After spending the past few months talking to mainstream media in the UK about the (sold out) C2C Country to Country Music Festival at the O2, quite a lot of things have struck me:
i) Country Music is huge!
ii) Country Music fans are obsessive and passionate.
iii) the UK media has not embraced the genre with no real reasoning behind their (lack of) action.
iv) Everyone involved from management to artists seem to be bloody lovely people to hang around with. Not quite the egos we see on the drama series Nashville.
v) Country Music pops up everywhere with influences being very apparent in most genres.
Country music has always been strong in the regions. I remember as a teen working in a record shop in York, we sold loads.
Not just American country but the likes of Irish superstar Daniel O'Donnell inexplicably sold hundreds of albums a day in the stores in the city. None of us working in the record shops could work it out until we noticed the passion of the fans. Any musician who had a respect for country music who would be touring the nation would drop by our venues and sell out immediately. From bands I cherished such as Lloyd Cole, Prefab Sprout and Deacon Blue, they all gave a respectful 'tip of their stetson' to their heroes in Music City, opening up the genre to younger generations like myself.
Even The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac were never considered by the mainstream as 'Country'. A great example of how Country music infiltrated the rock scene came with the 1994 release of Hootie & The Blowfish's Cracked Rear View album. A slice of country tinged rock that won Grammy's and other accolades outside of the country genre. Fast forward 19 years and frontman Darius Rucker is on stage last year supporting Carrie Underwood at the O2 shortly after becoming only the third African-American artist to be honoured by the Grand Old Opry. Mainstream to Country - now there's a different musical path!
Live 'folk' music is one of the most popular genres in pubs and arts centres up and down the country. Country Music IS American Folk and people can relate to the themes and feelings in the songs if they live in Nashville or Newcastle.
Country Music can mix with rock, pop and even RnB. Rock titans Bon Jovi have flirted with the country sound and even my favourite of their songs Wanted Dead or Alive is a huge homage to the country lifestyle. Taylor Swift and Leann Rimes can easily top the pop charts with their 'country' tunes and where do I start on the legendary Tim McGraw?
This man headlined last year's C2C Saturday night at the O2. The crowd were there for him and boy did they show their support (having of course faithfully supported the other bands on the bill). Striding onto the stage, McGraw was the ultimate rock star. Performance wise, he was faultless. In the past, he has transcended musical boundaries more than most with duets with his wife Faith Hill, R&B superstars Nelly and Ne-Yo and the rock titans, Def Leppard. This from a man who struggles to get played on National radio here.
The next C2 festival at the O2 has sold out. Well, it sold out over a month ago, four months ahead of the event! Names such as Brad Paisley, Martina McBride, Chris Brown, Zak Brown Band and the return of the Dixie Chicks were announced and fans flocked to get their tickets immediately. In a world where people will hold fire on buying tickets to events in the hope they will get a deal nearer the time, this bucked the trend.
News of the Country Colossus Garth Brooks coming to theses shores and a potential two nights at Dublin's Croke Park has excited the UK media at last. BBC Radio 2 has now taken to the genre with much more vigour (with Bob Harris at the reigns) and regional BBC stations seem to have Country shows popping up all the time as presenters come out of the country closet and start to have their say. BBC Radio Scotland's Another Country sees Ricky Ross (from the aforementioned Deacon Blue) playing Americana and Country music new and old and TeamRock Publishers went against their regular rock portfolio and have very successfully launched the mainstream Country Music Magazine. The genre really has started to explode.
Researching for my job, I found that the European Country scene is alive and well too with the Germans being the biggest Country fans. Dedicated radio channels and magazines and non-stop touring by up and coming and established country artists means that many UK fans will even travel abroad to get their fix.
It's not often that exploring a new genre of music (for me) excites me but I can safely say that I am now a fan. lyrically, I can relate and musically, you can't fault them. MIxing up musical genres obviously spices up the new found love affair I have with Country and I for one would love to see a Kid Rock / Brantley Gilbert co-headline tour.
So, it looks like listening to the Celtic roots music as a teenager may have paid off and I even know who Farron Young is! In the words of Lloyd Cole (almost!) - That's why I Love Country Music. Didn't realise that I do but I do apparently!
C2C: Country to Country is at London's O2 and Dublin's O2 in March. www.c2c-countrytocountry.com