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.
Dierks Bentley really does have impeccable timing; his latest single I Hold On was the number one song on the American country chart during the festival. Bentley’s latest album Riser focuses on the past two years of his life – and he has not had an easy ride. During the process of writing and recording songs for the album, Dierks Bentley lost his father, and had his third child, a son. Bentley freely admits that it was an ’emotional time,’ and the album touches on heavier subjects, but the process was somewhat of a ‘cathartic release.’ Despite this turbulent period of his life, he continued to acknowledge the need for songs that are just ‘fun,’ to balance an album or set, and that difficult emotions can often be worked out on stage. From 5-1-5-0, that gets fans on their feet and dancing, to I Hold On, utilising the country form of ‘very personal verses and a universal chorus,’ connection with the audience is Dierks Bentley’s forte.
‘Country has a new home’ were almost the first words from Dierks Bentley’s mouth as he took to the stage; he is clearly passionate about his relatively newfound fans. His set initially felt slightly more somber than that of Martina McBride, but during tracks such as Riser, What Was I Thinking and Sideways, the energy levels were high, and Bentley used the large stage to his advantage, interacting with as many fans as possible. In closing he promised to tell his friends ‘Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Miranda Lambert’ about the festival, and the audience erupted in shrieks of enthusiasm. More so than any other artist, Bentley seemed excited about the potential of the UK country music market, which was quickly noticed and embraced by the audience, and he became a definite highlight of the weekend.
The Band Perry
The Band Perry describe being on stage as ‘one part therapy and two parts recess’ – this band lives for live performance. As a young band they have taken the time to develop their stage presence, recording ‘almost every show’ to improve their craft. They are influenced by rock bands in their performance, which is clear to see in both their manner and stage attire. Their latest album, Pioneer, already includes familiar tunes to the country audience, as this is The Band Perry’s fourth visit to our shores. In fact, the album is called Pioneer thanks to some London fans. Apparently they played the track for the very first time in Manchester, informing fans that it was a new song. They played in London the next day, and a group of women from the Manchester show brought signs with lyrics from Pioneer, they were so humbled by their passion, that Pioneer became the title track.
The thumping beat of DONE opened the set, and set the tone for the high energy performance that was to come. Kimberly Perry’s voice was far more striking in person than it is on their albums; the young singer’s range is impressive, and the power behind her voice was evident during the ballad If I Die Young. The band were engaging and funny, and Neil certainly does put the ‘man in mandolin.’ There was the slightly awkward moment when they began to play the national anthem and wave a Union Jack – the audience were unsure whether or not they should join in, and ended in a slightly half-hearted ‘God Save The Queen,’ but the gesture was surely well meaning. They quickly redeemed themselves with a rousing cover of Queen’s Fat Bottomed Girls. As a relatively young band, the effort that they have put into their performance is clear – their selection of songs represented their full range of material and influences, whilst still keeping their performance fresh and exciting.
Dierks Bentley and The Band Perry were second acts to take to the main stage on Saturday and Sunday respectively. Tune in tomorrow for The Dixie Chicks and Rascal Flatts. My review of C2C for the Telegraph can be found here.