|Performance Reviewed:||March 17, 2013|
First onto the stage yesterday was upcoming country star Brantley Gilbert. Brantley came onstage to a red and black backdrop, which showed two crossed arms and hands that were doing the rock sign. He had a tattoo sleeve, pierced ears and he was wearing hip hop attire, all baggy trousers and chains and the riffs of the guitar and the volume of the drum beat suggested: we have a country rebel on our hands here.
He kicked off his set is a mass of dark, dirty noise. This was something that we didn’t expect a country singer to provide for us – which just goes to show how diverse the genre really is! He was straight talking and said exactly what he thought – whether you agreed with it, or not, which was brave and we admire him for that. He stated that he was a red neck on several occasions and he was a country boy through and through. You Don’t Know Her Like I Do went down particularly well, which was written about someone he dated when everyone warned him to stay away from her – though he wouldn’t listen to them, although in hindsight, he should have done! Brantley said a few controversial statements during his set and we think that he was out to provoke a reaction and he seemed to have a giggle as he said these things. He has a lot of guts. We particularly enjoyed his tales of singing around the campfire, next to the cow shed on a farm in the deep South with the other red necks, knocking back moonshine and forgetting what happened that evening – before launching into Kick It In The Sticks.
Brantley has completely changed our view on country music. Tim McGraw said last night that country was a diverse genre, but it’s not until you’re exposed to it, that you can really hear that. Over the last two days, we’ve heard country-folk, country-pop and now we have country-grunge/punk/rock!! Who knew? Brantley will appeal to all those that have a bit of attitude and those with a naughtier nature!! Think the Eminem of country, perhaps?
Next to take to the stage was US star LeAnn Rimes who is no stranger to our shores andis one of very few country artists to have made it commercially outside the United States. Her hits How Do I Live and Can’t Fight The Moonlight were huge successes (albeit pop) and have become classics. She is now ready to release her brand new album, Spitfire, which will mark her return on the music scene. We couldn’t wait to see LeAnn perform at London’s very own country music festival, Country 2 Country taking place at The O2 and boy we weren’t disappointed.
It is fair to say that LeAnn has had her fair share of bad publicity in the past few years and her live appearances have been criticised meticulously so we didn’t know what to expect from the singer who was once the youngest artist to win a coveted Grammy! The set started with a great rendition of Nothin’ Better To Do, which was perfect for the country festival and straight away we were blown away by her incredible vocals; the woman can really sing. With her sexy black dress and glittery microphone Rimes gave the festival much needed glamour and sensuality.
The hits kept on coming with a fun rendition of Life Goes On and another stunning ballad I Need You. Something has to be said about American artists; they really seem to be of a different breed. On stage LeAnne looked like a natural and acted like a pro and, we dare to say, was pitch perfect. The singer also previewed some of her new material. Spitfire was entertaining with its tongue and cheek lyrics whilst Borrowed got a standing ovation from the crowd, which reduced LeAnn to tears. The old classics were the most successful especially Can’t Fight The Moonlight which everyone stood up to dance to. LeAnn made it all look so easy and if anyone had any doubts about her vocal abilities then her a capella version of Amazing Grace, which silenced the arena, certainly did the trick and re-established the artist as the amazing vocalist she is.
The third performance of the day came from Hootie and the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker. Darius is a man of many talents, who has now found his sound in country music. When he entered the room, the whole O2 Arena came truly alive. We’ve never seen anything like it. His vibe was happy, joyful, humble, loving, kind, playful and he looked as though he was in his element, along with his band who had the same attitude. It was an absolute joy to watch. He was like a big, warm cuddle of fun. His positivity and energy was absolutely incredible and infectious! Faces were transformed and the entire room looked as though they were about to explode from excitement.
What we liked about his songs the most, was that the focus was on what made him happy and how the simple things in life can make you happy. His song Alright was a testament to this – go and look it up on iTunes, it’s worth it and guaranteed to make you feel good! Darius spoke of how he had been waiting for this moment, to play at The O2 Arena in London for months and he was thrilled to be on that stage, to which he received rapturous applause – I think that the feeling was definitely mutual! We were engrossed in the gig from beginning, to end. Midway through his set, he asked: “are you guys having fun yet”? That was a complete and utter understatement, as the room felt like one huge celebration and everybody was up on their feet, dancing in the aisles and waving their cowboy hats in the air. This man certainly knows how to make his audience feel good and he knows how to entertain them!
It Won’t Be Like This For Long was written about how he feels to be a parent and how much he loves his kids – how wonderful. The song was a beauty. He sang Hootie and the Blowfish’s song called Let Her Cry, which was a touching moment, particularly as he explained the reasons behind the song, which seemed to touch him on an emotional level. Not only is he a lovely man, but we think that he might be a bit of a softie too, a man with a huge heart. He covered the Steve Miller Band’s song I’m a Joker and this is where he got the audience singing along with him and the smile on his face was a picture. He was loving being on that stage and we were loving watching him performing for us. He even took a picture of the crowd on his iPhone, so that he could post it on Twitter! What a humble and down to earth guy.
He finished on a real high, by singing Purple Rain by Prince to an incredible standard. His stunning vocals, sunny personality was absolutely brilliant and we’re now off to check out and buy all of his albums! Darius didn’t just pick us up as new fans, but he has picked up thousands of fans here this evening. We can’t wait to see him back in the UK.
The last performer for the Country To Country festival was former American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. Carrie made her UK live debut last summer when she performed at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Last night she did a reworked setlist from that show including a couple of different songs and a change in set order. She arrived on stage to the opening bars of her recent hit Good Girl and had the audience on their feet for the entirety of her show.
It’s not hard to see why Carrie won American Idol all those years ago. She has an incredibly powerful and versatile voice able to move from her powerful belt to her softer higher range with seeming ease. Dressed in a black ensemble with some seriously skimpy shorts, Carrie worked the stage and the audience like a seasoned pro. She waved to fans throughout her performance, engaged in banter and sang her socks off. Highlights across the sets included the ode to behaving stupidly when drunk Last Night, her cover of Randy Travis’ I Told You So and revenge anthem Before He Cheats. She managed to slip a couple of older songs in the mix too including Some Hearts, the title track to her debut album, and All-American Girl from her second album Carnival Ride.
There’s something incredibly warm about Carrie when she’s performing. She always looks like she’s having a great time and in turn the audience feeds off that energy. Any doubts as to whether she could match her incredible Royal Albert Hall show from last year were soon quashed as she reeled off the hits and hit every single note perfectly. Temporary Home and So Small, two ballads that she co-wrote, proved to be amongst the more emotional moments of the set whilst One Way Ticket provided some much-needed escape from the miserable English weather.
For her encore Carrie performed powerful ballad I Know You Won’t and her current album’s title track Blown Away. As she finished the final notes of the song the crowd erupted and it was clear that she had won everyone over. She proved to be a fitting headline act for the second day of the festival offering a different kind of country to Tim McGraw’s set. She also proved that she is the best female country star on the scene today and we can’t wait for her to return again.
Country To Country was a fantastic two days of country music. We saw a variety of artists performing their own takes on country music and there wasn’t a bad one amongst the bunch. LeAnn Rimes proved to be the biggest surprise whilst the headline sets from Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood definitely stole the weekend. There’s talk of the festival returning next year based on the success it had over the weekend and we hope it does. Country music is under-represented in the UK and it’s about time that changed.