2019 Country to Country Festival: 10 Best Things We Saw in the U.K.
Headlining sets by Chris Stapleton, Lady Antebellum and Keith Urban, plus a vast range of impressive up-and-coming talent, highlighted the seventh annual Country to Country (C2C), Europe’s biggest country music festival, this weekend.
Held over three days, the concerts took place at the 3Arena Dublin, Ireland; SSE Hydro in Glasgow, Scotland; and at London’s O2 Arena, a packed venue that underscored the strong and still growing transatlantic appetite for country music. Like last year, Rolling Stone was in attendance for the London weekend of C2C. Here are the 10 best things we saw.
Keith Urban makes an overdue return.
For his first U.K. show in more than 10 years, Keith Urban knew had some time to make up, and he came prepared. The songwriter, vocalist and virtuoso guitarist turned in a high-octane set with hits like “Days Go By,” “Coming Home” and “Long Hot Summer.” The opportunity to be in front of a London audience again clearly meant a lot to Urban, who remedied his notable absence by getting up-close-and-personal with his crowd. On a walk-about through the audience, he presented a guitar to a young fan, a rock-star gesture of goodwill.
Cam sings about cheating, gets teary-eyed.
Cam delivered a joyful and empowering set on the opening night of C2C London, which happened to dovetail with International Women’s Day. Kicking off with the pulsating, thundering intro that announces “Diane,” Cam offered her unique spin on a cheating song. She also revisited her first U.K. hit, “My Mistake,” in an intimate living room setting — complete with couch and ambient lampshade — and played the spectacular “Palace,” written with Sam Smith. “London,” she said tearfully, following the rapturous reaction to the encore “Burning House, “you’re making my dreams come true.”
Ashley McBryde preaches perseverance.
McBryde’s transition from 2018’s spotlight slot to the full arena stage this year reinforced the Grammy-nominated songwriter’s career evolution: as she proved onstage at the O2, she keeps getting better and better. McBryde and her band opened with the stark tale of addiction “Livin’ Next to Leroy,” establishing early on that this would be far from a skin-deep country performance. Known for her ability to tell it like it is while weaving in moments that break the heart, McBryde left the audience spellbound with real-life stories of small triumphs, major losses and, with her tale of perseverance “Girl Goin’ Nowhere,” the strength to navigate both.
Lady Antebellum tease new music, cover Niall.
It’s been four years since the country trio last played C2C, but Charles Kelley, Dave Haywood and Hillary Scott were welcomed like old friends by the London crowd. “I Run to You” opened the final show of night two, with the band delivering exceptional harmonies and a slew of radio hits. Currently working on a new record, they revealed that the highly anticipated release had been cut in the studio just days earlier and introduced a brand-new song, a fierce love ballad that was warmly received. But the capper was an unexpected cover with some special guests: Hunter Hayes and Carly Pearce joining in to cover Niall Horan’s “Slow Hands.”
Lyle Lovett gives a performance as big as his band.
Texas stalwart Lyle Lovett fused country with a heady mix of blues, soul, jazz, gospel and swing to provide the most diverse set of C2C. Joined by a brilliant team of musicians, Lovett announced to the crowd that they “make the O2 feel like a living room” before taking time to spotlight every band member, including vocal powerhouse Francine Reed. Her charisma, especially on “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues,” was the perfect accompaniment to the droll Lovett, who also paid tribute to Townes Van Zandt with a cover of “White Freightliner Blues.”
Chris Stapleton proves less is more.
The final headlining show of C2C 2019 may be one of the most memorable in the festival’s history. Stapleton’s stripped-back set astounded as the multi-Grammy-winning artist unleashed a powerful performance that showcased his full, extended range. Appearing with his core band of drummer Derek Mixon, bassist J.T. Cure and vocalist wife Morgane (pregnant with the couple’s fifth child), Stapleton proved less can definitely be more in the right hands. From the first defining notes of “Midnight Train to Memphis,” the Kentucky native had the audience at attention, seguing into “Nobody to Blame,” before harmonizing beautifully with Morgane on “Millionaire” and “Fire Away,” their voices melding seamlessly together. It was Stapleton at his most exceptional.
Catherine McGrath raises her profile.
What a difference a year makes. Not only did this young Northern Irish singer-songwriter perform on the spotlight stage for the first time, she also made it onto the main stage alongside Hunter Hayes. Her debut album, Talk of This Town, recorded between Nashville and London, has earned her a diverse fan base — including Elton John — and songs like “Just In Case” and “Wild” proved she has the ability to connect with a whole new generation of country fans. At C2C, she raised her profiled yet again, notably with a dazzling reading of “Don’t Let Me Forget” opposite Hayes.
Fairground Saints deliver California harmonies.
Sweet harmonies, laden with Americana and country influences, filled the O2’s spotlight stage with the appearance of Fairground Saints. The California-bred, Nashville-based trio — made up of Elijah Edwards, Meg McAllister and Mason Van Valin — showed off elevated, innovative tunes, like the energetic, foot-stomping “Somewhere Down the Line.” While the new band’s set was brief, the members’ uncompromising attitude to making their brand of breezy music and a distinct Laurel Canyon vibe made the Saints instantly memorable.
Dustin Lynch commemorates his first-ever London visit.
Lynch’s London performance marked his first visit to the city, and he was eager to deliver. Raising a glass to thank the U.K. for the invitation, the charismatic Tennessee native took a moment to acknowledge the realization of playing the O2 stage. A country-tinged version of Adele’s “Someone Like You” was a hit with the crowd, while “Cowboys and Angels” – a tribute to his grandparents — was stunningly heartfelt. But it was an effortless, high-energy version of his Number One “Small Town Boy” that cemented Lynch as a star in the eyes of U.K. fans. “It’s my very first day in the U.K,” he announced. “We will never forget this night.”
Abby Anderson displays country commitment.
Armed with a big voice and exuberant stage presence, Anderson won over fans during C2C weekend. Celebrating her 22nd birthday, the singer-songwriter took to the BBC Radio 2 Stage to showcase songs off her debut EP I’m Good. Her bluesy, soulful influences were on display in tracks like “Dance Away my Broken Heart” and “This Feeling,” which she performed on keys. It was honest, unfiltered star power, made all the more sincere when she took time to reiterate her commitment to country music.