By Tony Taylor,Director of Industry and Artist Relations, HorizonVU Music

As I put pen to paper, it’s been two weeks since the C2C said its ‘au revoir’ for another year, and my heart yearns already for its return. Of course, I could have written this piece just after the event finished, but, like a good wine, I believe that the C2C has to be savoured for a while in the palate, and not gulped down too quickly, so that it lingers in the memory. Now, for those of you out there who don’t know about the greatest Country music festival in Europe, I say, « Shame on you, » and, « you don’t know what you’re missing ! » Quite simply, for three days, London, Glasgow, and Dublin become hosts to Country music’s finest performers, who give their all to knock your socks off ! Three amazing venues – London’s The O2, Glasgow’s ‘The SSE Hydro’ and Dublin’s 3 Arena literally became Nashville and got to show off the best talent that Country music has to offer, whether they be superstars, current rising stars, or the stars of tomorrow !

DAY ONE

Obviously, I couldn’t be in all three places at once, and as I’ve not been cloned yet (« Thank God, » I hear you say!) – London’s The O2 became my destination as I stepped onto the first of two trains to take me from France to England. Remembering to put my watch back one hour for UK time, I arrived at the Ibis hotel in Greenwich to a roar of laughter from a gaggle of Country music fans in the lobby, all decked out in cowboy hats, baseball caps, and associated finery, and clearly pumped up and excited about heading to The O2. « I take it that you folks are here for the C2C ?! » I said, relieved that I could put my heavy bags down for a breather. A loud roar came back almost in unison, « Yes, we’ve got taxis coming for us ! »

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I found myself crammed into one of the taxis bound for The O2 with my new found Country music friends, and on my way to paradise in the form of The O2’s cathedrale like dome. My first port of call was the AEG Reception area to pick up my press pass, or rather wristband, that would allow me passage into the press room and its highly prized press conferences with the stars ! As I put the wristband around my wrist, I knew that the next three days would be mayhem – dashing between gigs, and preparing for some high profile interviews with the most talented artists in Country music today.

Besides having enough food and drink, the most important thing for a journalist to have during the C2C is comfortable shoes or boots, because, believe me, considering the distances that you’ll have to cover, you’ll need ’em ! ‘Why ?’ I hear you ask ! Well, if you think that The O2 has only one stage, then you’ll have to think again, because, although The O2 Arena itself has a huge main stage, it also has a smaller one called ‘The Spotlight’ stage, and, once you get into The O2 complex during the C2C, then, boy, you’d better be prepared, because stages there are in abundance ! For your pleasure, allow me to present them to you below :

• C2C Close Up (Building Six by day)
• BBC Radio 2 Stage (Indigo at The O2 by day)
• C2C Late Nights (Building Six by night)
• CMW Hub and The Saloon (All Bar One)
• C2C Sessions (NY-LON)
• Big Entrance Stage
• Town Square Stage
• Busking Stage
• Water Margin

Got the idea ? That’s a lot of stages, right ? And… a lot of artists to see – in fact, I reckon there could have been around a hundred – I didn’t count them, but, the point is, there were a lot ! Certainly more than any other Country festival that I know in Europe. Also, they came from the US, Canada, Australasia, the UK, Ireland, and the Lord knows where else to spread the word of Country music – in other words, Country music heaven !
Add to this The O2 Cinema and its CMA screenings, and I just knew that to cover everything that was going on would take superhuman strength. Luckily, I was accompanied by my friends from the French magazine, Danse Floor – four eager beavers, Gérard, Rose, Hervé, and Martine, waiting to soak in the C2C, while I attempted to do a report on behalf of my friends at Renegade Radio Nashville.

Now, although I’m no cameraman, I was tempted to try filming with a 360° Giroptic iO camera just to see how it looked – and, ‘YES’ – I know that Giroptic went belly up on the 5th of March, a fact that came to mind again when I had one or two problems later when trying to film interviews ! However, that aside, I still had my trusty Zoom Q4 ‘musician’s’ camera with me as a plan B to film on a tripod during interviews and gigs.

So, to the fray ! As it happens, some months before, I’d arranged with Martin Dewey of the Square Pie restaurant in The O2 complex to have an area set aside for my friends and I to work from and do interviews during our stay at the C2C, but, due to the economic situation with restaurants at the moment, poor Martin’s Square Pie restaurant had to close in February, leaving my companions and I without an operations base to carry out our interviews. To cut a long story short, I’d managed at the last minute to cut a deal with the Hollywood Bowl at The O2, which not only allowed us to have a place to interview artists, but also gave them a chance to relax and let their hair down by playing a game of bowls if they wished.

So far, so good – except my friends from the French mag had been delayed, so here I was for the first of the interviews, alone, and now realizing that the background noise (I mean the pop music, not the actual bowling) within the Hollywood Bowl might prove problematic for recording with my cellphone and attached Giroptic camera.

Before I knew it, Archie from the Big Machine Label Group arrived with my first guests, Delta Rae, in tow. He looked nervously around, clearly perturbed by how noisy the venue was with the loud pop music (not Country) blaring out from the speakers, not to mention the excited shouts coming from children and adults alike as they had fun on the multitude of amusement arcade machines dotted around the place ! However, one thing I got to know about Archie is that he seems to thrive in adversity, and that he’s one of the nicest guys that you’ll ever meet in the music biz. His worried expression turned to a smile as he shook my hand and introduced the group to me – two brothers and a sister – Eric Hölljes, Ian Hölljes, and Brittany Hölljes, then their very close friends and cohorts, Grant Emerson, Mike McKee, and Liz Hopkins.

Now, I’ve got to be honest here, folks, these guys are handsome people – and, I mean unfairly good looking, made even worse when compared to a Quasimodo like me ! Ladies, the boys will make you faint, and fellas, the beautiful and sublime brunette that is Liz, and the stunning blonde that is Brittany… well, let’s just say when you click on www.deltarae.com – you’ll know what I mean !

From the get go, they had me in the palms of their hands, as I tried to get my questions in order and film them with two cameras at the same time. Undoubtably seeing that I was nervous talking to Brittany, Mike the drummer broke the ice with a funny comment about his balding being compared to his bowling, and he took off his hat to prove his point. I was saved, laughter broke out, and I somehow got myself together and managed not to go weak at the knees as I looked at the girls.

As they played a game of bowls, the fun side of these wonderful folks shone through, and if you can admit to having fallen in love with a band, well, then I admit to having fallen for Delta Rae. Watching them play a gig the next day, I rocked along with the crowd as they belted out, ‘A Long And Happy Life’ followed by one of the most soulful and touching songs that I’ve ever heard, ‘No Peace in Quiet’– an ode to those of us who have lost someone dear to our hearts.

As Delta Rae and I hugged and said our farewells, I wondered what had happened to my friends from France, when an email arrived on my cellphone informing me that Morgan Evans had cancelled all his interviews for the moment – arggh, this was disappointing, as I’d really wanted to have a chat with him about his native Australia, and the folks back there that we both knew. Anyway, at least I had Brett Young to look forward to ! And, as luck would have it, my companions did arrive minutes ahead of Brett taking his place on an interview stool.

What can I say about Brett Young ? Well, he’s tall – very tall, and my joke about him being able to eat his dinner off my head made him laugh – ice broken n°2 ! Secondly, he’s extremely handsome, which made Rose ask about his availability, as it were – another belly laugh from him and a comment that he’s heavily engaged to the love of his life – so, sorry, Ladies, no chance with this guy for now !

Being a baseball pitcher in his youth, before suffering an injury that made him change direction in life, Brett still has the build of an athlete, but has developed over the last few years into one of the top artists in the field of Country music. As I listened to Rose interviewing him, I couldn’t get out of my head the song, ‘In Case You Didn’t Know’ – in fact I’d been humming it to myself on the walk from the press room to the Hollywood Bowl, and here was the guy who wrote and sang it in front of me now.

He talked about the song, and two others I love – ‘Like I Loved You’ and ‘Mercy’ and showed to all of us present why he is where he is now, and why he’ll soon become a household name, if he isn’t already. However, don’t take my word for it, just click on www.brettyoungmusic.com and if you didn’t know before why his fans go crazy for him, you will do afterwards !
And… given the prowess that he displayed on the bowling alley, I can confirm that he’s one hell of a bowler too ! As his big hand shook mine, and he thanked me, I thanked him in return for his time and he gave me a big smile. I thought to myself, ‘luckily, I’m a fella,’ because I reckon a girl wouldn’t be able to resist a guy like this or sleep nights because of him !

It’s funny how time flies, and as my friends went to have something to eat, I headed back to the press room to recharge my gear’s batteries, before grabbing something to eat quickly myself, then joining the others for the evening’s big star gigs at The O2 Arena. Arriving at a restaurant to share some Tequilas with my companions, it occurred to me that we had already missed seeing Old Dominion, Morgan Evans, and most of Kelsea Ballerini’s performance on stage, and if we didn’t want to miss Brett Young, we’d better hurry up to The O2 Arena !

A panic rush and a security & ticket check later, we found ourselves zooming up several escalators until we reached ‘Entrance B, Block 405’ – which can only be described as the ‘pigeon loft’ of the Arena. At this point, I have to make two confessions – firstly, I didn’t buy my ticket, it was bought for me, and I first saw it when Rose handed it to me in the restaurant, and secondly, I suffer from VERTIGO !

For anyone who suffers from this horrible condition, being stuck in seat 567 in Row A, with only a small barrier (partly glass) between you and nothingness is not the easiest way to enjoy your favorite artists performing way down below you. For my friends, it was great, but then, they didn’t know that I was terrified to look down to the stage where Kelsea Ballerini was singing her last number, and to the Spotlight stage further back, where Brett Young would be about to perform !

As Kelsea shouted her goodbye to the enthusiastic fans, I hung onto my seat and stared with fixed vision at the big screens on either side of the main stage. I stayed like that throughout Brett’s gig, until a toilet break during the interval gave me a chance to get a drink and prepare for the headliners – Faith Hill & Tim McGraw !

At this juncture, I feel that I’m obliged to make a statement, because I’ve heard that the social media sites were alive with comments about their headliner performance from some fans that weren’t very happy about it that night – anything from the sound wasn’t very good to who was better, Faith or Tim, etc, etc. I, myself, have only one thing to say – ‘respect’ – these are great artists, some would say ‘the royal family of Country’ and I could see them put their hearts and souls into that performance at The O2 Arena on the 9th of March ! Things might not always work out 100 % on the night – that happens to all of us, doesn’t it ?! Most of my friends are accomplished singer/songwriters, and I know how they feel, and how I feel, when things don’t go exactly to plan, but, that’s life ! It’s not always our fault ! Considering what happened to Tim on Dublin’s 3 Arena stage on Sunday the 11th of March, it only proves that he gave everything to the point of exhaustion, and we should love the guy for it ! Maybe in the modern world, we’re just too used to everything being the way we want it to be, and when it doesn’t live up to our expectations, then we lash out via social media. Our ancestors took everything in their stride, shrugged their shoulders, and got on with it. I reckon that we could do with a little more of that attitude to life these days too. For my part, I’m just grateful to have been there to listen to Faith and Tim’s songs from their Soul2Soul Tour – something that I’d never expected to experience!

I’m afraid there were no after parties for us that night. Exhausted after such a long day, it was time to hit the hay and prepare for Saturday !

DAY TWO

A new day dawned, and as I tucked into my hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, beans, mushroom, tomato, sausage, and fried bread, I thought of what lay ahead on this decisive day for interviews. Now, before I go on any further about these interviews, I feel obliged to tackle the subject of my breakfast, because I can almost hear your shouts of ‘piggy’ regarding its contents ! First of all, I live in France where croissants and pains chocolats are considered to be the acceptable way to start the day. That means that a traditional English breakfast as described above is not. The fact that this kind of breakfast is also a traditional Irish one (add black pudding) meant that, as a kid, I loved tucking into this, as did my late father. Don’t get me wrong, I love living in France, but, frankly, I just couldn’t resist the chance to relive a bit of my childhood for a moment and treat my tastebuds to a delight I once knew.

So, with that out of the way, back to the interviews and gigs to see ! First of all, three of my Danse Floor mag companions had a morning date with Brett James at The O2 Cinema for the CMA film screening, while Gérard and I went to see gigs, then got ready for the afternoon press conferences, followed by our own interviews with Catherine McGrath, Jillian Jacqueline, and the amazing, incredible, wonderful… Sugarland !! A day to remember, I hear you say, and it certainly was – but, in a mixed bag sort of way. During the C2C Sessions at the NY-LON, I saw great performances by the likes of LANCO, my new friends, Delta Rae, and the sublime Stephanie Quayle (who I’ll discuss later) and left the place in an upbeat mood after getting some good footage.

However, later in the Hollywood Bowl, I glanced at my watch nervously as the agreed time for Catherine McGrath’s interview approached, and there was no sign of her or her tour manager ! I tried to call the guy, but his line was private, and somehow I couldn’t reach him. Maybe it was because my cellphone had a french operator – who knows, but the fact was Catherine wasn’t here, and this was bad news because, honestly, I think that this girl from my home country is the best thing to hit Country music since sliced bread, and – YES – I truly believe that she will be Ireland’s Taylor Swift ! Just click on www.catherinemcgrathmusic.com and you’ll see what I mean, because songs like ‘Talk of This Town’ – ‘Thought It Was Gonna Be Me’ and the oh so beautiful, ‘Cinderella’ show just how good she is, and why she’s destined for superstardom. Anyway, the long and the short of it was that her tour manager later called me up to apologize and try and arrange a time on Sunday. Due to my Sunday schedule, it didn’t prove possible, but I did manage to film her singing ‘Cinderella’ on the BBC Radio 2 Stage at the Indigo, and I felt like a million dollars after hearing that voice of hers.

Trying to hide my disappointment over the missed interview with Catherine, I looked up to see Scott McGhee leading Jillian Jacqueline towards my team and I. Scott introduced himself, then presented Jillian to us. Smiling broadly and dressed in a white raincoat (prepared for the british weather) – this beautiful rising star settled on the interview stool, and immediately she and Rose commenced a back and forth about her career, influences, and her new album. Now this girl has an amazing pedigree, being road-mentored by Kenny Rogers, and having written and recorded with the likes of Vince Gill and Richard Marx, she’s already on the high escalator to the top tier of the music industry. One look at www.jillianjacqueline.com and songs like ‘Reasons’ – ‘God Bless This Mess’ and ‘Hate Me’ to name but three tracks, immediately tells you that you’re not only dealing with a consummate performer, but an amazing songsmith who can reach deep down into the soul and come up with lyrics that express a panoply of human emotions. It was a pity that the loud pop music in the Hollywood Bowl meant that my camera couldn’t record a good quality of sound, but, luckily, Rose’s own microphone worked great, so with any luck, you guys will get to see my footage with good added sound after it’s been fully edited !

As Jillian and Scott cheerfully left the premises, I felt a rush of adrenaline, because within the hour I knew that we were going to be led into the backstage area of The O2 Arena to meet non other than my heros – Sugarland ! What more can I say ?! They were my first love in Country music since my early days with Dreamwest Magazine, when my longtime close friends and then press colleagues, Terri Church and Angela Siracusa secured one of the best interviews ever with Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush ! Over the years, we did several front covers with Sugarland, and had great times with them in Paris in 2009, then in 2013 covering Kristian’s solo career with him at the CMA Summit at Eurodisney.

When they had the hiatus to pursue their solo careers, we were pleased for them individually, but saddened at the same time, because we knew in our hearts that we’d be unlikely to see that kind of chemistry again on stage – quite simply, in their heyday, they were the N°1 Country duo in the world !
Well, I’ve got news for you folks reading this – THEY’RE BACK !!! And… it’s like they never left ! It’s the strangest thing, almost like they were kidnapped by aliens whilst on stage, and then returned years later exactly the same as the day that they’d disappeared !

As we all headed from the Hollywood Bowl back to the press room, our conversation was all about this duo, especially Rose, who like me is gaga about Sugarland, and she just couldn’t contain her excitement about seeing them in the flesh again. Waiting in the press room, several minutes before Archie came to fetch us to meet our heros, something dramatic happened that wrecked my confidence. Whilst checking my Zoom camera and the Giroptic iO, I’d put my camera tripod on a table where the press room microphones were, and, somehow, it rolled by itself and landed head first onto the floor, breaking in the process the attachment bit for the camera. Now I don’t know if the press room is haunted, but this has never happened to me before, as tripods don’t usually roll by themselves off tables, as this did ! As I picked it up and saw the damage, I let out a cry worthy of a warewolf in pain, and used language that I wouldn’t dare repeat to you folks, and, as if on cue, Archie strides in and says, « OK, guys, come with me ! » Honestly, at that precise moment, I felt as if the ground was swallowing me up, because I knew that having to hold a camera in each hand whilst filming Jennifer and Kristian would not only look unprofessional, but would be difficult to boot.

Following Archie and a security person, we went through a labyrinth of The O2 Arena backstage corridors until we reached a lounge area where Sugarland were already being interviewed by German journalists. Ah, the Germans always seem to get there first, just like trying to get a sunbed next to a pool in Ibiza ! Still, our turn came, and amidst a flurry of greetings, Rose gave a wee present to Jennifer, who reacted with glee, and I expressed how nice it was to see them again after the great times that we’d spent in Paris years before, followed rapidly by an apology for having to film them with a camera in each hand, but I’d had a mishap with my tripod. They laughed, and totally laid back, they responded with enthusiasm to a host of questions that, no doubt, they had heard from journalists a thousand times before.

Obviously, we knew that Kristian was also the producer for Lindsay Ell, also at the C2C, and who I reckon should be called the ‘Rockin’ guitarist girl’ of Country ! His pride in her and the work that they did together was evident to such an extent that we were kind of getting two interviews in one. At this stage, the interview was going on for longer than had been scheduled, and I could feel the sweat on my brow gather as I watched the battery indicator for the Giroptic camera count down at racing car speed ! Needless to say, I found out that filming long interviews with this type of camera should be avoided, as not only does it eat up your battery, but it physically heats up too, so that it’s actually hot to the touch !

Nevertheless, the interview with our heros was a success, and their warmth was genuine, as was their excitement at being back together as Sugarland ! I’m going to talk more about them a little later, but, if you click on www.SugarlandMusic.com and read about their new music, and especially their new single, ‘Still The Same’ – you’ll understand why we love ’em !

I’m not going to bore you with what came next after saying our ‘Goodbyes’ to Kristian and Jennifer – suffice to say that in our pumped up state, we somehow took a wrong turning and got lost in the labyrinthine backstage passageways of The O2 Arena and had to be rescued by amused security guards, who led us back to the press room.

By the time we’d got our act together, we realized that we’d missed some great artists perform on The O2 Arena’s stages – Ashley Campbell and Ashley McBryde on the Spotlight Stage, and Luke Combs on the Main Stage. This was a crying shame, especially as folks later told us that Ashley Campbell’s performance blew everyone out of the water, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when she paid hommage to her late and great father, Glen. She proved that she’s a star in her own right, and that’s for sure !

However, despite us being upset at missing Ashley McBryde and Luke Combs too, we did manage to catch the tail end of the great Kip Moore’s gig, and witnessed our girl, Jillian Jacqueline’s full performance (Yes!) As the applause and cheers rose up all around for Jillian as she exited the Spotlight Stage, tension was in the air, because we could see the stage crew feverously preparing the Main Stage for the grand entrance of… Sugarland !

And, what an entrance it was ! The whole stage lit up with the logo SUGARLAND in huge letters as the first bars of ‘Find the Beat Again’ filled the air. There followed a high energy trip down memory lane for their ever loyal fans – ‘All I Wanna Do’‘Stuck Like Glue’‘It Happens’‘Settlin’‘Stay’‘Baby Girl’‘Something More’ and others that made Sugarland a giant in Country Rock !

Anybody who knows anything about Jennifer and Kristian knows that they are big fans of 80s and 90s music, and the track they had chosen to close the gig – Simple Mind’s ‘Alive and Kicking’ knocked me off my feet ! I’m not going to go into details here, but Simple Minds was my favorite group during a tough time in my life, and was reflective of an era when the ‘Troubles’ existed in Northern Ireland. Sugarland chose this song to make a statement to the world about themselves being back on the scene, and as tears rolled down my cheeks and I mouthed the lyrics, I could almost hear Jim Kerr roar his approval.

I could write reams and reams on Sugarland’s performance that night, but that wouldn’t be fair to the other artists that followed them, so let me put it this way – when they left the stage to the loudest shouts and applause I reckon that I’ve ever heard, you just knew in your heart that this would be one hard act to follow !

I felt sorry for Lukas Nelson as he played his opening notes on the Spotlight Stage, and tried to cope with some of the crowd heading to the washrooms after experiencing one of the greatest shows ever. But, this worthy hier to Willie Nelson is a trooper, and it wasn’t long before folks were rushing back to hear him sing in that voice of his so reminiscent of his father, that it’s uncanny. As Lukas took his bow and left the stage to huge applause, we prepared for the headliner for the night – Kacey Musgraves !

Remembering Kacey’s last performance here in 2016, I knew that we were in for an exciting finale to the evening’s performances, and, not to disappoint, her first address to the crowd was with an expletive ! I’m not going to repeat the word she used, but within a second of saying it, she apologized to BBC Radio 2 as she remembered that they were recording that night’s gigs for an audience of millions of listeners ! At this point, I feel I must apologize to Kacey Musgraves’ fans for not recalling every song that she sang on that Saturday night, but the ones that still stick in my mind are, ‘Stupid’ – ‘Butterflies’ (with amazing background graphics) – and a super cover version of Miranda Lambert’s ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ ! Kacey is a great performer and whether you agree with some of the public comments that she makes from time to time is neither here nor there, because the fact is that she’s a grade A extremely talented singer/songwriter, and deserves to be where she is in the highest echelon of the music biz.

As we piled out of The O2 Arena after Kacey left the stage to a standing ovation, I remember that we all headed to a bar somewhere within The O2 complex, then I recall wanting to see Russell Dickerson play at a late night after party, but the rest, quite frankly, is a blank. I don’t even remember how, or at what time I got back to my hotel !

DAY THREE

I do, however, remember not feeling very well on Sunday morning, and waking up to the fact that we had, besides the press conference and gigs to see, three major interviews to carry out with Stephanie Quayle, Midland, and Danielle Bradbery.

Forgoing breakfast, I decided not to wait for my colleagues, but took a bus directly to The O2, where I headed to the press room to recharge some of my gear, and prepare for my first interview. When I was there, I saw an email stating that Danielle Bradbery wouldn’t be able to make the interview, so that left me with two. I hate to admit this, but I was actually grateful for this cancellation, as, at this point, I was wondering how I’d get through the ones that remained.

I was still pondering this, when I received a text from Rose saying that the team wouldn’t be able to make the first morning interview, but would meet me at lunchtime for the interview with Midland at the Hollywood Bowl. Clearly, they were in a similar state to mine, and would need a few black coffees to settle down before hitting the trail !

So, to my interview with the delightful Stephanie Quayle ! Meeting Rachel of The O2’s team at the AEG Reception, she led me through a backstage corridor into the Amex Lounge (complete with bar!) where Stephanie was being interviewed already by a team of reporters. Long story cut short, but I’d already had a quick chat with her after her gig the previous day, when I had passed on a big ‘Hello’ from Joyce Aponte of Renegade Radio Nashville, who’s a friend of hers. Hence, Stephanie already knew who I was, and gave me a big wave, even though she was still in the throes of an interview !

I waited silently for my turn, looking around the place – the fantastic bar – a guy sitting on a nearby sofa, and Stephanie’s assistant, Christine, from her label, smiling back at me. Luckily, I wasn’t going to film in 360° after Saturday’s experiences, but, even so, I was worried about filming with my Zoom now that it was minus its tripod.When the other press guys departed, I sat down next to Stephanie, who greeted me with a big smile and a « Hi, how are you ?!’ » Slightly embarrassed, I mumbled something about me being worried about filming without my trusty tripod, as it had broken the day before just prior to my interview with Sugarland. « Hey, no worries, » came the reply, « Dave, my husband there can help you ! » I was introduced to the guy on the nearby couch, who just so happened to be a professional cameraman.

Dave was incredible – a nicer guy you could not meet ! With the use of several books, he helped me prop up my camera to get the best angle, while Stephanie explained to me that she was teaching french to Dave, because they were heading to France and then Switzerland to play a gig, where she had learned the language for a year during a student exchange when she was at college. This was music to my ears, and for a minute or so we just spoke in french together, during which I told her she should write a song in french to introduce herself to the French Country music fans. She thought about this for a moment, and said, « Would you be interested in helping me ? » Well, you can imagine my response to this rising star, who with songs like ‘Drinking With Dolly’ and ‘Winnebago’ made the Country world sit up and take notice, and whose new single, ‘Selfish’ is burning up the music charts, not to mention the accompanying video, which is all over CMT ! How could I say « No ?! »

As I’m sure you can imagine, the interview itself went like clockwork, and if you guys click on www.stephaniequayle.com – you’ll see what the whole world of Country sees in her, because she’s quite simply adorable and mega talented ! Leaving the Amex lounge in a flurry of hugs, I smiled back at Nathalie, a Swiss journalist, that I’d got to know, and who was waiting for her turn to interview Stephanie. And, with one last glance back at that amazing bar, I followed Rachel out of the place and was soon on my way to the Hollywood Bowl.

By the time I reached there, the rest of our gang had arrived and were busy preparing for the arrival of Midland.
How should I describe this band ? Well, it’s made up of Mark Wystrach (lead vocals/guitar) – Jess Carson (lead guitar/background vocals) and Cameron Duddy (bass player/background vocals) and they’re huge in stature and huge in the charts ! If you think of the Eagles of Country music, then you won’t go far wrong. Though all based now in Dripping Springs, Texas (don’t you just love that name?) – Mark hails from Arizona, Jess from Oregon, and Cameron from California. With mega hits like ‘Drinkin’ Problem’ and ‘Make a Little’ they have captured the world of Country music and brought back ‘Nudie suits’ onto the stage and into fashion via the pages of magazines like Vogue ! They were at the C2C to help promote their new album, On the Rocks, and they weren’t only coming to see us to be interviewed, they also wanted to do some bowling too.

As Archie led them to where my folks and I were ensconced, once again I felt like a midget compared to their giant frames. However, the guys were great, and after a round of introductions and handshaking, got down to the serious business of being interviewed by Rose, with Gérard and I with our respective cameras doing our best to get some good footage. By this time, the background noises in the Hollywood Bowl had reached a crescendo, particularly with the pop music, but Rose’s microphone saved the day, and the interview went well.

The bowling match between the trio was a revelation, as their competative natures came to the fore, and every missed skittle received a barrage of expletives natural to every American friend of mine, and hilarious to a british audience ! When you click on www.midlandofficial.com – you’ll see for yourselves why these three troubadours are winning hearts and souls wherever they go, and why their songs are a real deal breath of fresh air in a world that needs more oxygen and wide open spaces ! Saying ‘adios’ to our new found ‘compadres’ of Midland was sad, not only because it was the last of our ‘one on one’ interviews with the stars, but because we knew that this was also the last day of the C2C, and that tomorrow, we’d all be winging our way back to our rather duller ordinary lives.

However, back in the press room, we did get a chance to see not only Midland again, but also Lindsay Ell, Margo Price, Russell Dickerson, and the incredible… Little Big Town, though I missed Emmylou Harris and Walker Hayes when I went out for a while to get something to eat and then buy some festival souvenirs for my friends back home.
Rushing up the escalators in The O2 Arena, I ran into one of the security guards who I’d befriended, and who knew that I suffered from the dreaded VERTIGO. Pointing to his head of security, he smiled and told me to go and ask this lady if there were still any complimentary tickets available for seats on the ground floor. After I explained my predicament to her, she extracted a ticket, and with a « Here you are, darlin’ ! » I found myself the proud possessor of a ticket proclaiming, ‘Entrance H, Block A3, Row F, and Seat 42’ – I was saved ! Dashing downstairs, I got to my seat in time to see Midland on the main stage playing their last few numbers, before Lindsay Ell mounted the Spotlight Stage for her gig. Now, I briefly talked about this girl during my account of the Sugarland interview, and it’s not hard to see why Kristian Bush felt privileged to be her producer, because this bluesy rockin’ poppin’ Country blonde from Calgary in Canada is a shooting star, and with songs like ‘Waiting On You’ and ‘Criminal’ to name but two from her new album, The Project, she’s destined for greatness ! However, don’t take my word for it, click on www.lindsayell.com and see and hear for yourselves !

Next on the Main Stage came Margo Price, who I’d seen briefly in the press room, but I must admit to being ashamed that I didn’t know more about her and her music. She’s clearly a great artist and has a very large fanbase, but I honestly can’t say that I’ve listened to her songs prior to her appearing on the stage before me at The O2 Arena. Her songs like ‘A Little Pain’ and her invitations to Lukas Nelson to perform duets with her on stage went down very well with the enthusiastic audience, and an amazing drum duel/jam with her band’s drummer, that saw two drum kits on the stage, left all of us awestruck ! I’ll certainly make time to listen to her tracks from now on !

Russell Dickerson, appeared next, and blew me away when he sang ‘Every Little Thing’‘Blue Tacoma’, and ‘Yours’ on the Spotlight Stage. The truth is that I’d tried to get a one on one interview with him prior to my arrival at The O2, but the agent contacted me far too late, and in consequence, the interview didn’t happen. But, that aside, I’ll say it loud and proud, those last two songs of his in particular are world beaters and this guy’s music reminds me why I love Country Rock so much ! When you have a moment, please take a peek at www.russelldickerson.com – believe me, you won’t regret it !

For the next artist on the Main Stage, there is only one word – LEGEND ! Emmylou Harris’s return to a London stage was a credit to her, The O2 team led by Milly Olykan, and Whispering Bob Harris of BBC Radio 2 ! Even at the age of 70, this lady not only deserved to be there, but, no matter the age group, the crowd showed their love of her, even if, like me, they didn’t remember all of her songs, except some of the covers she did and a great finale with ‘Boulder to Birmingham’ – a classic if ever there was one ! Hats off to you, Emmylou – you’ll always remain in our hearts !

Next on the Spotlight stage was Walker Hayes – a guy who has managed to combine Country pop and Rap and make it work. Honestly, I’m no fan of Rap generally, but like Colt Ford and Sam Hunt, with the songs from his new album Boom, Walker has shown his talent as a singer/songwriter to maximum effect. Although he was only given time to perform two of his songs, ‘You Broke Up with Me’ and ‘Beautiful’ – he had the crowd eating out of his hands ! Check out www.walkerhayes.com – because there was a reason why he was chosen to set the stage for the one and only… Little Big Town !

After seeing quite a few gigs in my time, I thought that I’d become accustomed to seeing big entrances, but, man, did Karen, Kimberly, Phillip, and Jimi have a surprise in store for us in the form of their cover of Elton John’s, ‘Rocket Man’ – and with the background graphics to match, they took us into outer space and beyond the confines of the Arena ! OK, you’ve already guessed that I’m a huge fan of this band, but, how can you not be when they’ve contributed so much to Country music being exported beyond the US ?!

It’s also kind of difficult for me to recount in detail their stunning performance that night, because, honestly, I was just high on their sound, mouthing the words from their hits like ‘Drivin’ Around’ ‘Pontoon’‘Happy People’Front Porch Thing – and so many more that my head was spinning ! But, that wasn’t all, because about half way through the gig and whilst singing ‘Little White Church’ – they did something I’ve never seen anyone else do at The O2 Arena, they left the Main Stage and went over to the Spotlight Stage to sing a few acoustic numbers, much to the delight of the fans who went crazy as they passed them. More than this even was their highly emotional tributes, one to their recently departed friend Deborah by singing ‘Sober’, and the other to Glen Campbell, with a rendition of ‘Wichita Lineman’ that reinforced the love shared with the fans by his daughter, Ashley Campbell, on Saturday. After making their way back to the Main Stage, a video showed them in their earlier days and the songs ‘I’m With The Band’ and the Beatles’ cover ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ came to the fore ! There followed some great songs like ‘Better Man’ ‘Tornado’ – ‘Day Drinking’ – and when it comes to finales, you really don’t get much better than a Little Big Town one, and with ‘Girl Crush’ and ‘Boondocks’ they said it all!

As the crowd went crazy and gave a massive standing ovation to this amazing band of four as they left the stage, I looked up at the seats high above me, trying to wave to my friends still up there somewhere in the gods, knowing that the next day, they’d have to take a very early train back to France, whilst mine didn’t leave until after lunch. In the mad rush of thousands of Country fans exiting the place, I didn’t get the chance to see them, so decided to head to Building Six to see Lindsay Ell’s late night aftershow, part of which I managed to film, before saying my ‘Goodbye’s’ to The O2 complex for another year.

The bus ride back to the hotel Ibis was eerily sad – like you feel after a breakup, and after all I’d experienced in the last three days, there was little that could fill that feeling of emptiness, except the memories that would make great after dinner conversations for a long time. Arriving at the hotel, I found again my new found Country fan friends, who I’d shared a taxi with at the start of the festival, and until the wee, wee hours of the morning, we shared stories and verbal reviews of three days of artist performances, liberally fuelled with quite a bit of alcohol, except that is for me – I drank hot chocolate all night ! Saturday night’s binge was enough for me, and I didn’t want to miss my train back to la belle France !

Before I down my pen, or rather my computer keyboard – I’d like to say a big ‘Thank you’ to all the artists that my folks and I got to chat with, their agents, the wonderful staff at The O2, including the super security people, the fantastic folks working in the Hollywood Bowl at The O2, and last, but not least, the ever smiling and tolerant folks at the Ibis hotel, who put up with our loud banter.

For those incredible singer/songwriters that I didn’t get the chance to meet, film, or simply witness their gigs, all I can say is, « Please forgive me and my team, but don’t think that we’ve forgotten about you, because we haven’t, and sooner rather than later, we’ll be knocking on your doors too ! »
As it happens, my Danish colleagues and I are currently working on an Internet TV series that will help promote singer/songwriters internationally, so be prepared to be in the spotlight, guys !

See www.C2C-countrytocountry.com