Starting this Friday (March 10), London’s O2 Arena, Glasgow’s SEC Armadillo and Dublin’s 3Arena will play host to the fifth – and biggest ever – Country 2 Country Festival. With 50,000 fans set to attend across the three days, it is a testament to the ever-growing country scene in the UK. Given that there will be over 40 performances a day across a host of stages, choosing what to watch isn’t going to be easy, so here are 10 acts that Music Week thinks you should definitely check out…
1. REBA MCENTIRE
The word legend is tossed around with complete abandon these days, but rest assured: the term most certainly applies to this year’s C2C headliner, Reba McEntire. Crucially, too, not only does she have a whole backcatalogue of classics to perform, she’s also in excellent form right now on the back of her 29th – yes, you read that right – album, Sing It Now: Songs Of Faith And Hope.
2. MAREN MORRIS
Rising country star Maren Morris was one of the breakout stars at 2016’s C2C – so much so, she was asked to return to play again this year on the main stage. You can read all about the rise and rise of Maren Morris in the new issue of Music Week – a journey that has taken her from self-releasing albums in Texas to having her major label debut record, Hero, go to No. 1 in the country charts in America and even winning a Grammy award. In light of her phenomenal 2016, Morris could deliver the set of the weekend. Morris’ manager, Janet Weir of Red Light Management recently spoke to Music Week explaining why she has impacted so quickly. “I think a big part of why people are connecting to her songs is because she’s not following a trend,” said Weir. “Maren writes, sings, and produces. It’s all coming directly from her life experiences and talent. Everything we do is 100% Maren at the core, and that honesty is what fans are connecting to.” Don’t miss her.
3. CATHERINE MCGRATH
A recent star of Music Week’s On The Radar, Catherine McGrath is a young country singer from Belfast being touted by many as the natural successor to the country pop sound that Taylor Swift first made her name with. Expect her to win over a lot of new fans when she starts playing songs like Cinderella and Hell Would Have To Freeze Over.
4. THE SHIRES
As if recently pulling off the feat of having two gold albums in 12 months – making them officially the UK’s most successful country act – wasn’t enough, The Shires have also decided they want to try and steal the show at C2C this year. Their last-minute booking on the Radio 2 Country Stage could be very special indeed.
5. WARD THOMAS
Another act to watch, another surprise booking: Ward Thomas. The duo caused a big stir last year when they became the first UK country act to ever score a No. 1 album with their second album Cartwheels. They’re set to open up the entire festival at the O2 on Friday by playing the Radio 2 Country Stage at 4pm. C2C couldn’t have picked a better band for the job.
6. BRAD PAISLEY
He’s one of the biggest names in country music, he’s won pretty much every country award under the sun, and… he’s headlining C2C this year. On his last album, 2014’’s Moonshine In The Trunk, he recorded a riotous song called Country Nation – and if anyone is going to create just that kind of atmosphere this weekend, it’s Mr. Paisley.
7. BAILEY BRYAN
Easily one of the most exciting new talents to appear this year, Bailey Bryan has been hailed by County 2 Country director Milly Olykan as her “new festival crush”. If you want a chance to see a star in the making before they blow up, you will want to be on hand for Bryan’s C2C set.
This Grammy-nominated singer impressed a lot of people when she opened for Carrie Underwood at her iTunes Festival performance back in 2015, and she’s likely to do so all over again when she performs on the C2C main stage. Expect a lot of tears to fall when she plays Burning House.
9. JENNIFER NETTLES
Jennifer Nettles is still riding high on the back of her 2016 release Playing With Fire – a record that not only marked her Big Machine debut album, but also contained some of her most personal songs to date. Her main stage performance at C2C this year should see her at the absolute peak of her powers.
10. ZAC BROWN BAND
This country band rock so hard Dave Grohl felt compelled to seek out their services for the Foo Fighters’ 2014 album Sonic Highways, so watching C2C headliners Zac Brown Band this weekend is absolutely essential. With a little luck, their set should also give us a chance to hear new songs from their album Welcome Home, which is set to drop in May.