Country to Country took place this weekend at the O2. It is a two day festival showcasing eight of country music’s brightest stars, numerous pop-up stages with dozens of upcoming country bands and artists, including Emma Jade and Striking Matches, and the Town Square Market featuring stalls reflecting the country theme – CD’s, Cowboy Boots, Clothing and so much more.
Martina McBride is often known as the Queen of modern Country; since the early nineties her incredible vocals have been a prominent feature of the country charts. She has been a role model to young female artists such as Kacey Musgraves, as she was one of the first country females to talk about ‘challenging’ subjects, in the hope that the issues resonated with her fans (including Independance Day and Concrete Angel that focus on domestic violence). Her new album, Everlasting, will be released in the UK on April 7th. It is her second album of covers, but as opposed to 2005’s Timeless, these are not country songs, but classic soul tunes injected with her own style. It it a ‘more confident’ release, rather than staying entirely faithful to the original versions of the tunes, Martina makes them her own.
Martina McBride was the first to take the stage at this years Country to Country festival at the O2. The crowd erupted as she burst into My Baby Loves Me, her powerful vocal delivered pop country at it’s very best. There was a simplicity to her performance that was endearing – her vocal took centre stage, there were no gimmicks, just sheer talent. The highlight of the set had to be Suspicious Minds, an Elvis cover that will appear on her upcoming album. The cover was fun, and filled with attitude, and it rounded out the set. The ballads performed, including Anyway, and Whatever You Say, ensured that her vocal was truly appreciated in all it’s glory, whilst the more upbeat tracks, including This One’s For The Girls, had the audience on their feet and dancing. And if this wasn’t enough, she even showed of her instrumental skills by playing the harmonica for Love’s The Only House. It was a perfectly balanced set, the rise and fall of the tempo and mood sat well with the audience, and left them anxiously awaiting the next act.
Chris Young is by no means a newcomer in the country music world, he won Nashville Star in 2006, and he released his fourth studio album A.M last year, yet he described the process of coming over to the UK (this was his second visit) as ‘starting over.’ However, country music fans are loyal, and with YouTube, Spotify, and other social networking sites, country music is more accessible to its UK fan base, and it was through these social networks that was able to collate a playlist that ‘people wanted to hear.’ His sound is undeniably country – ‘When I open my mouth I sound country, that’s all I’m going to be, and I’m happy with that.’ A.M is a well rounded album, containing a mixture of heartfelt ballads and songs with a ‘straight up tempo, to make people drink.’
His set opened the second day of the festival, and his fears of being unknown in the UK were unfounded, as the audience sang along. His presence on stage was striking, playing guitar on some tracks, only singing for others, giving him the chance to interact more intimately with the audience. The majority of his set are his signature ballads and story songs, from Voices, to Getting You Home, and Tomorrow, his deep country vocal captivated the audience. However, it was not until the party track Aw Naw, that the audience exploded with excitement. He managed to keep this atmosphere up, as he followed the track with a ZZ Top cover, Sharp Dressed Man. It allowed Young to display a rockier side, and this large venue was the perfect space to take his music to the next level.
Martina McBride and Chris Young opened the main stage on Saturday and Sunday respectively. Tune in tomorrow for Dierks Bentley and The Band Perry. My review of C2C for the Telegraph can be found here.