Interview with Kevin McGuire!

“It’s really difficult sometimes as an artist but I think if just one percent of you feels you can go on and it’s worth it then you need to keep on going, even if the other ninety nine percent says you can’t do it, if that one percent believes you can achieve then you need to keep going!” – Kevin McGuire

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Hello!

So I have seen on social media that the majority of us have post C2C blues but for me I get to relive the weekend over and over again in the coming weeks as I get those all important interviews out to you. Last Sunday I had the pleasure of book ending my day chatting to two pop up acts both from Glasgow, Kevin McGuire and Raintown and today I bring you that interview with Kevin. As you can see from the above quote, Kevin has a way with words which is crucial for a songwriter and it was a pleasure talking to him before he took to the big entrance stage, drawing a large crowd. Check out what he had to say below.

Can you tell me about your journey into Country music?

I get this question a lot and it’s a strange one as I never grew up with anyone around me listening to Country music. When I was in my early days at school I would always come home and check out the latest Country music charts in America and I would just download as much of the music as I could and it felt like my own little World as it was the days before social media so I didn’t know anyone else listening to that sort of music. So it was fun, I really  related to it and I got introduced to guys like Tim McGraw, Rascal Flatts, Josh Turner and I fell in love with the music and it’s been with me ever since.

Can you tell me what your influences were growing up, what did your parents play to you?

My parents listened to a wide variety of music, I guess the way I got into music was my Dad was a drummer so there was always instruments lying around the house as he played guitar as well. My sister’s a singer as well so since like the age of two we’d be putting on shows for the family. Just being surrounded by music, though it wasn’t forced upon us, it just happened naturally.

What’s your favourite artist at the moment?

Rascal Flatts, easy!

When you’re writing songs, where do you draw inspiration from lyrically?

I try to be as open and honest as I can be. Sometimes I’ll write about my situation and sometimes I’ll go to other people and if I see something that someone else is going through, I’ll think I could write about that. But I think it’s best to be open and honest so the audience can relate to your music and hopefully that builds a connection so I guess that’s where it really comes from.

Do you still get nervous when you perform now?

I think I get more nervous performing to family and friends than I would with like a larger audience. I think it’s good to have some nerves, well not so much nerves but you’re scared to screw up, you’re anxious to make sure everything’s in place and it goes well. But it’s good, it’s more like butterflies than nerves.

What are your mid-gig thoughts?

Sometimes I let my mind wander, I think the more you concentrate the more likely you are to mess up. I think if you just relax into it, you’ve sang it a thousand times, the band’s played it a thousand times, if you just relax and feed off the audience I tend to think that’s a better route than to be fully concentrating on every single thing you need to do on stage.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever written a song about?

Oh, it has to be a relationship between two of my friends, and they had no idea the song was about their relationship!

Haha did they like it?

Yeah they did but it was from one of their points of view and I don’t think the other person knew the other was feeling those feelings so it was a little bit awkward, so I think that was the strangest thing.

What’s next for you?

So I’ve got my EP coming out called Foreign Country, that’s out on April 7th and my new single, Alright Tonight. Then we’ve got some festival bookings organised for the summer which I’ll be announcing in the next few months.

So get that date in your diaries, April 7th, new music from one of the UK’s fastest rising stars in Country music. Make sure you show your support if he’s playing a festival near you.

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Thanks,

Zoe x

A crazy, energetic end to C2C 2017! – Day 3 review

“We all share one thing, we’ve all been brought together by music” – Maren Morris

Hello!

Well I just had a crazy night, it was fantastic. But before I get carried away with myself, let me tell you about it all, from first arriving this morning. I kicked off the day chatting to Kevin McGuire and Orfila who were both playing the pop up stages today, I first saw Kevin at Buckle and Boots last year and I was instantly a fan. Just after 12, he gained an awful lot more fans. As people arrived to start their day at C2C Kevin was the first thing they heard at the Big Entrance stage and the crowd kept on growing as he played his country pop original songs and a cover of What Hurts The Most by Rascal Flatts. I headed off after his set and acquired a second pair of cowboy boots before heading in to the afternoon Bluebird session. I was really looking forward to seeing Josh Osborne after I saw him a few years back in Nashville doing a round with Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally. I could remember coming out of there and my tummy hurt as I’d been laughing so hard! I knew he was going to be good, I mean I doubt guys like that have ever written a bad song as three of the four songs he played have been number one and the other has won a grammy for best country song. And he hasn’t lost any of his humour either, as he regularly had the audience laughing. Charlie Worsham, a particular favourite with the rest of the audience showed off his guitar skills and played one of my favourite songs of his, Lawn Chair. I wasn’t too familiar with Lucie Silvas before today but I really wish I’d have checked her out sooner, she played Smoking Jacket, a song she co-wrote with another of my favourite writers Natalie Hemby for Miranda Lambert’s latest album, and a really well written song called 2 birds, 1 stone which I thought was excellent! Then I headed off and managed to catch Marty Stuart in the press room, what a lovely guy, it was great to shake his hand and ask him a question and he was who I was most looking forward to tonight, so now, on to the shenanigans in the arena!

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Brothers Osborne kicked things off with one of my favourite songs, written by Jessi Alexander I believe, Down Home. They really impressed me actually as they went on to play various songs from their album Pawn Shop and their set was riddled with guitar solos that showed their level of musicianship and skill. My favourite song they played was Stay A Little Longer but I also enjoyed 21 Summer as well. They did an amazing job especially for an opening act and the crowd recognised this. Drake White played the Yamaha stage in between Brothers Osborne and Maren Morris. Now I’ve heard nothing but good things about Drake all weekend, ever since the Songwriters series on Thursday there has been a buzz about him which has grown and grown over the three days and tonight he showed us what all the fuss was about. I mean he has good songs but his voice is so powerful and he came back onto the Main Stage later on to sing Free with the Zac Brown Band so it’s great to see fellow artists recognising the talent this guy has.

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As I said Maren took to the stage after this. The grammy award winning Country Pop star has achieved so much in the past year since she played the yamaha stage at C2C and she’s earned that spot on the main stage. She sang a lot of her album Hero, including hit single 80s Mercedes which is one of my favourites. She really shows off the control and power of her voice in Rich with those oh’s at the start. I love the honesty in I Wish I Was and the way she sang it tonight there was a vulnerability to it. But the highlight of her set was My Church. She spoke of her experience on the yamaha stage last year and being surprised that the whole audience knew the song and was singing it back to her. She also talked about us all having this one thing in common, that we’d all been brought together by music and she was right of course. We have all come together this weekend, chatted to people we’ve never met before because of Country music. When she actually sang the song the whole Arena began singing along with her just as she’d asked. She ended the set with Second Wind and a cover of Halo mixed in. Then back to the Yamaha stage, Crissie and Ben from The Shires introduced Lucie Silvas. She played a gorgeous song, For the Record. She really seems to have a way with words, her lyrics are great and though she said she was croaky she still sang beautifully.

Marty Stuart was phenomenal though. I knew he was going to be good, many people were skeptical, and although I wasn’t over familiar with his solo stuff I had read all about him playing in Johnny Cash’s band and marrying his daughter and of course now he’s married to Connie Smith. Basically he’s a legend and he proved that tonight. I realised in the press conference that this guy was genuine, he really was happy to be there and even though he’s been doing this for years, he doesn’t seem the least bit tired of any of it like a lot of people who have been in the industry as long as he has. I think my favourite song he did was Whiskey ain’t Workin however I did really love what he called his Johnny Cash song, Dark Bird. He told us the story, which I have read in Johnny Cash’s autobiography about Roy Orbison’s house burning down sadly killing his two sons. Cash bought the land for $1 and promised never to build on it so instead he planted fruit trees and flowers and it was here that Marty got the inspiration for Dark Bird. Again, he showed a lot of appreciation to his fellow musicians and invited them one at a time to come and sing and play, cousin Kenny an exceptional guitarist stepped up and did a couple, Handsome Harry who’s been playing drums must have had the biggest set of lungs in the room, I mean how did he hold those notes for that length of time? Then there was Professor Scruggs and you know they all stepped up and gave us something good. And throughout the weekend I’ve said this about a number of artists but Marty Stuart really can play that guitar and mandolin! That standing ovation was deserved.

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Jana Kramer played a couple of songs on the yamaha, she was also doing a very good job later on at the afterparty when I left. I liked her interaction with the fans, that’s a really important part for an artist and not something that always comes easy. It was great she came down to their level took selfie’s as she sang and let them sing into the mic too.

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Moving on to the headliner, the Zac Brown Band and they just brought the party to life, what a great way to finish the weekend. All their greatest hits were included, two of my favourites Sweet Annie and Goodbye in her Eyes both written by Sonia Leigh demonstrated those sublime harmonies. Jump Right In and Toes got the fans up on their feet, dancing. One song which really took me by surprise though was their cover of Bohemian Rhapsody. That is a very bold move to cover such an iconic song like that but wow what a superb job they did of it and the crowd went wild at the end. I’ve seen them cover Devil Went Down to Georgia before but it never gets old, again it just demonstrates their skill sets. It’s hard to choose a favourite or a highlight as I really enjoyed the whole set and you know where I was there was a real party atmosphere but I enjoyed Colder Weather, that’s one of my favourites anyway and as I’ve said previously Drake White came and sang with them and Marty Stuart came and played guitar and I think those moments are really important, collaborating and just enjoying making music together and of course for the fans it’s great to see them come together. The encore included Beautiful Drug and of course Chicken Fried, I don’t think there was a single person stood still in that song, everyone seemed to be dancing!

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I began the evening sat around four rows from the back of the top tier, my row was empty. I ended up five rows from the front on the lower tier at the side of the stage all thanks to a group of lovely people who had a spare ticket since their daughter had flown back to America. They were an energetic and friendly group and since I had spent much of the weekend alone up in the Gods it was great to meet new people in the arena, get to know them and have a great time with them! Honestly, I’ll never forget this weekend but in particular I will never forget tonight and the generosity of those people. That’s what Country music is all about, good, fun loving people like the ones I met tonight! Now it’s been a fantastic weekend but get home safely and we’ll do it all again next year! Tickets go on sale this Friday (yes, not a long time to get that bank balance back up!).

To all the people I met at this years festival, thank you and don’t be a stranger, come and say hello at the next gig!

Zoe x

Dan and Shay, Hunter Hayes, Darius Rucker and Reba McEntire take to the stage at C2C day 2!

“It won’t be like this for long” – Darius Rucker

Hello!

Day 2 was crazy! The day has been packed full of top quality entertainment, and that’s before you even get to the main Arena! I started my day off (well after I’d done a survey for CMA) at The Roadhouse stage where Raintown kicked things off nicely. This was the first time I’d seen them perform since their little baby girl was born and I can tell you they still have as much energy as they did before. After that I rushed off to try and catch some of the CMA industry talk in All Bar One. It’s great that C2C puts those on, it was headed up by Paul Sexton who is a great guy, very knowledgeable and to his left was Kristian Bush and to his right was concert promoter Ali Harnell, label head Jon Loba and agent Rob Beckham. It was nice to see the room was full of people wanting to learn more about the business side of things as well. From there I went back to Roadhouse to catch The Wandering Hearts, who blew me away with their harmonies, they’re a very tight group and I love the song they closed with, I think it’s called Devil in Disguise. Catherine McGrath played a good set from what I heard, Una Healy drew a big crowd and I heard great things about Sarah Darling as well. In between all this I managed to squeeze in a few interviews so I will share them with you in the coming days and weeks after C2C.

Now going on to the main arena, this was the night I was looking forward to the least. I knew of each of the artists but I didn’t know any of their repertoire particularly well but I was still excited to see them especially Reba. So the verdict coming out? I got it completely wrong… it was fantastic and all the acts have convinced me that I need to pay more attention to them and buy their CDs. It began with Dan and Shay, they worked really hard throughout their set to get the audience excited and involved. They achieved this in the cover they did of You Give Love A Bad Name. The pair were very energetic and this rubbed off onto the audience. There was a really nice moment where they played their hit single From the Ground Up and the audience held up their phone lights, I think it touched the boys and they threw in an extra song, Obsessed as they were “obsessed” with London and being here. Dan kept saying how Shay has the best voice in Country music and it was sweet to see the closeness of the band and the belief and respect they have in and for each other.

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On the yamaha stage we saw Bailey Bryan, the 18 year old has a unique voice I thought it’s quite high pitched. She was good, had a few good songs although I think she needs to work just a little on her stage presence but I think there may have been a few sound issues going on there. Definitely someone to keep an eye open for in the future.

Now I’ve heard mixed reviews about Hunter Hayes performance tonight so I’m probably going to be unpopular because I thought he was great. I’ve seen him previously when he came over and toured on his own and I actually thought he was better tonight. When he first came out I think he was nervous but sometimes it makes it more real and you see what it means to an artist to perform at that particular event and venue. He opened his set with I Want Crazy, again this got the crowd moving. I like how so far all of the acts have really been encouraging of their fellow stars and musicians, in a World where we like to turn everything into a competition it’s great to see these guys getting up on stage with each other and having a good time. Hunter was no different as he welcomed Charlie Worsham up to play a bit of guitar with him. That’s another thing I’m noticing at this festival, they have a lot of acts who not only write good songs and sing but they’re all great guitarists, Hunter could really play! The highlight of his set for me though was the new song he played, I think it was called Tell Me, it was raw and his vocals were excellent when he sang that.

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Another new face came onto the yamaha stage after Hunter. Seth Ennis who is apparently supporting Little Big Town on their next tour. He played three songs and it was the last one that really caught my attention, Woke Up In Nashville, prior to this he gave a nice shout out to Mac McAnally, who he said was a great inspiration to him.

I’d heard a lot of good things about Darius Rucker and though I knew the odd song or two I hadn’t gotten round to really listening to his past work. He opened with a song off his last record Lighter Up, this was a party starter and it became clear to me that many had come just for Darius… a few songs later it became clear why they’d come for Darius! Southern State of Mind was one of my favourites on the night, as was It Won’t Be like This For Long, it was just honest and there was real emotion in his performance. I think what got the audience going though was his cover of Friends in Low Places, everyone around me was up on their feet dancing. He too introduced his band and showed his appreciation for their level of musicianship and he stood back and let his banjo player and slide guitarist play freely. Wagon Wheel was another that got the audience on their feet, singing at the top of their voice and dancing along. Darius looked like he was enjoying the atmosphere and he grinned most of the way through. To conclude his set he played a touching tribute to Prince by playing Purple Rain and once again those lights were raised in the air like stars. It was an emotional end to what was a superb set. The audience were on their feet applauding and rightly so. Last on the yamaha stage was Cassadee Pope, I really like this girls voice. It wasn’t her first time playing the O2 as she mentioned in the press conference that she’d played back in 2009 with her previous band Hey Monday. She too played three songs, the second of which was a brand new song, it sounded great, I’m looking forward to hearing more of that at some point but the last song, Wasting All These Tears reminded me of a young Taylor Swift.

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Then it was time for the headliner, the one and only Reba McEntire. Wearing a sparkly top she shone in more ways than one tonight, I was blown away, speechless. Being Country music royalty I knew she was going to be good but I didn’t think she’d be that good! Songs that stood out for me were Fear of Being Alone, And Still, and Going Out Like That, the latter of which was a really energetic performance. I really liked the fact that she spoke a lot, she told us stories behind certain songs – why she recorded it, about the music videos – where they were filmed, watching her first one, waiting for it to come on after a film. I mean she showed her age telling some of these stories but who cares, she’s been doing this for forty odd years!! It was great to get to know her and her music better through her talking to us about what she’s going to play next. She talked of her upbringing, which I found interesting, I didn’t know her father was a rodeo champ! It was nice to hear her take it down a step and play Greatest Man I Never Knew. Again it was lovely that she introduced and thanked her band but Reba took it one step further and thanked all her crew that work behind the scenes that we as an audience don’t get to see. Then she played sweet Chariot which started off very stripped back and quite slow and built up so that by the end everyone was dancing and clapping along. A highlight for me was actually when she told us about her friendship with Kelly Clarkson and how that progressed into Clarkson becoming her daughter in law! Then she sang Because of You which I’ve always thought is a well written song. The duet she sang with her backing singer was phenomenal as well, I mean that really moved me, it was just so powerful. When she left the stage I knew she had to come back, she couldn’t leave without playing Fancy. And sure enough after a quick change into a red sparkly dress, reba returned and played the song which she says is becoming her signature hit. It was fantastic, and again a standing ovation was given and someone even threw a bouquet of flowers onto the stage for her, I’ve never seen that before!

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So with just one day left now all I’ll say is make the most of it! See as many acts as you can on the pop ups and enjoy the main stage artists, and if you can stay and see them all, it’s a shame to see half empty arenas for the opening act or the headliner. I know there’s trains to be caught and some music might not be to your taste but maybe check it out, give it a chance, you might just be surprised!

Thanks,

Zoe x

 

Jennifer, Chris and Brad light up the O2!

“This is Country music and we do!” – Brad Paisley

Hello!

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Wow! First full day at C2C and what a day! My day began with Martha Healy kicking things off in the Water Margin, a name I wasn’t familiar with before the start of today but I really enjoyed her set. She had a sweet voice and had a great set of self penned songs. That’s what I love about the pop-ups they introduce you to upcoming artists you may not have heard before. And another act that took me by surprise came an hour or so later on the Town Square stage, Miss Winter. This Swedish girl group drew a fairly large crowd and it’s no wonder, their voices were powerful and they sounded pitch perfect. Again they brought a set of self penned songs and made them come to life on that stage. They are definitely ones to keep an eye out for!

The main stage was kicked off by none other than Jennifer Nettles who was the artist I was most looking forward to this weekend. She has released two solo albums to date but is probably best known as one half of the duo Sugarland. She has had a successful and lengthy career and I was keen to know before hand how she was feeling about performing at C2C. When I asked her whether she still gets nervous when performing or if she lets her mind wander as it comes naturally she replied saying “I still get nervous depending on the performance…but I’ve done it for so long I just get adrenalised and enjoy the moment. I will confess there are songs that I’ve played for a very long time and I may be in the middle of “Stay” and – I’m sorry I’m saying this as it’s such an emotional song – I find myself thinking of a laundry list!” Well, that song was on the setlist tonight and whatever she was thinking, the emotion in her voice and her facial expressions was just beautiful. Similarly, Unlove You, was performed flawlessly. Jennifer showed off her vocal abilities very well towards the end of this number which is off her latest record. She opened her set with the title track Playing With Fire and besides the two songs I’ve previously mentioned the rest of the set was at this tempo. It really was a high energy performance and she really seemed to enjoy herself as did the crowd. Drunk In Heels was my favourite off the record and it was my favourite tonight also. Nettles who has recently tried her hand at acting, playing Dolly Parton’s mum in Coat of Many Colours and it’s sequel, really shone tonight, it was great to hear the record come to life and a wise move to play a few Sugarland songs there.

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Nettles was swiftly followed by Chase bryant, introduced to the room by Britain’s own Country twins Ward Thomas. He played a couple of songs on the yamaha stage including single Take It On Back. This guy can really sing and he tried to connect with the audience and get them involved which seemed to work lower down near the stage. It was a shame we only heard two songs from him as I really enjoyed his sound, again he’s a new name to me and not one I’m going to forget. Bob Harris once again did an excellent job of introducing acts and chatting about the festival and what’s going on over the three days. He’s the face or the voice of Country music in the UK so it’s wonderful to see him year on year doing his very best for artists both in the UK and US.

Chris Young took to the main stage after a short break. Now I first saw him back at C2C 2014 and I really enjoyed his set back then but I really feel that it was on a whole new level this year. Before the show he spoke of his fastest number one hit and his slowest, in total he has nine and the audience enjoyed listening to a fair few of them tonight. The highlight judging from the crowds reaction was when he brought out Cassadee Pope to sing Think Of You. Though by his own admission, ballads is what he does best, there were a number of uptempo songs that got the crowd going such as Aw Naw which he played when BBC Radio 2 tuned in to tonight’s entertainment. I think one of the highlights for me was when he sung a cover of Keith Whitley’s When You Say Nothing At All. His vocals really conveyed the emotion of this song. I do really love that strong accent when he sings.

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Once again we went to the yamaha stage in the break where Cam was poised ready to play and have a good time! She began with My Mistake, Half Broke Heart followed and she concluded with Burning House which was just sublime especially when the audience sung it back to her and she squealed with delight, so nice to see artists genuinely surprised by an audience knowing all the lyrics.

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Now someone at uni once said to me that Country music is simple and boring, “it’s literally the same three chords over and over again, they don’t know how to play their instruments…” Well they obviously never met Brad Paisley! That man and his guitars, and didn’t he have a few? I think he had that many he couldn’t fit them all on the bus and so had to give one away! Joking aside that was a touching moment when halfway through This is country Music he put down his acoustic, signed it and then gave it to a young fan with the words “learn how to play it… that’s how Taylor Swift’s are made!” He went on to say, “we’re going to play all the songs you want, and some you don’t want!” And he did play a lot of songs and the crowd loved every one. Hits such as Then and Today were included, I’m Still A Guy which he brought Chris Young back on to sing with him. He played a lovely mash up of We Danced and Whisky Lullaby. That was an intimate moment in his set, I mean Whisky Lullaby means so much to such a lot of people, it was bound to be included in the set somewhere. I think one of the highlights of his set though was when he walked through the crowd, still singing and playing and he came up onto the Yamaha stage and sang a brand new song which was hilarious! The whole audience was in uproar as he sang about Selfies, I mean the funniest part and potentially the saddest part is that every word was true in today’s society. I think that shows his versatility as an artist though, to be able to do something like Whiskey Lullaby, a very serious and deep song to funny like that or Online which he also played tonight. Visually the strobe lighting and the backdrops added to the whole performance and I especially liked it when he “Facetimed” Carrie Underwood and they did a duet of Remind Me.

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Over all it was a fantastic evening, I mean you could not fault any of tonight’s artists and you know what? We have two more days to go so it can only get better. Don’t forget to check out what’s going on around the arena on Saturday and Sunday, Town Square was buzzing today there’s so much going on there and obviously you have a stage right in the market. Some of you lucky fans will be venturing off to see some fantastic songwriters at the Bluebird sessions and we’ll hopefully bring you all the latest from the press room! More photos to follow.

Thanks,

Zoe x

Hits were sung and CMA’s were won!

“The Key to songwriting is just to observe and put yourself in that situation” – Eric Church

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Hello!

I have shed a tear at every single Songwriters Series that I’ve been to so far. When Jessi sung I Drive Your Truck in 2015, then there was last year when Lori sung Girl Crush and this year was no different, The Shires came out on stage and got presented with their first CMA Award, they were speechless! The audience, recognising what a spectacular moment this was for the duo gave a standing ovation to the pair who seemed a little overcome with emotion themselves. We’ll bring you more on that story throughout the weekend, we’d just like to congratulate Ben and Crissie on a fantastic achievement.

The rest of the evening lived up to expectation with five phenomenal hit writers you were always going to know at least one song that was played tonight. Kristian Bush the host and one half of the duo Sugarland played some songs off his solo album as well as from the band’s repertoire, songs such as Baby Girl, a fan favourite it seems and Stuck Like Glue and off his own album, Trailer Hitch and Flip Flops. He brought humour to the round as did Mac McAnally who was at the opposite end of the line. This guy is a fantastic all round musician and he demonstrated his amazing guitar skills all the way through. He played Down the Road which he and Kenny Chesney recorded and took to number one back in 2008. I think my favourite song that he played tonight was All These Years, it was an emotional song that put a different perspective on the theme of cheating. Mac McAnally really shone tonight, I mean he was hilarious and humble at the same time but he really is a fantastic writer.

Drake White was probably the one I was least familiar with before tonight but I enjoyed his songs, his vocals were incredible as well and I know that’s not really what the night is about but with a voice like that I can understand why everyone has been raving about him! The good news is he’s playing again throughout the weekend so hopefully you’ll all manage to catch him again. Maren Morris played a number of songs off her Grammy nominated album Hero, including Rich, I could Use a Love Song and of course My Church which she closed with. The whole audience got behind her and joined in, what a chorus that is! Liz Rose, sat between Maren and Mac also got a few laughs which began with her stool mishap in which she almost ended up with her back to us. She played a couple of Taylor Swift songs, White Horse and You Belong With Me, which the audience enjoyed singing to. She sang a very funny song about not having ex-boyfriends, only ex-husbands. She closed with Girl Crush and the audience singing that last chorus back to her just like we did with Lori last year brought her to tears. Again it was a wonderful moment and one of the highlights of the evening.

After five rounds I don’t think the audience wanted to leave. I mean it really was hit after hit and each writer brought something different to the evening but just like in previous years it was a relaxed and intimate night of great Country music.

Thanks,

Zoe x

C2C Pop up stage recommendations!

“The road goes on forever and the party never ends” – Robert Earl Keen

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Hello!

Well it’s less than a week to go until C2C and the excitement is building but with much discussion about the Pop Up Stages and the lack of familiar faces and fan favourites that we’ve seen in previous years, some of you may be feeling a little lost or torn as to who to see. Well below are four acts that I think are a must see. Obviously there are so many great acts so it was hard to narrow these down but I picked each one for a different reason, one I thought would be fairly unfamiliar to most, a favourite of mine who we’ve featured on the blog before, an overseas performer and finally an act who’s music is at a different end of the Country music spectrum. Read on to find out about each one.

The Wandering Hearts

I must confess these guys are very new to me however from what I’ve heard they are going to be a highlight of C2C. Recently signed to Decca, The Wandering Hearts are currently working on their debut album. However they are not new to the industry, each member of the band has had a lot of experience working in the industry and that shows when they come together as the level of musicianship they show is high and the harmonies are tight. This band met in a bar and have only been together for around a year yet they already have a record deal with a major label and are playing the biggest Country music festival in the UK… sounds like a familiar story. Could these guys have a similar success story to their label mates The Shires? If you miss them at C2C you can catch them supporting Brothers Osborne on Monday 13th as part of C2C Presents.

Performance times: Saturday 13.05 The Roadhouse

Sunday 11.25 Big Entrance

Raintown

One of the loveliest couples in UK Country Music, Glaswegian duo Raintown are as talented as they are sweet and you can never get enough of their music. These two are bursting with life and the energy they bring to the stage along with their beautifully written songs is bound to get your day off to a cracking start. They open the Saturday on the The Roadhouse stage and can be seen again on the Sunday so there’s no excuses for missing them. They are no strangers to festivals having played the main stage at Cornbury a couple of times and headlining Buckle and Boots Festival but they are no strangers to C2C either, the past two years they have packed out the areas surrounding the stages they have played on and I’m sure this year will be no different so get there early to get a good spot!

Performance times: Saturday 11.45 The Roadhouse

Sunday 13.10 The Roadhouse

Sarah Darling

Now many of you I’m sure will be familiar with Nashville based Singer-Songwriter Sarah Darling. She’s been over to the UK and toured on a number of occasions, played the World famous Grand Ole Opry too many times to count and supported such artists as Kacey Musgraves, Carrie Underwood and Ward Thomas. Her album Dream Country is full of optimism and storytelling lyrics. She’s not to be missed at C2C as her positive thinking translates perfectly into her music and is bound to brighten your mood (if it needed brightening anymore since you should be having a good time already) but she’s one of Country’s rising stars and where better to check out her music than at this festival.

Performance times: Saturday 12.30 Big Entrance

Sunday 14.30 Town Square

Kevin McGuire

Scotland’s answer to Sam Hunt, Kevin McGuire is taking UK Country and well a number of other genres by storm; He’s supported the likes of Union J and Deacon Blue. I first saw Kevin back in June at Buckle and Boots Festival and a few months later I heard his song 3am on Chris Country Radio and couldn’t get it out of my head for days! I’m really looking forward to his EP which is set to be released really soon and I’m sure he’ll be the talk of the pop ups this year. If you’re into modern Country which fuses typical storytelling lyrics with an RnB feel and arrangement then I think you should give Kevin a listen.

Performance times: Sunday 12.05 Big Entrance

So there you have it folks, those are my recommendations to start you off but if it’s your first time, my advice is just to make the most of it, see as much as you can across all three days. I usually run around like a headless chicken trying to see as many artists as I can and I’m practically falling asleep by the time the main arena acts begin! Of course I don’t think C2C would be the same if Ward Thomas and The Shires didn’t make an appearance, now Ward Thomas have been confirmed but The Shires haven’t however there is an announcement coming from them tomorrow and many are speculating that it could be about C2C so we’ll keep our eye on that and let you know, it would be a real shame if they weren’t at C2C, so fingers crossed.

Be sure to say hi if you see me around, I shall be interviewing artists throughout Thursday – Sunday.

Thanks,

Zoe

Brantley Gilbert’s The Devil Don’t Sleep!

“I take a lot of pride in being able to say that what you see is what you get.” – Brantley Gilbert

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Hello!

Sometimes it takes a few listens of an album to really appreciate it. This was the case with the latest album sent to me to review but after a couple of weeks of listening to The Devil Don’t Sleep by Brantley Gilbert I have grown to really like it. Gilbert, who is known for his Country-Rock sound and gritty vocals maintains his brand in his latest record, delivering some really big tracks like the lead single off the album The Weekend. However, Brantley shows us his more softer, emotional side towards the end of the album. After already reaching the number 1 and 2 spots on the US Top Country Albums chart and US Billboard 200 respectively, this is sure to be one of the most popular albums of this year.

The album begins with Rockin Chair, a nice choice for an opening track; though the intro has a Country instrumentation and arrangement, it soon opens out into a much more Country-Rock production, however the theme is very much your typical Country topic about love, living and growing old with someone. The big sound and high tempo is maintained going into the second track, The Ones That Like Me, this holds an interesting concept and I particularly like the line in the chorus “The ones that said forget him, you can bet they ain’t forgot me.” The lead single follows, The Weekend. This feels like another feel good, party track, I mean it is about the weekend right and everyone loves the weekend!

You Could be That Girl is the fourth track and I really like this one for a few reasons, first of all I think the instrumentation in the intro in particular is very good and keeping with the instrumentation and arrangement of the track, there is a cracking guitar solo in the middle of the song which also appears again in the outro, something you don’t hear a lot of in Country music. Then there’s this little breakdown after the first solo which I think is really effective. There’s some great melodic hooks throughout and with all this in the song’s favour you’d think perhaps the lyrics might suffer however there’s some strong lines in the verses. Smokin’ Gun follows and this starts off quite quiet and you can hear more of Gilbert’s vocals and the emotion in his voice, something we hear a lot of later on in the album. The chorus for this song though explodes and we hear a lot of instruments come in at once. In general throughout the album the production works well with his gravelly vocals, it really is designed to complement it.

I wasn’t overly keen on the next song, Bro Code but like any song it still has its talking points and I have to say the chorus is quite catchy. This song definitely leans more towards rock than country although if you listen closely you can hear a banjo playing throughout. Another rock sounding song is It’s About To Get Dirty, however the lyrics still have a Country theme talking about mud and trucks. Tried to Tell Ya is another song that begins quiet and builds. Rhythmically and Melodically it reminds me a little of Sam Hunt, the way the lyrics are sung. In my Head and Way Back follow. I quite like Way Back, it has a high energy from the off and the lyrics and theme are really lovely and detailed. For example, in the second verse when he talks about his lovers bare feet up on the dash and getting a “call from your best friend, Becky.” And this is followed by Baby, Be Crazy which again features a guitar solo. The verses set up the chorus and pay off line well and there is a really nice slide guitar in the intro.

One of my favourites on the record is Outlaw In Me, at this point we see the record turn slightly and it mellows, in a positive way, we hear a new side to Brantley, a softer, more honest side to him almost. It’s an acoustic guitar based song with a nice organ leading into the chorus and it has some great storytelling style lyrics. The next song returns to the rock feel, Bullet In A Bonfire features some really clever backing vocals which I think really sets up the mood and feel of this song. Another one of my favourites is the title track which begins with Brantley Gilbert’s vocals straight in. The production is near perfect in this song and the arrangement of the drums, which are very effective, remind me of one of Carrie Underwood’s big hits.

The penultimate track on the album We’re Gonna Ride Again has a nice raw sound to it and Gilbert’s vocals actually suit this softer arrangement more than you’d expect. The last track, Three Feet Of Water, is a more emotional track. Again it’s very stripped back and begins with a piano. The second verse is lyrically quite flawless; “I can’t unbreak the laws, straighten out the rules I’ve bent, take the broken dreams and hearts, make ’em all whole again.”

So to conclude, this album took a while for me to warm to but what I will say is whatever your “cup of country” is, even if you’re not a huge fan of the rock side of it, give this album a chance because there are some hidden gems in there, and there really is something for everyone.

Thanks,

Zoe

Who are your CMA Songwriters?

“Songwriting is my way of channeling my feelings and my thoughts, not just mine, but the things I see, the people I care about.” – Dolly Parton

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Hello!

Well at the start of this week the much anticipated CMA Songwriters lineup was finally announced. Though there was some buzz on social media the announcement was somewhat overshadowed by the announcement that Little Big Town were returning to the UK in September to tour. It’s great news that these top names are coming to the UK and that they want to keep on coming back but I’m particularly excited that once a year we get a little taste of the real Nashville when the songwriters who wrote the hits for the big names come over and tell us the stories behind the songs. It was always going to be a big ask to top last year’s lineup which saw Lori McKenna, Charlie Worsham, Ashley Monroe and Charles Esten take to the stage alongside their host Shane McAnally. However the organisers have managed to secure an equally good line up this year with Maren Morris, Liz Rose, Mac Mcanally and Drake White taking to the stage along with their host Kristian Bush and today I’m going to give you a little bit more information on each of them.

We all know Maren Morris, or at least if you like Country you should probably know who she is by now! Rising to fame with her massive 2015 hit “My Church” Morris has received multiple CMA and Grammy Nods but she actually started her career a long time before this, releasing three studio albums on a fairly unknown label before self releasing her self titled EP and being picked up by a major label who then re-released this and her album Hero. But Maren Morris has writing credits on multiple songs that appeared in the show Nashville. Furthermore she also wrote Greener Pastures off the Brothers Osborne album Pawn Shop, Second Wind off Kelly Clarkson’s Piece By Piece album and one of her earliest success’ was having a cut on Tim McGraw’s Sundown Heaven Town with the song Last Turn Home. So though most of us better know Maren Morris as an artist with that powerful voice, she actually started her career as a songwriter and has more than earned her place in this year’s lineup.

Liz Rose is one of my favourite songwriters of all time! I first saw Liz Rose at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville in 2015 (though I was a fan long before this). She is as funny as she is talented and such a lovely person to chat to. Last year at Tin Pan South Festival in Nashville she invited a few of us up on stage to sing You Belong With Me, a song she co-wrote with and for Taylor Swift (yes you read that right, Taylor Swift!) need I say this was one of the most memorable moments of my life? That aside, Liz Rose is one of the most successful songwriters in Country music, she is one third of the writing trio The Love Junkies which sees her team up with Lori McKenna and Hillary Lindsey and together they have written such hits as Girl Crush and Sober for Little Big Town just to give a couple of examples and Liz and Lori co-wrote God Made Girls by Raelynn. We could spend all day listing Liz Rose’s achievements but a quick google search and you can see for yourself the extent of her career and you’re bound to find one of your favourite artists on the list of people who have released her songs.

Mac McAnally is a very well respected Songwriter and Musician in the Country music world. Many of the top artists have called upon McAnally to play on their records, from Dolly Parton to George Strait, Brad Paisley to Reba and he’s been named CMA Musician of the year for eight years in a row. Often we talk about an artist’s success and we sometimes measure it by how many albums they sold in their first week or whether a song got to number one or not. Mac McAnally has had a few of them, number one’s, but what Mac McAnally has is something that every writer, artist, musician wants and rarely gets, longevity. He’s had a lengthy career and has had his fingers in many pies, and everything he does is consistently good. The music can do the rest of the talking but he’s not in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame for no reason and I’m sure jaws will drop on Thursday 9th March when Mac starts playing.

Now I will admit that I’m fairly unfamiliar with Drake White, the upcoming singer songwriter signed to Big machine’s Dot Records. From what I can tell though he has quite the following over here with many people buzzing about his planned appearances throughout the C2C weekend. He has co-written with the likes of songwriters Shane McAnally, Josh Osborne and Tom Douglas to name a few. These are some of the top Nashville Writers so though I have yet to hear his 2016 album, Spark, I am sure it is bound to have some cracking songs on there. I’m really looking forward to checking out Drake White and seeing him at the Songwriters Series.

Host Kristian Bush is best known amongst us Country fans as one half of Grammy award winning duo Sugarland. They are one of my favourite Country artists of all time, in fact that was the main reason I decided to attend this years C2C because Jennifer Nettles was playing. Now I along with many others are hoping for a little Sugarland reunion since Bush was announced to play the Songwriters Series. But before Sugarland, Bush had success with his Folk-Rock band Billy Pilgrim and since he and Jennifer parted ways he has enjoyed a successful solo career. Kristian has also, more recently, ventured into the World of musical theatre, writing songs for Troubadour which is currently being performed at the alliance theatre in Georgia. It begs the question, is there anything Kristian Bush can’t do when it comes to music?

So you see, if you’re not excited about this lineup yet, then, well you’re crazy! If you haven’t got your tickets, go and get them now, this is one night you don’t want to miss!

Thanks,

Zoe

Aaron Watson in Manchester!

“Heaven knows all I need is my faith, my fans, my friends and my family, besides I’d rather be an old fence post in Texas than the king of Tennessee” – Aaron Watson, Fence Post

Hello

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So I’m going to be honest with this blog, I was very new to Aaron Watson before I got invited along to his Manchester gig. In two minds whether to go or not, I decided to brave the cold (it was -2 when I left mine!) and boy am I glad I did. With a fabulous homegrown Country band opening up for Watson it was sure to be a wonderful night where the two countries and cultures could come together in Country music and showcase their own experiences through storytelling lyrics. I was already quite familiar with support act, Honey Ryder, having seen them perform on a number of occasions and they have quickly become one of my favourite UK Country acts. So without further ado I’ll tell you how the night panned out and deliver my verdict on the Texas born singer-songwriter.

Honey Ryder took to the stage just after 8 opening with 2012 single You Can’t Say That. From the get go it was a high energy performance, the bassist who I don’t recall seeing before, was really getting into the music, you could see it in his facial expressions that he was enjoying himself. Midway through the set they played my favourite song of theirs, Marley’s Chains and they got the audience involved successfully. I love the melodies throughout that song and they do become very effective when you have a full audience tunefully singing along. They played a new song, Say You Love Me which boasted a Country Pop chorus that was easy for the audience to pick up after hearing it once. They concluded their seven song set with Worlds Away off their album Marley’s Chains. The crowd seemed to warm to Honey Ryder pretty quickly and it’s no surprise really, over time I see them they demonstrate their professionalism on and off stage, they’re relaxed up there, they get into their music showing they’re passionate about what they write, Lyndsay communicates well with the crowd between songs and they enjoy meeting fans old and new after they’ve played.

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Then for the main event, Aaron Watson’s band stepped out on stage and the sound effect of a train rumbled around the room and silenced the crowd. Then, kitted out in a tight t-shirt, his cowboy hat and cowboy boots, hidden slightly under those jeans, Aaron Watson appeared and the crowd roared at the sight of him and the realisation of what song he was about to play, Freight Train. I instantly knew this was going to be a high energy performance by the texan as he played one of my favourite songs of his. In the instrumental breaks he continued to strum his guitar and posed for selfies with fans to the left of the stage. He maintained the high energy and big grin as he played Summertime Girl off the album Real Good time. And everyone in the room was having a real good time, dancing and singing along. Then Aaron took it down a level and began talking to the crowd, telling us all about his Dad, a Vietnam war veteran who got badly injured whilst fighting for his Country. He dedicated the next song to veterans all over who’ve risked their lives for their countries. He began Raise Your Bottle and held his guitar in the air throughout the chorus’ to which the crowd responded by raising their glasses and their hands.

This wasn’t the only occasion that Watson took the time to address the audience, he talked about the heartbreak he felt losing his daughter and how hard he found it writing and performing again after that. Then he told us the story of champion bull rider Lane Frost who died in the arena and the words his mum had said after his death which had struck a chord with Aaron and inspired the song July in Cheyenne, he spoke of the moment he got to play the song at a rodeo in front of 20,000 people but most importantly Lane Frost’s Mum and Dad. It was an emotional moment as he broke into the song and you could tell he still felt every word as he sang it. He chatted about his daughter wanting to learn Taylor Swift songs and though some members of the crowd seemed to lose focus and chat, I enjoyed these moments, I really felt like I knew this guy by the end of the night. He, like Honey Ryder, played a new song off his upcoming album, Outta Style was an upbeat number that saw the crowd dancing and swaying to the beat. One of my favourite songs of the night was the one he wrote for his wife, That Look which he played on his Opry Debut back in 2015.

Aaron Watson had had a request before the show from a boy at the front, his mum’s favourite song was Off the Record and Watson happily played the song for her, remarking that it was an old one and he hoped he remembered it right. Then he asked if anyone had any requests, there were lots of shouts from the crowd and Aaron picked out Fence Post, a song which reminded me of a Johnny Cash song. There were various points throughout the night where I found myself getting lost in the music, I’d close my eyes and sway and feel every note and every word. The band were tight, the skill and knowledge of their instruments was exceptional and this was displayed towards the end of the night when Watson invited each of them to show off a little bit. The guitarist savoured this moment and demonstrated his skills moving up and down the fretboard. The fiddle player though blew everyone away, he put his fiddle behind his back and still managed to play the right notes flawlessly. He invited the lady who had requested Off The Record to hold his bow and he held the fiddle with both hands and moved it along the bow at an exceptional speed.

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Aaron said he’d come out at the end to take photos and sign things for his fans, unfortunately for me I had a bus to catch and a long journey home so missed out on this. However it was a lovely thing to do especially since his set was quite long and he must have been exhausted by the end of it. It was a fantastic night though and one that opened my eyes a little bit to a different side of Country music. In just one evening Aaron Watson has become one of my favourite artists, his charm, his humour, his on stage presence and energy, his views and morals which he sticks by and portrays in his songs and which have led him to success, but most of all his music and artistry which really does come from the heart.

Thank You

Zoe x

Interview with Andrew Combs

“Heroes get remembered but Legends never die” – Babe Ruth

Hello!

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Photo taken from website

 

In 2016 I saw Andrew Combs live three times, the first time was almost a year ago now at C2C. It was the first I’d heard of the young Texas Singer-songwriter and I was fairly impressed by his set that day and the appreciation he had for his supporters. Just weeks later whilst in Nashville for Tin Pan South I stumbled across his music again at a bar called the Country where he was playing in a round with Matraca Berg (Strawberry Wine, You and Tequila) and Brent Cobb (Stay All Night, Don’t It) amongst others. It was the day Merle Haggard died and there was a sense of mourning in the air around Nashville and at this particular round which saw friends of Haggard’s take to the stage just hours after the news had broke, emotions were high. The music that each writer played, including Andrew Combs just felt more raw and real than anything I’d heard before and that night will forever stick in my mind. Later on in the year, Combs returned to the UK and I went along and had a quick chat with him.

I wondered if you could tell me a bit about your journey so far in music?

I grew up in a musical family, my Dad played piano, I didn’t grow up with Country music, I don’t really know if I consider what I do as Country music per se but I did get into the Texas songwriters when I was in high school. Some of my friends turned me on to them and I really dived deep into the folk and country songwriting World. From then on I lived in Nashville, I grew up in Dallas and moved to Nashville when I was 18 because of that and I’ve been there ever since.

Can you tell me about your songwriting process, what comes first or is it different every time?

Yeah there’s no set formula, sometimes it’s words, sometimes it’s music, sometimes it’s a title or a line. Yeah, there’s no rules.

What are your main inspirations? Where do you get ideas from?

I guess my inspirations are not just other music but films and poetry and conversations overheard, the outdoors, dogs… all sorts of stuff but in terms of music my main hero is Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury and Guy clark, I love the old Country stuff Waylon and Willie and those people. But I also love Simon and Garfunkel and Jackson Brown that’s what my parents raised me on that 60’s 70’s folky stuff. I like Rock and Roll too, I’m all over the place.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever written a song about?

Well there’s a new one I’m going to play, it’s about looking in a girls window, that’s pretty strange.

When you’re on stage, are you completely focused or do you let your mind wander? What are your mid-gig thoughts?

Oh God, I wish I knew how to control my brain mid-gig. It depends, some nights I’m more focused than others, some nights I end up thinking about going fishing and what I ate for dinner, stupid stuff.

How’s the UK treated you, do you get to see much of the Country when you’re over here?

Yeah it’s been good, it always is. I’ve been a handful of times and the audiences are really respectful and quiet and that helps especially when you don’t have your band with you. I’ve always enjoyed England and Scotland and Ireland and their people.

What’s next for you?

I just recorded a record so hopefully that will be out in early 2017.

And Andrew will be back in Ireland in April for Kilkenny Roots Festival with more UK dates expected to be added to that trip in the near future so keep your eyes peeled for more announcements from Andrew and if you haven’t already go and check out his music at the website below.

http://www.andrewcombsmusic.com

Thanks,

Zoe x