Having attended C2C Country 2 Country London since its inception in 2013, I was thrilled to attend the inaugural C2C Country 2 Country Australia which took place across two days in Sydney and Brisbane. I was surprised by the crowds already there by the time I got to the Brisbane Entertainment Centre about two hours before the main show was due to start, with hordes of people watching performers at the Big Entrance stage or in the Town Square.
The latter was my first port of call as it was inside the Sports Centre and therefore out of the baking hot Australian sun. The dark room contained a cluster of stalls selling quite frankly some of the tackiest clothes I’ve seen in a long time (whatever happened to nice Stetsons and denim shirts?), a signing area, although I was a bit disappointed to see that artists would only be signing official merch, meaning that you would basically be paying $50 or more to meet any artist; and a stage where Reverie Lane was currently playing.
Most of Nashville-based duo Reverie Lane’s songs were satirical honkytonk tracks like Hay Boy about, you guessed it, having a roll in the hay; redneck wedding song Before The Rice, and love song (?) Less Is More with lyrics like ‘I’ve thought it through / When it comes to you / Baby, less is more’. I enjoyed their thoughtful ballads like South of Sober and When Love Walks In, each packed with clever lyrics and pleasant harmonies.
Next up was the Aussie Adam Eckersley Band who played groovy tracks that melded right into one another. Their high energy performances on songs like Long Enough ToDisappear and Wheels certainly kept the audience engaged and amped up before the main show. Certainly worth a listen to.
Heading back out into the heat with some time to kill before it was time to make my way into the arena, I took a moment to watch another Aussie, Casey Barnes whose modern country rock reminded me of the likes of Kip Moore and Brantley Gilbert. He rocked out to Be Mine and new single A Little More, playing with the crowd and trying to convince them to download the track right then and there.
Even before the main show, I’d already seen three vastly different acts, which boded well for what was still to come. I made my way into the arena just before Aussie sisterhood The McClymonts were due to come on stage. Honestly, I liked that the BEC was a smaller arena venue than the ones I was used to, as it meant that no matter where you were, you’d get a good enough view.
The girls kicked off with great harmonies on Wrapped UpGood and Here’s To You & I. Their pop country style was right up my street and I knew that I was going to like them from that moment on. The three had great stage presence and proved that they were talented musicians too, as each played a different instrument across the different songs.
Most of their songs were fun anthems like Going Under and Like We Used To, but they showed off their range on tracks like Here’s To You & I which gave me Mumford & Sons vibes, wedding song Forever Begins Tonight which they dedicated to a happy couple in the audience; and a fantastic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Little Lies.
Their set was very passionate and ended on a high with everyone getting up to dance to House and Kick It Up. Even being the first act to perform that night, I knew that they were going to be a highlight of my evening and will certainly become a new addition to my playlist.
As with C2C London, the night was split between the Main Stage and the smaller Spotlight Stage at the back of the arena, and I particularly liked that we went straight from one to the next, rather than having an act on the Spotlight stage and then a 20 minute wait for the next Main Stage act as was usually the case in London. This allowed Spotlight performers to have a proper half hour set, which really allowed us to get to know them better.
First up on the Spotlight Stage was Lacy Cavalier whose impressive vibrato vocals shone on a mash up of original track Every Time It Rains and Stand By Me. I was shocked to find out she was only 22 years old and already making waves within the country music circuit, having already toured twice with Chase Rice, although her young age did become clear through song Tea, all about drama and gossip. Of course there’s nothing wrong with embracing one’s age, I’m just not sure how relevant songs like this will be a few years down the line.
She then encouraged the crowd to join her in a ‘Power Hour’ drinking game where the aim was to drink every time she started a new song in a mashup with songs like How Country Feels, The Middle, She’s Country, Check Yes Or No, and This Kiss. This was a fun idea in itself, and also allowed us to hear how she dealt with various songs. It’s no easy task covering songs by others, but she did all the artists proud.
She finished with a song from new EP called Single and finally her proudest song Cheating On U, which she edited and released on YouTube singlehandedly. She really does have quite phenomenal vocals which would suit both country and other genres. I’ll be disappointed if she doesn’t go far with such a talent.
Back on the Main Stage, we had the epitome of nice guy, Eric Paslay, who started off with rock anthem High Class, followed by crowd favourite Song About A Girl. Eric is not only a spectacular singer but also songwriter, and he showed this off by performing some of his (many) hits that he’s written for others, including Love & Theft’s Angel Eyes, Eli Young Band’s Even If It Breaks Your Heart, and Jake Owen’s Barefoot Blue Jean Nights. It’s undeniable that they are all great tracks, and the fact that the writer for them is just so pleasant makes me love them even more.
Eric seems well aware of his status as ‘country’s nice guy’, naming this years tour ‘The Nice Guy Tour’ and treating us to an upcoming song which I’m pretty sure is titled Nice Guy, all about how he sometimes wishes he was a jerk, just so that people would talk about him. However, my favourite moments of his set was the earth-shattering Amarillo Rain, which having since listened to the recording, I can tell you sounds even better live; and She Don’t Love You. Take a listen to those lyrics, and if you’re not crying by the end, you should probably see a doctor.
Of course, to make everyone happy, he finished up with party hit Friday Night, and was even the only artist of the night to do the coveted Aussie ‘shoey’ (aka drinking some form of alcohol from a shoe), without even being asked. Way to get on the Aussie’s good side, Eric!
I headed back over to the Spotlight stage to watch Raelynn, who I genuinely think is up there with some of the best vocalists in the industry (and there are a lot!). Most of her set was girls night out tracks like Queens Don’t and Tailgate, along with a few new tracks from her upcoming album, like Keep Up and Bra Off, which again kept in theme with pop party.
I would’ve liked to have heard some more of the tracks off of last album Wild Horse, as it’s genuinely a great album, but sadly we only got to hear Love Triangle, which I’d say was the highlight of her set. I certainly am looking forward to seeing what she has in store for us in future, as I think there’s still a lot more to come from Raelynn.
We moved from pop country to cowboy country with three piece band Midland who are certainly one of the most unique groups in contemporary country music. The trio played lots of songs from latest album Let It Roll including Playboys, 21stCentury Honky Tonk American Band (that’s a bit of a mouthful) and Cheatin’ Songs. I couldn’t help but think that their songs sound just like songs should, each cleverly written and with some darn good instrumentals underneath.
I would’ve liked a few more songs from On The Rocks, because quite frankly I hadn’t had the time to learn all of the words to their latest album, but enjoyed that each of the band members were given the opportunity to shine – Mark taking the lead on most tracks, but handing over to Jesse for Roll Away and to Cameron for a haunting version of Lost In The Night.
I like just how out of the stereotypical commercial country Midland are, and you’d best believe that I was singing my little heart out to tracks like Burn Out and Drinkin’ Problem. If you’re looking for something a little different, then Midland might just be the perfect band for you.
The next act had been a last minute addition to the lineupfollowing Drake White dropping out due to health reasons, and an interesting choice considering (as far as I was aware), he had only very recently entered into the country scene, albeit in a big way with The Git Up. Blanco Brown certainly has Lil Nas X of Old Town Road fame to thank for paving the way for country rap, but to be honest, it does make sense. I’ve always said that modern country is a mix of pretty much whatever it wants to be, so why not add a bit of rap into that too?
In my mind, slightly strange that an act with one known song would be asked to perform at a festival like this, but I was extremely pleasantly surprised when he started singing. Blanco has a fantastic gospel voice, and can even do whistletones a la Mariah Carey, which I don’t think any of us were expecting. He did an interesting mashup between Chris Stapleton’s Tennessee Whiskey and his own TN Whiskey, the genre of which I’m not even sure. RnB? Hip hop? Country?You tell me.
I could see the crowd quickly falling in love with him as he showed off his fun side, dancing around stage to Georgia Power with its bizarre lyrics (eenie meenie miny mo) before doing a big mashup of country and hip hop / rap songs like Walk The Line and Ms Jackson.
As expected, he did of course throw The Git Up into the mix, and at this point I’m pretty sure he was lip-syncing along with a one or two songs before (but happy to be proved wrong!) However, if you’ve read some of my reviews before, you’ll know that I have little problem with this when the performer puts on a show, which Blanco certainly did as he performed the dance to the track. Plus, he’d already proved to us that he can sing, and then some, so more power to him. A surprise act indeed, and someone I look forward to hearing more from in future.
Next on the Main Stage was the act I was most excited to see – Kelsea Ballerini. She strutted on stage to perform rock anthem Miss Me More featuring angel visuals up on the big screen behind her. With a start like this, I couldn’t help but loosen up and dance, and remained that way for the whole of her set.
After this energetic start, Kelsea paused to greet the audience in a very cheerful and engaging way. This wasn’t really something that any of the other acts had done, and I remembered that she had been the same way when I saw her perform in London way back in 2017, so I was pleased to see that her authentic personality had not changed one bit.
She asked us then if we wanted to get a bit sassy (is there any other answer but yes?) and launched into perhaps my favourite track from album number 2, Get Over Yourself. Again, after this she spoke to the crowd again, explaining that Australia has become something of a second home to her being where husband Morgan Evans is from.
Speaking of Morgan, she commented that she’d had many doubters when she announced she would marry Evans at a reasonably young age, which inspired her to write Unapologetically, about knowing that nothing can change the way you feel about someone when your heart is set on it. Kelsea then picked up a guitar for an acoustic rendition of Yeah Boy and I Hate Love Songs (tell me if you know of a song with better lyrics than this one)
We took a trip down memory lane for a mashup of Dibs and Lauv’s Like Me Better before the first song we ever heard from Kelsea, Love Me Like You Mean It. Things took a more serious turn with Legends, first single from KB3 Homecoming Queen and Peter Pan as she continually smashed the vocals on track after track.
She finished what had been a great set with the most pop-inspired of her tracks, her collaboration with The Chainsmokers, This Feeling. Kelsea is a great example of what country music has become – a mix between traditional and contemporary, full of well-thought lyrics, and a top-notch performer to boot.
The last act on the Spotlight stage was Aussie Travis Collins who had scored himself the coveted slot right before the headliner. He seemed to have a fair few fans who joined in as he sang Just Another Girl and a cover of John Denver’s Thank God I’m A Country Boy, which he proclaimed was ‘one for the hillbillies out there.’
His team had made the strategic decision to drop a new single just in time for C2C, so Make Up was up next, followed by Call Me Crazy, a song about losing someone to suicide which had him tearing up before the end. We had High Horse next, towards the climax of which he invited a lady in the front row to sing the final chorus. She was well rewarded for her efforts, as he then called up a crew member to hand him a spare guitar which he signed and gave to her. Not bad for a couple of seconds of singing!
Finally, Tim McGraw entered the Main Stage to a roar of sound as he kicked off with Truck Yeah, complete with flame visuals burning on the screen behind him. This was followed by Southern Voice and All I Want Is A Life, although I’ll admit that I found his whole set a bit unpleasant to listen to, just because it was so very loud. Even one of his band members was wearing earmuffs on stage, and I wished I had some too. The sound quality would have been much better and way more enjoyable had the guitar and drums not been penetrating everyone’s skulls and drowning out Tim’s voice.
Alas, I tried my best to enjoy the show for what it was, as he moved on to a song he dedicates to wife Faith Hill every time he sings it, Shotgun Rider, although he did make some pretty weird jokes about her later in the set. But who am I to comment on someone else’s relationship… With such a long career in the industry, Tim certainly had his choice of songs to play, so we got a mix of old and new with Where The Green Grass Grows, A Little While, latest single Thought About You and new song Hallelujahville which he preceded with a slightly strange church-service like introduction.
Highlights for me included his cover of Elton John’s Tiny Dancer, to which I think he did justice, and One Of Those Nights from my favourite of Tim’s albums. He also took a moment to entertain those further away from the stage by racing to the Spotlight stage for Felt Good On My Lips before returning to the Main Stage for Humble and Kind and Live Like You Were Dying.
It was a good set full of crowd favourite McGraw hits, and the audience were certainly having a good time. However, I’d be lying if I said some of his songs didn’t hit a nerve with me – Good Taste In Women felt a little objectifying, and Indian Outlaw perhaps has lyrics that Tim shouldn’t be singing. All in all though, I think Tim was a nice choice for the inaugural C2C Australia given his status as longstanding country royalty, and I look forward to seeing who gets that same coveted spot next year.
Thanks to @CiarasCountry www.ciaracountry.blogspot.com