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.
The Dixie Chicks were shrouded in mystery at the O2 this weekend, they were one of the only acts who did not have a press conference, their set was shorter then anticipated, and their future as a band is up in the air. It was not all that long ago that Natalie Maines spoke of her disdain for country music, and was busy recording a solo album, as the Courtyard Hounds, formed of Martie Maguire and Emily Robinson, released their second. Nevertheless, the band recently toured Canada, and their appearance at Country to Country was highly anticipated.
It seemed fitting that they began the set with Taking the Long Way – ‘It’s been two long years now, since the top of the world came crashing down.’ It was of course in at a show in London, in 2003, during the Top of The World tour, that The Dixie Chicks made comments that would forever change their place in country music. This was only briefly alluded to, Natalie quipped, ‘London has always had a special place in our hearts, and that all started eleven years ago,’ and the reaction to Not Ready to Make Nice was astounding. The room exploded, and it certainly felt as if every single person in attendance was belting out the lyrics with the band. They did not dwell on the past however, and a surprise cover of Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball fit well with the sound the band created on their last album, Taking The Long Way. Although they still incorporate the banjo, fiddle and mandolin (they were, of course, originally a bluegrass band), the electric guitar has become more prominent, and takes after the rock genre, as opposed to country. The set was peppered with tracks from the bands heyday including Goodbye Earl and Wide Open Spaces, but some seemingly obvious choices, such as fan favourite Traveling Soldier, were conspicuous by their absence. The high level of musicianship throughout their varied repertoire was evident, they were defiantly country, but with an edge that gives the Dixie Chicks their unique appeal.
There was a wide range of country music represented at Country to Country this year, Rascal Flatts were more polished, pop-country than many of the other acts. This is no bad thing by any means – their presence rounded out the lineup, and provided a more authentic cross section of country music. This band are experienced, and this is evident in their live performance – their tight harmonies, and seamlessly merging from one song to another. They make live performance look so easy, allowing fans to just enjoy the music. They tease the audience with elongated intros and snippets of music hinting at their most loved hits.
Rascal Flatts were one of the first bands on the stage to make real use of the screen backdrop, playing videos that reflected the lyrics of their songs – this was a Rascal Flatts show, a large scale production, not just a live performance. Every note of Gary LeVox’s remarkable falsetto was flawless, and their songs sound just as good, if not better, live. There is a banjo present, but the instrumentation is not overtly country, but then again, fans of this band would not expect it to be. There is little sense of ‘rawness’ with this band – they have worked hard to perfect their craft. However, they managed to convey a sense of vulnerability through songs such as God Bless The Broken Road, when LeVox ad-libbed a gospel riff featuring impressive vocal acrobatics. Rascal Flatts consistently deliver exceptional live performances, this weekend was no different – they represented pop-country in style.
The Dixie Chicks and Rascal Flatts were the third act on the main stage, on Saturday and Sunday respectively. Tune in tomorrow for Zac Brown Band and Brad Paisley. My review of C2C for the Telegraph can be found here.