Posts Tagged With: Martina McBride

Country 2 Country 2014 Review – Day 1: Zac Brown Band, Dixie Chicks, Dierks Bentley & Martina McBride

I felt like I’d already got my money’s worth with all the amazing acts I’d seen on the free to see pop up stages, so by the time it came to go into the arena I was absolutely buzzing with excitement. At this stage in the day my phone decided it would pick up no data connection, so I had to use my wife’s phone to tweet everyone, as I knew their enjoyment relied on knowing what I was up to.

The first of the main stage acts was Martina McBride, but I missed all but 4 songs as I was still in Town Square listening to Hannah Jane Lewis. Of the 4 songs I did catch the sound seemed to be off and her vocals struggled to be heard over the instruments. I’m sorry to say I wasn’t all that impressed, and wondered if I had heard a different singer to the one praised by fans who saw the same performance. It just didn’t wow me in any way and she didn’t seem like a performer with a career like Martina has had.

Martina McBride at Country 2 Country 2014

Martina McBride at Country 2 Country 2014

Dierks Bentley took to the stage next and he blew the roof off the place. A party atmosphere took over the O2 Arena as Dierks and his band played their socks off. I’d listened to his new album quite a lot leading up to the gig, so was very familiar with tracks played from it. I especially liked I Hold On, his current single and a cracking song. Dierks was very humble and seemed genuinely thrilled to be performing, and gave us many stand out memories, including an almost Jimi Hendrix guitar smashing moment.

Dierks Bentley at Country 2 Country 2014

Dierks Bentley at Country 2 Country 2014

He made one woman’s dream come true when he pulled her on stage, slung his guitar round her neck and pout her centre stage while he chugged back on a beer! I wasn’t familiar with some of his older material, but it didn’t matter, as he played with so much passion and energy that I challenge anyone to say they didn’t enjoy his set and come out a Dierks Bentley fan, or even more of one.

Third on stage on Saturday night was arguably the coup of the whole weekend, as the Dixie Chicks came out to rapturous applause from the crowd. Their appearance at Country 2 Country 2014 was one of the last shows on their first tour since 2007, and this seemed to be the true headline band of the night for a certain portion of the crowd. So, how were they? Natalie was fierce and full of passion, while Martie and Emily were serene in their musical brilliance. They played every song anyone could want, that is apart from Travelling Soldiers that two fans near me requested between every song! They even played a cover of Wrecking Ball. Yes, that Wrecking Ball, the one made (in)famous by Miley Cyrus, who was perhaps the influence for Natalie’s almost military style haircut.

Dixie Chicks at Country 2 Country 2014

Dixie Chicks at Country 2 Country 2014

Me personally, the highlight was Not Ready To Play Nice, which may be a predictable choice, but there’s no denying it’s quality and played live it sent tingles down my spine. Natalie didn’t talk that much, though she did have us all sing happy birthday to her son Slade. This did mean we got more songs which nobody was going to complain about, and after they’d finished quite a few people upped and left. They were every bit as good as legend had me believe, this being my first experience of Dixie Chicks live, but hopefully not my last.

A live show from the Dixie Chicks is a rare thing, but to leave before Zac Brown Band was a mistake, a really big mistake. Listening to their albums I’d been of the opinion they would be pretty good, but maybe not the best of the night. They started off solidly, and true to my assessment, but then all of a sudden they started playing what sounded like the intro to Enter Sandman by Metallica, and it was! As covers go this was one of the very best I have ever seen live, and from that point on the performance took off.

Zac Brown Band at Country 2 Country 2014

Zac Brown Band at Country 2 Country 2014

The eclectic mix up of musical influences and genres that Zac Brown Band bring to their live shows makes for an incredibly entertaining show as they played with equal parts ferocity, passion and unquestionable skill. Zac himself looks like he very successfully wrestles bears in his spare time, but has the voice of an angel, a very manly one. He plays his guitar with such vigour that it’s a whisker away from being a thrashing, but again, with such magical results. At one point Zac, whilst still singing, walked around the arena slapping hands with delighted fans. I myself got to exchange sweat with the the big man, but when he got to my wife he stopped, and serenaded to her. Hey, what am I going to do, it’s Zac Brown!

Their encore was a sight to behold as they came out in boiler suits, in the dark, which had been painted to have them show up as luminous skeletons. In these startling outfits they performed the title track from the latest album Uncaged, and then finished the show with The Devil Went Down to Georgia, which was a perfect end to the night and a fitting way to make use of their superb fiddler. Zac Brown Band far exceeded my expectations and delivered a performance truly fitting of the headline act.

Zac Brown Band at Country 2 Country 2014

Zac Brown Band at Country 2 Country 2014

Night one of Country 2 Country was the perfect mix of artists, and even though I wasn’t struck with Martina McBride, I recognise her place on the bill. If I had to pushed to name a stand out act I think I’d say Zac Brown Band, with Dierks Bentley very close behind. It was great to see the Dixie Chicks but maybe it was a little too much about Natalie, or maybe that was just where my attention was focused. I went home a very happy country music fan, how could day 2 live up to this?

Credit to my buddy @FuseMP for the photos – his camera is much better than mine in low light.

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Six of the Best Pop Up Artists to Check Out at Country 2 Country 2014

Unless you have been living under a rock you’ll know that Country 2 Country is the big weekend of country music in the UK, held annually at the O2 in London for the second time this coming weekend. But what is a pop up artist? As well as the big 4 acts from America playing in the arena each day, there are what they call pop up stages for smaller, lesser known acts to play on. These 4 stages are named to coincide with what they are near, which makes sense, be daft to name them after something in a completely different area! The fabulous have created these great graphics that show who is playing on each of the stages on both days. Before you look at those, do head over to and check out the amazing selection of country music being played 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!

Pop Up Artists at Country 2 Country 2014 - Saturday

Pop Up Artists at Country 2 Country 2014 – Saturday

Pop Up Artists at Country 2 Country 2014 - Sunday

Pop Up Artists at Country 2 Country 2014 – Sunday

So, without further a do, here are six of my recommendations of people to check out, and are ones that I’ll certainly be looking out for myself.

Hannah Jane Lewis
If you’ve visited this blog before then this will come as no surprise to you. I was blown away with how great Hannah’s EP sounds and I’ll actually be trying my best to see her twice. She’s with her full band on the Saturday, after which I’ll have to run like Usain Bolt to get to my seat in time for Martina McBride, and then on the Sunday she’s going it alone and performing a acoustic set. In my review of her EP, I said it would be good to hear Hannah play The Worst Way acoustically – consider this my formal request for Sunday.

Gary Quinn
Gary is someone who I have been aware of for a few months due to seeing him mentioned on Twitter but only in the last week or so have I been listening to his album, and actually have a review coming soon, so look out for that. Gary’s music brings a combination of modern and traditional, but most definitely country. You know I bang on about story telling in songs? Gary ticks that box, and is a great weapon to use against anyone who says people from the UK don’t get country music, as I have heard said. I’m particularly hoping to hear I Love To Watch You leave, which shows his cheeky side.

Jill and Kate
It was fellow country music blogger Kasey Stone over at Hitting All the Right Notes who recommended me this duo from Nashville, who actually used to be backing singers for Kelly Clarkson, just a few days ago. When I should have been getting ready for work I instead sat on the sofa listening to their songs on YouTube, as you do. I was struck by how well their voices complimented each other and the variety of songs that show off both their tender and fun spirits. They also get bonus marks for agreeing to sign stuff and I think I have an interview secured for some time in the future.

It’s almost criminal that I’ve never listened to any Raintown – they are as synonymous with UK country music as, well,! Actually, I’m not sure that really works, but what the heck, a plug to a great website is always allowed. Anyway, Raintown are a duo who I have heard mentioned so many times, and even seen active myself on social media, but somehow not yet listened to. Well that’s going to change at Country 2 Country as I’m making sure I watch an act that has been recommended to me quite a few times over the last couple of weeks. So how can I include them if I’ve never heard them? I have a hunch, and I bet after you’ve heard them at the weekend we’ll both agree they deserve their place.

Jessica Clemmons
I’ve been meaning to talk about Jessica for a few weeks now, ever since I got her EP What if, but I wanted to wait until we were closer to Country 2 Country, which we well and truly are now. Jessica has just been over in the UK supporting Boyzone, so is already known by many thousands of fans on these shores. Jessica Clemmons has a voice that makes you sit up and take notice and I’m certain she’s going to wow anyone who goes to see her play. Don’t worry if you can’t get too close, she has power to spare, but not in a shouty way as some singers reply on. Single Tonight is the stand out song on her EP which boasts 5 great songs, and is beautifully presented.

Maria Byrne
I’m not just featuring Maria because she has song that includes the words I’ll be gone 4000 miles and alludes to going to Tennessee, though how incredibly apt is it that I’m talking about her on 4000 Miles to Nashville? Maria’s music is a delicious mix of country and folk, that makes me want to lie down in a field on a sunny evening and hear nothing but her songs. Just listening to songs like Keep On and My Sweet Burden and I feel a sense of calm and contentment. Maria’s music is a mood changer, and in a very positive way.

So that’s my 6, but that leaves 22 acts of the 28 I’ve not talked about. If you have any you want to recommend, or you are one of those artists and think I should come see you play, then please either leave a comment or email me and I’ll do my very best to see as many as humanly possible at the weekend.

Categories: Articles, Country 2 Country | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Country 2 Country 2014: The Highlight of the Year, and it’s Not Just About The Main Acts

Country 2 Country 2014

Last year I attended Country 2 Country just on the Sunday, but this year I am lucky enough to be going on both the Saturday and Sunday. Dixie Chicks on the Saturday, along with Brad Paisley and The Band Perry on the Sunday are what I am most looking forward to, as these are artists I am very familiar with and especially in the case of the Sunday duo, particularly like. Wheelhouse was one of my favourite albums of last year, in fact I ranked it 3rd in my Top 9 Country Music Albums of 2013, and the thought of seeing Brad play songs like Southern Comfort Zone live is pretty damn exciting. Likewise, seeing The Band Perry perform Better Dig Two is one of the things I am most looking forward to. With Natalie Maines there’s always the prospect she might rant about a world leader, with David Cameron being a prime candidate to receive a few home truths!

Of the other main acts, I recently bought the latest albums from Zac Brown Band and Chris Young and like those, more so Zac Brown Band. That being said, I’ll be hoping they don’t play Overnight, a song that seemed ill fitting for the album both in style and content. Rascal Flatts I know from the Cars soundtrack, but little else! I have heard very little from Martina McBride, and have only heard one song from Dierks Bentley. With Dierks I can’t tell you what the song is, but it was played a few times on Chris Country recently and I remember thinking I really liked it. I don’t think I’ll be invited to join the Dierks Bentley street team any time soon, but I still have more than 5 weeks to get my act together!

That’s the 8 main acts, made up of artists I know and love, some I have dabbled in, and a few for which Country 2 Country will be an education. 8 bands in one weekend is a pretty good tally, especially when they are country music acts and this is the UK, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Just this morning Country 2 Country announced the 27 acts that will be appearing on the pop up stages across the weekend. That means there will be a massive 35 country music acts performing at one point or another on March 15th and 16th – wow. I don’t know the vast majority of these, but I have heard of a few, and have even chatted to some on Twitter, like Hannah Jane Lewis, Raintown and Jessica Clemmons. In fact I have Jessica’s EP to review, so I’d better get on that!

These pop up stage artists are especially exciting, because for the most part they won’t have big music companies behind them, yet, to promote them and bring them to the consciousness of the average country music fans in the UK. I could, and intend to, come away from Country 2 Country having discovered a whole bunch of great new music that I didn’t even know was out there. It’s win win for both artists and fans. Such is the open nature of these pop up stages that I may also get the opportunity to chat to some of them, which is not something you can easily do in the more formal setting of a standard gig venue.

Add in the country market, which last year had some great food and merchandise stalls, as well as representatives from mighty organisations such as The CMA, and this weekend has the potential to be quite awesome. There’s one other thing though…that’s the country music community, many of whom I have the opportunity to chat to on Twitter, and that could be you, yes you who is reading this right now! I know of quite a few that will be in attendance and will get the chance to meet, chat and have a drink with. As someone who is still in the infancy of their country music journey, it’s these people, you, that have recommended artists and songs, and have been the biggest part of my country music learning curve. It will be great to finally meet and put faces to names, some of whom I’d even consider friends, as much as you can be over Twitter anyway!

The country music community, bar none, has been the most accepting and friendly of any I have encountered, and it’s one of the reasons I have plunged head first into a genre of music that was left undiscovered for so much of my life. I can’t wait to be back in The O2, with link minded fans, to see some of the best music in the world today. Country 2 Country is looking like the highlight of the year, and how lucky am I to even have such an event to attend? There are many people out there in the UK who have passionately followed country music for years, and not had anything like Country 2 Country – thankfully they do now.

See you there – I’ll be the one in the chequered shirt and cowboy boots!

Categories: Articles, Country 2 Country, Live Music | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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