Some weeks ago, following the announcement of the line-up for the 2015 Country to Country festival which features some lesser known names to some of the UK audience, I decided to write a post to help familiarise everybody with the names. Such was the length of the post that it was split in to two, matching the two days of C2C itself. Details of the line-up for Day 1 were posted some weeks ago and this Day 2 piece has taken an age to surface, so thank you for hanging in there for this one!
The inclusion of Georgia-born Country-rocker Kip Moore was a surprise, but a fantastic one for those familiar with his music to date. Following a four year stint working as a store manager for Abercrombie & Fitch in Nashville (true fact!), Kip signed a record deal with MCA Nashville and released his début album ‘Up All Night’ back in April 2012, one of the best introductory releases by a Country artist in that year. Following a slow start with lead single ‘Mary Was The Marrying Kind’ peaking just outside the Top 40, Moore broke through with number one smash ‘Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck’ which also went platinum along the way. Two more big hits followed with both the anthemic ‘Beer Money’ and the gorgeous ‘Hey Pretty Girl’ reaching the Top 10 and selling over 500,000 copies each.
‘Up All Night’ was full of other gems and is an effortlessly cool album, from the hugely fun ‘Reckless (Still Growin’ Up)’ to the heartbreakingly good ‘Where You Are Tonight’. Moore has an instantly recognisably voice, an appealing husky drawl that suits his rockier brand of music perfectly. Rooted in the blue-collar roots of Country music but mixed with a dash of Springsteen in his pomp. That infamously ‘difficult second album’ is proving so for Moore, with fans still awaiting its release. Nostalgic lead single ‘Young Love’ peaked at number 22 and follow-up ‘Dirt Road’ has been slowly climbing the airplay charts. Both deserved to reach a much wider audience and suggest that when a new album drops it will be well worth waiting for.
Let’s hope that album number two arrives before Kip Moore makes his C2C appearance in the UK next March. Set to kick-off the show in the main arena on Day 2 at the O2, Moore will have no problem getting the pulses of the London crowd racing. Personally I am hugely excited to see Kip, as a big fan of his music to date and also I will be thrilled to see him earn a large new fanbase over here on the back of his C2C slot.
Similar to Kip Moore seeing the name of Brantley Gilbert on the bill for C2C was a surprise, but for a very different reason…he has done this before! Not that that should exclude an act from appearing, but with the festival only in its third year in 2015 it is a surprise to see an act return to the O2 so soon. The first Country to Country festival in 2013 saw Gilbert also appear on Day 2, but in that year he was in the opening slot (to be followed by LeAnn Rimes, Darius Rucker and headliner Carrie Underwood…swoon!) and is promoted to second act status for 2015.
That rise up the pecking order is to be expected given the fact that his success in the US has continue to grow since March 2013. Also it should be noted that he put on one heck of a 45-minute set on his C2C début and boasted a far larger number of supporters than many of us expected back then, taking into account his limited UK exposure. Back in 2013 Gilbert was riding the wave of commercial and critical acclaim for his sophomore album ‘Halfway To Heaven’, a platinum-selling release which also yielded two huge number one hits ‘Country Must Be Country Wide’ and ‘You Don’t Know Her Like I Do’, both of which also sold over 1 million copies.
A third album ‘Just As I Am’ made its bow in May this year and further cemented his status as a serious contender in modern Country music, hitting number one on the Country albums chart and shifting 211,000 copies in the process. Such a large first week was aided by the buzz around lead single ‘Bottoms Up’, a storming track which presented Gilbert with another chart-topper and had over 1.5 million grabbing a copy. Brantley Gilbert is a self-confessed Southern rocker, banjo and steel guitar feature in his music but there is no hiding the big rock guitars at the forefront. Pushing the boundaries of the genre is a constant thorny issue but Gilbert plows on with his hard-rocking form of Country. One of the leading exponents of the much-criticized Bro-Country movement (see his recent ‘Small Town Throwdown’ single with Thomas Rhett & Justin Moore for evidence of that) his music is not to all tastes but you know what you are getting with his no-nonsense approach. An approach which will no doubt win over countless doubters at C2C 2015 and seriously raise the temperature in the O2 for an hour or so in March.
Two or three years ago I gave Jason Aldean the (not entirely original) nickname of the ‘marmite man’, as it seems that you either love him or hate him. He receives much derision from many Country fans but there is no denying, along with Day 1 headliner Luke Bryan, Aldean is currently the biggest artist in Country music. For the Country to Country festival to manage to tempt a US artist at the absolute peak of their powers over to the UK is a hugely admirable coup. My own introduction to Jason Aldean was on CMT.com watching the video for his then current single ‘Why’, way back in 2006. The track (which became the first of his twelve No.1 hits to date) was so good it tempted to buy his début album, and the rest is history.
Aldean’s first three albums were all successful, producing hit singles, but it was the release of his fourth album ‘My Kinda Party’ in 2010 that saw his career move to the ‘next level’. Buoyed by its title track (coincidentally written by fellow C2C act Brantley Gilbert) racing up the charts the album debuted at No.1, selling 193,000 copies in its first week. Containing other smashes ”Dirt Road Anthem’, ‘Tattoos On This Town’, ‘Fly Over States’ and the magnificent duet with Kelly Clarkson ‘Don’t You Wanna Stay’, Aldean’s album sold and sold until it went triple-platinum, an increasingly rare feat. ‘My Kinda Party’ also received a Grammy nomination for Best Country Album.
In 2012 ‘Night Train’ was released, again Aldean had released a belter of a lead single, the platinum selling No.1 hit ‘Take A Little Ride’ and his new album hit the top of the Billboard 200 managing to sell an astonishing 409,000 copies in one week. Whatever the critics may have said Aldean had truly arrived and was a bona-fide Country superstar. Along with fellow Day 2 C2C acts Kip Moore and Brantley Gilbert, Aldean is a Country-rocker and another artist who pushes the boundaries of the music. Aforementioned hit ‘Dirt Road Anthem’ is described a Country rap, featuring spoken verses which failed to prevent the track become the biggest selling single by a solo male Country artist, 4 million and counting. His most recent No.1 hit ‘Burnin’ It Down’ also took its fair share of criticism, the inclusion of a drum loop and heavy R&B influences ruffled many feathers, but the track still went platinum.
‘Old Boots, New Dirt’ is the recently released new album from Aldean and was another Billboard 200 chart-topper. To support the album the singer embarked on the hugely successful Burn It Down Tour along with Florida Georgia Line, Miranda Lambert & Tyler Farr, selling out massive US arenas. 2015 will see Aldean team up with Kenny Chesney as two of the biggest touring acts in the US (in any genre of music) bring their respective tours together for a number of dates. It will also see Jason Aldean make his UK début at C2C, having ‘suffered’ years of the very biggest Country artists seemingly being afraid to take the risk of playing overseas, it seems that for UK fans this trend is finally changing. C2C 2014 act Dierks Bentley was good to his word when he said he would tell his buddies ‘Luke and Aldean‘ to cross the Atlantic. I am used to some (hopefully playful) teasing for my love of Jason Aldean’s music but, hands down, he is the act I am most excited to see at C2C and I cannot wait!
Lady Antebellum are undoubtedly the most well-known act playing Day 2 of C2C 2015, hence their headlining status. They admitted themselves in an interview on BBC Radio 2 that it was strange that Jason Aldean would effectively be opening for them, given his elite status back home in the US. That being said the trio of Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott are no slouches themselves! The group have notched up nine No.1 hits and sold 10 million albums in the US alone, since the release of their self-titled début album in 2008. That album was my introduction to Lady Antebellum, fortuitously stumbling upon it in the Country releases on iTunes UK back then and taking a punt on a then unknown quantity. The blend of three voices and the strong lead vocals of Charles and Hillary made them really stand out.
A much larger audience was switched on to the group with the release of their ‘Need You Now’ track, the lead single from their second album of the same name. ‘Need You Now’ was one of those special songs that comes along so rarely and proved to be a career-defining hit for the trio. It spent five weeks at No.1, sold over 6 million copies and scooped up 11 main awards, including 4 Grammy’s. The ballad was also the first UK single release for the Country group , it peaked at No.15 and spent 53 weeks on the charts. The ‘Need You Now’ album (also featuring hits ‘American Honey’ & ‘Hello World’) went triple-platinum and follow-up ‘Own The Night’ (featuring hits ‘Just A Kiss’, ‘We Owned The Night’ & ‘Dancin’ Away With My Heart’) topped the Billboard 200 before selling over 1.5 million copies.
The group’s sound matured for the release of their ‘Golden’ album in 2013, which was met with mixed reviews. despite playful lead single ‘Downtown’ giving Lady Antebellum another No.1 hit, the failure of ‘Goodbye Town’ to break the Top 20 slowed their momentum considerably. The album had to be re-issued in a deluxe format in order to achieve gold selling status, thanks to new track ‘Compass’ helping the trio find their way. Personally I was a fan of ‘Golden’, as I was (controversially so) of ‘Goodbye Town’, after five years it was understandable that the group would feel the need to evolve and not re-produce a ‘Need You Now Version 3’ album! Thankfully Dave, Charles and Hillary seem to have fully rediscovered their mojo with this year’s ‘747’ album, a re-energised, rockier effort than their previous releases displaying some hugely pleasing risk-taking. Their most recent No.1 hit ‘Bartender’ and their latest UK single release ‘Lie With Me’ showcase perfectly the range of Lady Antebellum’s musical stylings, a feelgood party anthem and a truly emotional mid-tempo ballad.
I have been lucky enough to see Lady Antebellum live twice in the UK, first at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 2010 and at the larger Hammersmith Apollo in 2012, both of which were fantastic live shows. It seems only fitting that my third Lady Antebellum experience should be at a venue larger again in size, London’s O2 Arena. With a wealthy back-catalogue of material and a loyal (and pretty large!) UK fanbase I have no doubt that the trio will prove to be the absolute perfect act to bring the curtain down on C2C 2015. Big shoes to fill with Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley having performed the honour in 2013 and 2014 respectively, but if anyone can…Lady Antebellum can.