Country to Country took place last 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.
Zac Brown Band
The Zac Brown band are clearly buzzing with excitement at their EP The Dave Grohl Sessions. They described Grohl as a ‘creative force,’ who ‘took a chance’ on the band, and are eager to work with him again. The band have watched these new songs become popular in America, and the band are ‘talking about touring right now’ with the rock legend. Within the band, different backgrounds help form their unique sound, with a melting pot of influences, constantly ‘inspiring each other with different musical tastes.’ When writing, each person has an ‘unspoken place,’ everyone bringing their talent to form ‘a part to the puzzle.’ The band’s ‘biggest strength’ is that someone can bring their grandfather to a show, or that ‘three generations get it.’ They credit this to the ‘meaning behind the lyrics,’ a timeless country trend.
The performance of the Zac Brown Band seemed somewhat at odds to their earlier ‘family friendly’ comments; their performance was rock heavy – not that grandfathers or children wouldn’t appreciate a Metallica cover, but it felt, at times, as if they had almost missed their demographic, and were not as noticeably ‘country’ as other acts on the bill. It is, however, important to experiment with a genre – it is vital for any sort of progression, and should be embraced. The band played more songs than any other artist, and experimented with various different sounds; whatever style they decided to play, they did so impeccably. They always returned to country, it is the underlying theme of their music, and is noticeable in their lyrics, vocal style and instrumentation.
There are seven members of this band, and that is everyone on stage. With regards to writing, recording, and live performance, this is a collaborative effort, and this culmination of seven styles forms a striking band. This band have played stadiums before – they know what works, and each song, of the twenty-one they played, was carefully chosen. We saw everything in this set, From the beach themed Toes, the the upbeat country Chicken Fried, haunting ballad colder weather, to the skeletal extravaganza of Uncaged, this was cutting edge country music.
Brad Paisley has been quoted as a role model for many of the artists at Country to Country, and he is arguably the most successful contemporary country artist in the UK. He has played at the O2 before, and encourages other country artists to start the process of touring this country early, and not to ‘fear the building process.’ He agreed that country music could potentially be perceived as old fashioned, but perfectly explained how this was no bad thing: ‘Have you watched Justin Beiber lately? He’s living a George Jones song!’ And Paisley is right, the tradition of country music has carried the same themes throughout the decades, and they are still just as relevant now. Brad Paisley is another artist who has experimented with country music, and his blend of humour and thought provoking material have proved a success with UK fans.
As soon as Brad Paisley stepped on stage the audience knew they were in for a performance – the lights formed patterns on the ceiling of the venue, the screen was illuminated, and within seconds Paisley very impressively threw his guitar across the stage, to be replaced by an electric (the guitar was caught and unharmed, but there was a definite sigh of relief from the audience). His signature white cowboy hat and paisley guitar were the centre of attention, but he utilised his surroundings to put on the performance of the weekend. During This is Country Music, images of the songs mentioned were showed on the screen behind Paisley, and when George Jones appeared for ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today,’ a message appeared on screen, ‘We Miss you George,’ followed by ‘You were Country Music;’ It seemed fitting that the legend was mentioned, as this is the largest country music event in the UK since his death.
His level of interaction with the audience is perfect for this age of social media. At one point he took a fans phone and shot a video (turns out he did this in Dublin too, and the video can be found here.) He also moved through the audience to a stage further back, apparently because when he used to go to shows like this, he could never afford to sit at the front. He comes across as charming, and puts on a performance that is hard to beat. Incorporating Chris Young and The Band Perry into his set, yet again added to the audience’s excitement. The performance seemed so effortless, yet still had the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the night. From Star Wars, dubious British accents, to the epic sing-a-long Mona Lisa, Brad Paisley ensured that he would not be forgotten at Country to Country 2014.
Zac Brown Band and Brad Paisley headlined the main stage on Saturday and Sunday respectively. My review of C2C for the Telegraph can be found here.