Country 2 Country Launch Party
24th October 2016, Brooklyn Bowl, O2 London
Reviewed by Caroline Gulla & Helen Pocock
Just in case you don’t know, Country 2 Country (C2C for short), is a festival run on a weekend in March over 3 days in 3 different venues, the O2 arena in London, SECC Clyde Auditorium in Glasgow & The Academy in Dublin. The acts playing are normally announced at a Launch Party, usually held in the Brooklyn Bowl at the O2 around October time. Last year, the news of the artists performing leaked the morning of the Launch Party, so by the time the Launch went ahead most people already knew the acts playing. The organisers of C2C were determined that was not going to happen this year. As a result they kept very tight lipped. Many people thought they were too tight lipped by not even giving any indication of when an announcement could be expected. Speculation was running rife as people started stalking them on Twitter, logging who they had liked recently and who had liked them back in return.
Finally the Launch Party was announced! However, there was no indication of who was going to be playing. Last year it was Little Big Town, the year before was Lady Antebellum…so there was, as a result, a reverberation of disappointment when it was announced that it was three UK acts; Jeannine Barry, Honey Ryder and Holloway Road. Personally, I wasn’t disappointed, I love 2 out of the 3 and hadn’t managed to catch the third act live yet.
Having arrived at the O2, there was just time for a quick drink with friends and we dashed into the Brooklyn Bowl. On our way in we were handed an assortment of gifts – a nifty little C2C tote bag, which I’m thinking will be very handy for the programme next year now they don’t give you a carrier bag with it! A free drinks voucher (always welcome) and a raffle ticket. So to sum up the entry price, including the announcement, three live bands, a bag, a free drink & the chance of a prize all for less than £15! No-one in their right mind would complain about that! I was surprised at how few people were in the Brooklyn Bowl though, I really thought there would be more, never mind – more elbow room!
About five minutes after we arrived, the lights dimmed and none other than Tim McKay from the Pauper Kings appeared on stage, looking very dapper in matching trousers, waistcoat and a crisp white shirt and tie. He welcomed everyone and then asked us to move forward, building up the excitement an extra notch. He asked who in the crowd was excited and then told everyone to turn around and face a video screen (there are plenty scattered around the edges of the Bowl) and we were off…announcement time…
A video rolled with clips of all the acts, the strains of ‘Toes’ by the Zac Brown Band filling the room to muted whoops and cheers – there are obviously lots of new country fans who haven’t seen ZBB before and a lot of us old-timers who have seen them quite a few times. Nevertheless, they put on an incredible show and they are very worthy and welcome, repeat headliners. Brad Paisley was announced next to huge cheers from the excited crowd, again he headlined in 2014 but getting Brad back in the UK is a huge coup. Chris Young was next – one of my personal favourites – to a cry of ‘Oh my God!’ from a young girl near me. I know exactly how she feels!! Having Chris grace the stage will be like welcoming back a returning friend from his travels – his career has just exploded since his last visit to us and I think we are in for one hell of a treat. Darius Rucker was next on the video, again to huge cheers. He performed at the first C2C in 2013 and put on a fantastic show. Hunter Hayes was up next and met with cheers from the younger contingent (and maybe a few squeals) and then gasps for Jennifer Nettles. I think there will be plenty of fans downloading everything that Jennifer has ever done from Sugarland to her solo material, ready to singalong and open their minds to new music they’ve probably never listened to before. I’m really looking forward to her set. Maren Morris was then splashed across the screen to ‘My Church’ playing in the background and everyone let out a big cheer. There is even a bit of back slapping, as people congratulate themselves on the fact they guessed she was coming back after the reception she received last year. Dan & Shay are unveiled next to screams, squeals and general happiness from a lot of the females in the room – their recent UK tour has earnt them a lot of love and respect from their adoring fans, both females and males alike. That mixed with their down to earth personalities is the perfect recipe for a great band. Brothers Osbourne next – again, a personal favourite and by the sound of the reaction a very popular choice and then Cam, who we all know hinted that she’d be coming over on her social media last week and again, is another artist who is going to be really well received. And that was that.
Tim did a little jump for joy on stage and listed everyone again in alphabetical order, relishing his job as compere, asking the crowd, ‘Honestly, are you happy?’ By now the crowd were more subdued, each person talking fervently to their friends and peers, discussing the line-up and their disappointments and excitement. You cannot please everybody 100%, someone will always think they could have chosen a better line-up but Tim reminded everyone that the acts are not final – more names and headliners, yes he said HEADLINERS folks, are going to be announced in the next couple of weeks. Add that to the mix of the Yamaha stage announcements, CMA Songwriters Series announcements, the ‘formerly known’ pop-up artists and after show parties then this festival hasn’t even started warming up yet.
Time for the first UK band to take to the stage. Holloway Road were on first and if you want to start a party with a bang, I defy you to think of a better band to get the party started. There is a lot of love for Jack and Robert as a duo but with their band they just raised the roof. They performed a few of their classics but also featured a couple of new tracks, which was great to hear. However, the best part was when Jack picked up his guitar & played for a couple of tracks. Jack fell on ice in March and has been having extensive physiotherapy so hasn’t been able to play his guitar. Seeing him do so tonight was fabulous! The boys really rocked the Brooklyn Bowl and got the crowd warmed up nicely for Honey Ryder. Lindsay has a fantastic stage presence – I literally couldn’t take my eyes off her and Matt & Jason compliment her perfectly. Her stage presence is matched by a powerful voice and with the 3 albums they have out, a wealth of material to draw from. They only had a half hour set but I could have listened and danced for a lot longer than that. Closing the evening was Jeannine Barry, an act I am actually guilty of not listening to before launch night. That will change in the future as she played a great set and looked fabulous to boot! She has a stunning voice and is definitely one to watch.
All in all, a really enjoyable launch night from Country to Country – thank you C2C! I think those fans who were disappointed at the lack of a ‘big name’ from the USA got a pleasant surprise at the home grown talent we have here in the UK. We are on the verge of a huge breakthrough in the country scene here and we really do have talent to match some of our American friends. Those not happy with the arena names can enjoy so much more next year for a fraction of the price and those who are happy with forking out a small fortune for the whole experience – well, we are all in for such a treat as I have a feeling the mystery names are going to be the icing on the cake.
The dates of C2C2017 are from Friday 10th March through to Sunday 12th March 2017. Tickets go on sale on Friday 4th November 2016 at 10.00am.
We hope to see you all there – let’s have a party!