It was Friday night at the O2 Arena in London and the Country2Country Festival was well and truly about to get underway as the first act, Old Dominion, were getting ready to take the main stage.
With live music having already been echoing around the inside of the O2 complex since earlier that day with some of the pop-up stages the audience were raring to go, drinks in hand and excitement filled the air.
Its always interesting to me to see how the audience grows each year and who would be waiting intently for that first main stage performance. As the lights went down and music began to blast from the speaker everyone erupted in a cheer as Matthew, Brad, Whit, Trevor and Geoff of Old Dominion walked out on stage. The crowd, myself included, were instantly on their feet as they broke into ‘Song For Another Time’. Now with 2 albums under their belt and a great mix of songs that make you want yo just tap your feet they were a perfect start to the festival. With tracks like ‘No Such Thing As A Broken Heart’ and ‘Break Up With Him’ being clear favourites with the audience. They are a perfect festival band, whether this was just another show of theirs you were lucky to be in the audience for or your first time seeing them, they did not disappoint.
With a swift turnaround everyone’s heads turned as Australian-born Morgan Evans took to the Spotlight Stage. He told us about how back in Australia he had his banshee would play shows with, when he moved to Nashville they did not move with him and so with his trusty loop pedal in hand he created and introduced up to each member of his band! A quirky performance that was met with a lot of audience participation and a huge round of applause as he closed his set with Kiss Somebody. With such an energetic performance I would love to see him on a bigger stage with a real life band! Though his loop pedal band is quirky, and pretty damn awesome, an opportunity to see him perform with others on stage, I think he would really shine! As he closed the spotlight stage he proudly introduced his wife, Kelsea Ballerini, to the stage.
Now I will admit that when it comes to Kelsea I am not a big fan, for no reason other than I have just never sat and listened to much of her music. However I did have the chance to see her perform ‘Peter Pan’ at the CMA awards and was very impressed so though I was somewhat unaware of her other content I was still looking forward to see what she would bring. First impressions as she walked out on to stage, she looked like a superstar and her vocals were right alongside. Breaking into ‘Love Me Like You Mean It’ was a perfect choice of opener as it was familiar, upbeat and quickly had the audience clapping and singing along. The ease of her performance was a breath of fresh air. She transitioned from one song to another seamlessly and clearly was having a blast on stage, a feeling that had spread across the audience at the O2 Arena. She was, in my opinion, a perfect choice of festival act. With some slot some upbeat and a lot of sing-alongs, even those, like myself, who maybe were not so knowledgeable on her music; it didn’t matter. She was captivating and put on one hell of a show. I will be looking out for just what else she has to offer and if she is back in London, you had better look out for me in the audience!
This brought us right back to the back of the arena and the spotlight stage, once again, where this time Brett Young took to the stage. I had heard chatter about this guy all day and he was surely a favourite of all the ladies in the audience! A great placement for this new artist, he appeared in the spotlight with guitar in hand as the audience erupted in cheers.
Starting with ‘Sleep Without You’ the bottom stage got surrounded by fans wanting to get as close as possible. As he got to the end of ‘In Case You Didn’t Know’ he asked the audience if they would sing with him and it didn’t take much for the whole arena to break into the chorus. I would be very surprised if he we don’t see him back at C2C next year and I for one will be excited to see a full set from him.
We then moved on to the act many had been waiting for all night. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, the powerhouse couple of country music. Bringing over the set and show they have been playing in Vegas I was interested to see how they would be received, as last year Reba had been (I think unfairly) criticised by some for her ‘Vegas-like’ performance. After some set up time, the lights in the arena went down and the stage lighting lit up, it looked amazing. Over the speakers began playing Sister Sledge, We are Family. As Tim and Faith walked out onto stage they began singing It’s Your love. Holding hand and looking longing into each others eyes it was a precedent set for the performance! That lovey, dovey show, I expected nothing less. The first part of the show consisted a medley of many of their hits which, though many were solo songs, they performed together. From Felt Good On My Lips to The Lucky One to Like We Never Loved At All the audience were quickly treated to many of their hits! It was cheesy but I liked it! This couple have a career based upon being that perfect loved up couple and that was translated on that stage, the lighting and performances were complimented perfectly by their vocals and though there may have been some warm up issues as they started they swiftly began to deliver a flawless performance. As this first part closed, Tim McGraw said goodbye to the audience and left the stage in the capable hands of Faith. She went on to sing many of her hits from over the years from This Kiss to the Wild One and her popular cover of Piece Of My Heart. She had the crowd in the palm of her hand and looking around fans were singing along to every word. Tim rejoined her for a duo performance of ‘Angry All The Time’ as Faith then left him to his own devices on the O2 stage. Again he performed a selection of his hits from over the years including One Of Those Night, Where The Green Grass Grows and Live Like You Were Dying. Of course in this solo set there was also the much anticipated ‘Humble and Kind’ that, just a couple of years ago fans who attended the CMA Songwriters Series to kick off C2C 2016 heard by Lori McKenna. The arena echoed with everyone singing along as he played this and the seats lit up with the lights of peoples phone lights as they swayed in the black. As the song came to a close he held the mic out gesturing for the audience to sing the chorus and the arena once again filled up with the sounds of the crowd singing every line.
As Tim finished off his set, Faith once again joined him out on stage and they finished with joint performances of Speak To A Girl, It’s Your Love, Mississippi Girl and Something Like That before the lights dimmed and they left the stage, the audience eagerly awaiting an encore as cheers, foot stamps and claps filled the silence until the couple walked back out on stage.
The show was closed of with a very intimate performance between the two of them as they sat facing each other for a rendition of ‘I Need You’.
It was clear the set was a success from the applause as the two finished the performance and both them and their band took their bows and left the stage.
As the lights went up the arena was full of buzzing country fans and this was just day 1!
What was to come for Saturday and Sunday! Check out the site for reviews of these other two days!