Country music. It’s not something typically associated with the chilly, northern-ish country of England. But you know what? The amount of times you hear a country music artist singing about having a cold beer in his hand, you’d think it’d be a whole lot more popular.
I was on a road trip from New Orleans to Houston in 2006 the first time I properly heard country music. As we crossed the Louisiana-Texas border, all of a sudden there was a not-so-subtle change in radio stations; what was previously hip hop and R’n’B chart hits turned swiftly to country. The car – full of British and German students – was suddenly awash with amusement. One line still sticks in my head today: “then my four year old said a four letter word, that started with “s” and I was concerned”. Needless to say, I was hooked.
Country music isn’t easy to define – it’s a label almost as varied as rock. Originating in the southern US states in the early twentieth century, it stems from traditional folk music. The term country replaced the more derogatory hillbilly in the mid-twentieth century, and has now developed into a wide variety of sub-genres. Skip forward to the twenty first century and country music as we know it today has funny, often tongue-in-cheek lyrics, and popular topics tend to include truck driving, husband cheating, beer swigging, and margarita drinking. Have I sold it enough yet?
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’d say the most popular real country crossover artist in this country in recent years (and in my humble opinion) is Shania Twain with her 1997 album, Come on Over. I’m not one to undermine the efforts of Taylor Swift and so, although her origins are certainly rooted in country music, she’s strayed far enough from the genre in recent years to inspire actual anger in traditionalist fans.
And this now brings me to Country to Country. Established in 2013, the festival attracted 60,000 people to London’s O2 over one weekend. Tapping into the largely untouched market of country fans this side of the Atlantic, Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw, Darius Rucker, LeAnn Rimes and more entertained the crowds enough to bring it back for another year.
Beside the roaring atmosphere, strumming banjos and power vocals, one of my favourite moments of the evening came at the very end. TfL employees poked fun at the crowd waiting for the tube home at North Greenwich underground station, cheekily announcing “please be aware that anyone wearing a cowboy hat will not be permitted to board the train”, cue faux-outraged groans from the cowboy boot and hat-clad fans.
Whether you fell in love with country music at an early age, or – like me – discovered it later, Country to Country 2014 is a unique opportunity to experience some of country music’s biggest stars. If you’re lucky enough to already have tickets for the Saturday (alas, it has now sold out), expect to be entertained by the likes of the Zac Brown Band, Dixie Chicks, Dierks Bentley and Martina McBride. Sunday brings Brad Paisley, Rascall Flats, The Band Perry, and Chris Young, not to mention a whole host of artists on the pop up stages. Plus, you’ll be able to get a taste of Nashville at the Town Square, with its whisky bars and western wear stores (ye-haw!).
So, if you like your chicken fried, a cold beer on a Friday night… well you know where I’m going with that. Here’s a little look at things to come this weekend:
Zac Brown Band – Chicken Fried
Rascal Flats – Life is a Highway