Last year I went to just the Sunday of Country 2 Country and didn’t realise there would be pop stage acts. This year I went for the whole weekend and scheduled what pop up acts I wanted to see – no seriously, an actual schedule, look! I did keep pretty much to that schedule, with a few exceptions, and even added in a few more performances I hadn’t planned for. On Saturday night I managed a mighty 2.5 hours of sleep, and adrenaline saw me through Sunday, but to say it was one of the greatest weekends of my life would in no way be hyperbole or exaggeration.
If you’ve never been to Country 2 Country, you’ve never seen The O2 transformed into a mini Nashville, with a market area for traders and food stalls, but more importantly 4 pop up stages placed throughout the complex. These stages played host to 28 acts from all over the world and in many respects were the heart of the weekend, providing countless number of highlights.
I have to start with Striking Matches, who are a mesmerising duo of singer songwriters with an almost inhuman level of guitar wizardry. I arrived a bit earlier than expected so was able to see them within moments of entering The O2 on Saturday, and again on Sunday. They weren’t the only act I saw twice as Hannah Jane Lewis’ full band performance on Saturday was so good I had to see her acoustic set the very next day. Both were superb and Hannah seems like someone who was born to sing, and shines in the spotlight. These two acts came together as I chatted to Hannah as we walked over to see Striking Matches on Sunday. Yes, look at me, mingling with the acts 😉
It was great to see Maria Byrne who I’d been in contact with before the festival, and who brought a change of pace with her folk/country songs and impromptu joke session. I caught Emma Jade mid Sunday afternoon, and though suffering with a sore throat, that didn’t stop her performing songs such as The Dixie Chicks’ Travelling Soldiers that two girls near me had requested numerous times the night before, when the actual Dixie Chicks were playing. With Jill and Kate we got Christmas in March, and I even got my song request played when they sung Skinny Jeans, just for me, as they’d never play one of their most popular songs without me tweeting them, right?
What these pop up stages did showcase is what a hotbed of country music talent there is right here in the UK. As well as those already mentioned I finally got to see Gary Quinn and Raintown, though the latter only for one song as I turned up too late to a massively packed out Brooklyn Bowl Stage. That one song was enough to make me want to see them again, and I caught most of Gary’s set on Sunday, and saw a guy who I immediately wanted to see performing on an outside stage in the sun. Great songs, great voice and entertaining throughout. Then there was Lisa Redford who caught my attention as I was walking past the Armadillo Stage, so much so that I stopped and listened to her silky smooth vocals and forgot about where I had intended to go.
All that’s really just the tip of the iceberg of what was going on, but without cloning myself there’s no way I could experience it all. I do have to point out that astonishingly, all these pop stage acts were free to anyone who came to The O2 over the weekend. That’s free as in no charge, as in it cost not one penny to see these incredible singers, songwriters and musicians perform. Just ponder that thought for a few moments. Amazing, right?
I will be doing some individual reviews of some of pop up stage acts I saw, and I have a bucket loads of photos to share and even a few videos too. If ever you want to experience Country 2 Country but for whatever reason can’t get tickets to see the main stage acts, you have to visit The O2 during the afternoon for the pop up stage acts – it’s almost rude not to.
Credit goes to my very good friend Mark for the Striking Matches and Emma Jade photos, and also for keeping up with my crazy schedule where others fell to the wayside.