstar doing exactly what I loved, and he epitomised the music that I desperately wanted to be a part of. If it hadn’t been for him, I wouldn’t have done a music degree, I wouldn’t travel out to Nashville every year, In short, to me, Tim McGraw is a big deal. So when he walked out on stage last night, I expected to react in the same way I have previously, when I have seen my heroes perform. When I saw Willie Nelson back in 2010, he walked onstage, and everyone stood up and cheered, and I sat there and cried. I was overwhelmed- it was Willie Nelson! But when Tim walked out on stage, I felt nothing. And I want to reiterate that this had nothing to do with his performance.
Country To Country was supposed to be a festival. It wasn’t. I was sat in the O2 for 6 hours. The music was great, but the atmosphere wasn’t there, and I know I wasn’t alone in this feeling. It would have been relatively simple to remedy this, they either need to admit that it is not truly a ‘festival, and make some amendments, or do the festival thing. A small group of stalls selling dubious western wear, along with a longer than normal lineup, does not make a festival. That’s ok. But lets say it has to be at the O2. The first thing that needs to be addressed is the layout of the arena. It’s not as large as some American stadiums, but it’s pretty big. I was only on the second level, thanks to O2, we were upgraded from level 4. If I had been on level 4 I probably would have left. From where I was sitting anyone on stage was no more than a centimetre tall. And there were screens, but very badly placed, you couldn’t see both the stage and screen, and I did not pay to watch TV. Next time, put the stage in the middle, and have the screens above the stage. There’s way more front row, and it’s far more theatrical and dramatic.
Another issue was timing- artists played for a decent amount of time, and it stayed on schedule, but there was half an hour between each act. I know there were line checks going on during this time, but all momentum between acts was lost. I would have loved to see Bob Harris, who was hosting (introducing the acts) interviewing the acts between sets, even if this had been per recorded, it would be a great way to build up hype between acts. Last year I completed a modern music degree, and my dissertation was a business plan for a country music festival in England, and it highlights the issues that can come with these indoor so called ‘festivals.’ If anyone would like to read it, send me a message, but for most people, a 10,000 word business plan isn’t enjoyable reading…
Let’s talk about the acts. They were great, and made me proud to be a part of the country music community, even if I did feel like I may as well have been watching on TV. Kristian Bush was up first. I did wonder what he was going to play, and I didn’t really come as a surprise that he predominantly sang his own material. The only issue with this is that it wasn’t familiar to the audience. He did play Baby Girl, but he isn’t as strong a vocalist as Jennifer Nettles, and the band lacked a certain dynamic without her. I rate him as a songwriter, but I think performance wise he works best as half of a duo. Apparently, this with his first solo show, so good on him.
Next up were little big town, and in my opinion, the best performance of the night. Their harmonies are incredible. Harmony like that is hard, and theirs were flawless. They were also the only band who utilised the whole stage, using it in a theatrical way, making them much more impressive to watch. They should set the benchmark for other bands in terms of performance and their musical talent. They were also the only band to have any kind of effects, or use the stage itself as anything other than, well, just a stage. All they had were smoke ‘Tornados’ during, you guessed it, Tornado. But my point is this, during a Martina McBride concert, I saw it snow at the Ford Centre in Oklahoma City, and a few years back Keith Urban had this amazing cave like stage. I feel somewhat let down that we don’t get the high production tours here, and this event could potentially be an outlet for that.
Vince Gill, as always had a flawless musical performance: vocally strong, good choice of songs, his usual humorous interjections, and red hot guitar playing. I’ve seen Vince Gill play in much smaller venues, and I’m not sure if it was due to the issues previously mentioned, but he didn’t appear to translate well as an arena act, and he seemed more subdued than I have seen him before. You can’t deny the talent though.
If I had been at a proper festival, or more thoughtfully arranged venue, Tim McGraw would have been near perfect. Although there were countless other songs that I wanted him to play, he had a good selection of songs. Apart from Truck Yeah, it’s self indulgent, and Tim, you aren’t Jason Aldean, you are Tim McGraw, and we love you for that. Also it appeared as if he was wearing a dressing gown. Please, someone correct me if I’m wrong. He danced and sang, played a bit of guitar, and it was a great show, it was just a shame that I felt like I was watching TV rather than a live concert. I’m not counting this as my first Tim McGraw show, and there will definitely be another.
There is one last person I must acknowledge, and that is Bob Harris. He hosted the show, and did a great job. And I have a whole new respect for him after this:
Not only that, but a shout out for the Time Jumpers at The Station Inn in Nashville. I take my hat off to you Mr Harris, you gave me something to smile about yesterday, and hey, if you need any help with next years C2C, I’m your girl….