On the whole, The hotly awaited C2C 2017 lineup announcement was greeted with excitement by the UK’s burgeoning community of country music fans.
Leading the bill is Brad Paisley; a three-time GRAMMY Award winner with 23 number 1’s and a series of genre-defying collaborations, featuring Robbie Williams, BB King and, most recently, Demi Lovato. Joining him in the Festival’s headline slot, and fresh from a third consecutive Billboard 200 chart-topping album, is Zac Brown Band, who prepare to entertain British fans with their unique blend of country, folk, blues and southern rock.
Also featured on the lineup are acclaimed country stars Chris Young, Darius Rucker, Jennifer Nettles, Hunter Hayes, Maren Morris and Cam plus duos Dan + Shay and Brothers Osborne.
But not everyone was happy. Amongst the sea of ecstasy and enjoyment were mumbles of dissent.
This negativity isn’t new. A hark back to Facebook comments following the Festival’s 2015 announcement reveals an interesting series of complaints, broadly ranging from ‘there’s too much bro country’ to ‘ there’s not enough bro country’… Fast forward to 2016, and the criticism is still as lazy, impatient and ridiculous.
This year’s batch of naysayers’ main gripe concerns the Festival’s ‘repetition’ of previous years artists. They note that a number of performers, including the headliners, have played C2C before and lament the lack of ‘fresh music in the lineup. In doing so, they fundamentally misunderstand the genre and how its festivals work.
When C2C announced that Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood would headline its inaugural festival in 2013, it sent a message. It showed it was not a half-hearted attempt at tapping into a minority genre with a programme of mediocre has-beens, only providing entertainment for a select group of die-hard genre loyalists. Rather, it was to be as an ambitious project striving to bring the best of Nashville onto Britain’s doorstep and revolutionise the mainstream popularity of country music in the UK.
Proving this was no one-hit wonder, C2C built upon its solid foundations and featured the likes of Luke Bryan, Lady Antebellum and Miranda Lambert headlining over subsequent years. In short, it has brought UK audiences a constant stream of modern country megastars.
However, megastars are not made overnight. Each of the above-named artists have amassed pretty much a decade’s or more experience in the top-tier of the genre and are still selling out arenas and recording chart-topping releases to this day. ‘Country megastardom’ is an elite club with a very limited membership.
This means that, if C2C is to continue providing the highest caliber of artists to headline its festivals, repetition is unavoidable.
And this is typical of the genre more widely. Take CMA Fest, by far the biggest country music festival in the world. Jason Aldean (C2C 2015) has played its main stage in 8 of the last 10 years. Eric Church (2016’s C2C headliner), every year since 2012. Until the recent 2016 Festival, where they were given a break, both C2C 2017 headliners, Brad Paisley and Zac Brown Band, have performed at every CMA Fest since 2010. In fact, of all 19 main stage artists at 2016’s Festival, there were only two who were doing so for the first time.
It’s a consequence of having a genre-specific festival seeking to attract the highest level of talent, year upon year and it’s no bad thing. The sheer frequency of new releases from these artists means fans are guaranteed something different at each show. But regardless, these performers are at the top for a reason, and I’m skeptical of any country fan that complains about the frustration and disappointment of having to see them twice in four years.
Sure, there’s still a handful of artists who could be considered in this category but haven’t yet played C2C – and there could be a number of reasons why this is the case (it turns out flying your band and sound equipment over the Atlantic isn’t such a money-spinner after all.) But the list is still exhaustive, meaning repetition is inevitable. What of Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith and Keith Urban if they do eventually make the trip – afterwards, do they join the bonfire of ‘repetitive’ names? The whole thing strikes me as more than a little ungrateful on the part of this small minority of complainers.
I begun presenting a country music show on a university radio station in 2012, the year prior to C2C’s debut. The void for British country music fans was vast and depressing – it made finding content for the show somewhat challenging. At last, C2C has provided the impetus to rejuvinate country music in the UK. It has renewed interest from record labels and venues resulting in levels of access that fans in 2012 could only dream of. It couldn’t have done so without shooting for the stars.
Of course, this analysis treats the headlining main stage artists in isolation, which in reality is incorrect. Through its growing list of satellite stages, C2C effectively showcases the diversity of ‘under-the-radar’ country artists and fresh talent from the US and beyond. The achievements and status of the hundreds of artists who have performed there over the Festival’s history are a testament to its fertility as ground for the future bright lights of the genre.
Furthermore, the other main stage slots provide even greater depth to the lineup. As of 2017, only three artists will have played there more than once in the Festival’s history and it has featured everything from Vince Gill, Doug Seegers and the Dixie Chicks to Dierks Bentley, Florida-Georgia Line and Jason Aldean. Hunter Hayes, Cam, Brothers Osborne, Dan + Shay and Jennifer Nettles will play the venue for the first time in 2017.
While the negativity only comes from a minority, it can easily take the shine off an announcement like Monday’s. Don’t let it. Country music is more accessible in the UK than it’s ever been and C2C 2017 will be another fantastic reminder of that.
Luc is a country music fan currently studying in Nottingham. Having caught the country bug on a trip to the US some years ago, he became a CMA Member in 2013 and spent a year in Austin, Texas during 2014/15. He presents a weekly country show on University Radio Nottingham, an award-winning student radio station based at the University of Nottingham.