I'm a hip-hop fan who went to Europe's biggest country music festival. The live music was surprisingly great, but the crowd was as quiet as a mouse.
I'm a hip-hop fan who went to Europe's biggest country music festival.
C2C: Country to Country was held in London, Dublin, and Glasgow this year.
I loved discovering new music, but the crowd could have been more enthusiastic.
C2C: Country to Country is Europe's biggest music festival.
C2C has been held annually in London, England, since it first started in 2013, but has also visited various other European countries, including Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands, as well as Australia in 2019.
Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood, and Kacey Musgraves are among those who have headlined the festival.
This year, the festival was split across three locations — London, Dublin, and Glasgow — with the acts for each day rotating to perform once in each city.
I'm a hip-hop fan who went to the London edition this year.
When I say I'm a hip-hop fan, really, I listen to any kind of music, from rap to R&B, and from house to heavy metal.
Country, however, is a genre I have always struggled to get into. By no means do I dislike it. I really enjoy the music of Chris Stapleton, and I consider Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline musical icons. But in general, I find it hard to associate with the lyrics and sounds of country the way I do with hip-hop.
Singing about fried chicken, cold beers, and stars and stripes just doesn't resonate with me. Sorry, Zac Brown Band.
Nevertheless, I thought I'd try out C2C in London this year to see if the festival could make me a country convert.
The London leg was held at The O2 arena.
The O2 arena, a multi-purpose indoor entertainment complex in North Greenwich, is among the busiest music venues in the world.
On the day that I attended C2C, Lindsay Ell, Mitchell Tenpenny, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Zac Brown Band all performed on the main stage, which has a capacity of 20,000.
Various other artists, including Kezia Gill and Kameron Marlowe, performed on the venue's other stages.
It was a strange setting for a festival, but it sort of worked.
When you think of music festivals, you think muddy fields, tents, grubby toilets, beer stands, food trucks, pop-up stages, DJs, merchandise stalls, and people dressed in ridiculous outfits.
C2C London had all of those things, minus the muddy fields, tents, and grubby toilets, which was great.
There were seven stages in total.
As well as the main stage, there was the London Spotlight Stage (though this was just a miniature stage in the same room), the London BBC Radio 2 Stage at Indigo, The Barrelhouse, The Saloon, The Big Entrance stage, and The Wayside.
Each stage had a unique set-up and had a variety of different acts performing throughout the day, as you would expect at any other festival.
The most impressive was The Barrelhouse.
Situated right outside the entrance to The O2, The Barrelhouse was a huge pop-up tent that was designed to replicate a typical American saloon. The former "America's Got Talent" contestant was Willie Jones was the headline act here on the day I went.
Surrounding The Barrelhouse were numerous other tents where you could purchase cowboy hats, boots, necklaces, rings, jackets, records, and more from various independent suppliers, as well as grab food and drinks.
But the best was The Saloon.
Unlike The Barrelhouse, The Saloon didn't look much like a saloon at all. Instead, it was just the top floor of a chain restaurant that had a stage located at the front.
That didn't matter, however, as it was still the best stage I visited. Although you had to queue a while to get in, it was well worth the wait to get an intimate performance from some of the acts that had already performed on the other, bigger, stages.
The highlight for me was Kezia Gill, a rising country star from England, who gave an outstanding performance.
Generally, however, the atmosphere at the various stages was subdued.
As you might expect at any festival, the smaller venues — in this case, The Big Entrance stage and The Wayside — were reasonably quiet throughout the day, playing host to up-and-comers rather than household names.
What was surprising at C2C London, however, was that even the superstars seemed to be unable to stir the crowd into action.
Willie Jones' headline set at The Barrelhouse was busy, but many chose to sit at tables situated around the outskirts, while those front and center of the stage seemed to nod along quietly rather than sing their lungs out. At the Indigo, Amanda Shires wowed with her vocals, but again, the crowd stood mostly still.
The main stage was just the same.
First off, let me say that the two acts I watched on the O2's main stage — Old Crow Medicine Show and Zac Brown Band — were excellent.
The former's ability to seemingly swap instruments between them and their energy on stage was astounding, while Zac Brown's powerful voice carried through The O2 like an echo in a cave.
Again, however, the crowd was as quiet as a mouse for the majority of the performances. Very few stood and sang, or even clapped along. When I did, I was told to sit down by the people behind me because I was in the way.
Only when Old Crow Medicine Show and Zac Brown Band performed their biggest hits — "Wagon Wheel" and "Chicken Fried" respectively — did the audience seem to perk up.
People seemed more concerned with looking the part than the music.
The subdued atmosphere can perhaps have been put down to a number of things.
Firstly, C2C is definitely more of a family-friendly festival than Wireless, for example. Secondly, the O2, while a unique and interesting location for a festival, isn't conducive to the sort of chaos and carefree fun you'd see at, let's say, Parklife. Thirdly, there was a noticeably older contingent at C2C than most hip-hop and R&B festivals.
What struck me the most, however, was the fact that many in attendance, especially the younger crowd, seemed to care more about what they looked like than the music. I've never seen so many people in one place dressed in spurred boots, denim shorts, ten-gallon hats, and checkered shirts.
People were posing for photos at every turn, even "yeehaw"-ing on occasion, reveling in the chance to play cowboy for the weekend.
At one point, I thought costumes must be mandatory and I'd missed the memo.
It was so different from other festivals I've attended.
As a hip-hop and R&B lover, I've attended numerous festivals over the years to watch my favorite acts. I've seen Kendrick Lamar in Birmingham, Frank Ocean in London, and Tyler, the Creator in Reading, to name a few.
On each of those occasions, the thousands in attendance, myself included, were ecstatic to be there, singing and rapping every lyric — both the smash hits and the B-sides. People were fidgeting and pushing to get even just a step closer to the action, crowd surfing, and screaming for an encore when the act had finished.
While I wasn't expecting people to crowd surf, especially given the main arena at The O2 is a seated venue, the lack of enthusiasm from audiences throughout the day at C2C London was disappointing.
That said, it was still a great day out.
I got to eat, drink, speak to new people, and of course, listen to live music, which is always a treat. Hearing new sounds and artists is something I will never not take pleasure in.
Did my experience at C2C make me a country convert, though? As some of those who attended might say: "I'm finer than frog hair split four ways."
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