On Sunday September 15th, Hyde Park in central London was basking in glorious sunshine on what had been one of the hottest September days the UK can remember, BBC Radio 2 held their 9th annual Live in Hyde Park or a Festival in a Day which attracted almost 50,000 people.
With a lineup that always of some of the biggest names in all of music from a variety of musical genres and from all over the world there is always something to cater for every musical taste. Previous years have seen the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Kylie Minogue, Take That, Blondie, Rita Ora, Elton John, Bryan Adams, Giorgio Moroder, Jeff Lynne, Jessie J, Tom Jones, Smokey Robinson and Chic bring live music from across the musical spectrum that also incorporated a mixture of newer or more contemporary artists along with acts that have been wowing crowds for a number of decades.
Country music has very often been a big part of the day as BBC Radio 2 have long since been the biggest champion of the genre in the United Kingdom particularly through legendary broadcaster Bob Harris who everyone attending was delighted to see and hear on stage back to his best after being quite unwell over the summer months. Previous years had seen Shania Twain, LeAnn Rimes, The Band Perry and Kacey Musgraves in addition to UK favourites Ward Thomas and The Shires play the event, so having a big hitter with a Nashville connection is always a big draw for fans of the genre over here.
The lineup on offer in 2019 featured a headline set from electronic synth-pop pioneers the Pet Shop Boys then a supporting cast of Westlife who are one of the most successful pop bands in UK chart history, rock legends Status Quo, iconic female pop duo Bananarama, classic pop and soul favourites Simply Red along with classical fused electonica from Clean Bandit who are one of the best live acts I have seen in recent years and rightly are one of the hottest things in all music on the planet right now.
However the event needed something else, it needed a mixture of fun songs to get the crowd dancing and some heart felt lyrics combined with some southern charm. It needed someone to bring the style and the sass to the stage! Luckily BBC Radio 2 had arranged the sole UK performance of 2019 from the ‘Homecoming Queen’ Kelsea Ballerini who continued the tradition of country artists to not just pleasantly surprise some members of the audience but to absolutely steal the show.
Kicking off her 30 minute set (which we definitely wish could have been longer) with her most recent smash ‘Miss Me More’ which hit number one on the airplay charts when we were last over in Nashville back in June, being the first track by a solo female performer in over 15 months (she also had the previous chart topper herself with ‘Legends’) that really set the scene for what the crowd had in store from the youngest member of the Grand Ole Opry and instantly grabbed the attention of people that may have had a closed and unfamiliar interpretation of “country” music.
Kelsea continued to show how she is a dynamic, engaging and enthusiastic performer that really gets into the live show whilst she engages with the crowd as she delivered ‘Get Over Yourself” an album track off her Grammy nominated sophomore record ‘Unapologetically’ that was a real unexpected treat and highlight for people that had attended the event to specifically see her. From here she picked up her guitar and brought ‘Yeah Boy’ the final single from her debut album out of her locker and by this point she really had the crowd exactly where she wanted them in preparation for some newer material and the early insights into her third album.
Playing ballads in front of a large crowd, where in the context of the UK market she was likely the most unfamiliar artist on the bill can be a risk however to beautifully deliver a more vulnerable side with her heartfelt new single ‘Homecoming Queen’ just showed her vocal prowess and engaged the crowd to emphasize with the only American artist on the lineup which will have helped add to her rapidly growing army of UK fans. The second “new” song post her sophomore record (that she released back in June) of the set followed with a smooth and slick rendition of the more r&b influenced ‘Better Luck Next Time’ which was a song she chose following it coming to her through her appearance on NBC’s Songland earlier this year.
To round off her set, she returned to the familiar hits and belted out a perfect rendition in the sunshine of ‘Peter Pan’ which had all of the fans who had come specifically to see her singing along to really loud and passionately (I know this because this is exactly what me and my friends were doing and we had plenty of people watching at home messaging us to say they had seen us on the TV) then finished with her crossover collaboration that she had featured on with The Chainsmokers ‘This Feeling’ to ensure the crowd were really fired up and ready for the rest of the day.
This was the fifth time I had been to the Radio 2 event in Hyde Park and it is always a great day. It is always nice to just go and be a music fan, hang out with your friends and having Kelsea Ballerini there this year to remind me just why I love country music was a fantastic way to end the UK summer of live music. Like both times we have seen her play Nissan Stadium for CMA Fest, she just oozes confidence and delivers a really natural fun performance. What you love about Kelsea is how she comes across as real and gets into her performance as much as her fans do. She even had to pause during the set between songs to wipe her lipstick off the microphone which just added to people warming to her in the crowd and we really hope it isn’t too long before she comes back to Europe and in future to be doing big tours of her own.