yeehaw – the spirit of Nashville is alive and well in the UK

Country singer Randall King performs at the O2 Arena in London for the Country 2 Country festival – Anthony Mooney

On a bright and cold March afternoon, beneath the sci-fi towers on the forecourt of London’s O2 Arena, a young woman dressed in a tasselled cowgirl style risked hypothermia to make the serenade a crowd with Shania Twain’s You’re Still the One. As the rather tight-lipped audience roared the chorus, Hannah Ellis from Kentucky smiled in delight: “You can all sing here in the UK!

Well, I don’t know about all of us, but it was impressive to see the warmth with which a British crowd reacted to America’s national musical genre. Ellis was one of more than 200 musicians to cross the Atlantic for Country 2 Country’s ever-expanding jamboree, a three-city (London, Glasgow and Dublin) festival with a rotating lineup over a long weekend , playing to a combined audience of tens of thousands. Some fans wore cowboy hats and boots bought from pop-up stores with names like Boho Buffalo and Guitarwrist, enthusiastically embracing the genre’s fashion signifiers. But many others looked like just about any audience on a mainstream music show: families, couples and groups of friends of all ages, fans who might not identify not like a hard-core “country”, but who have found something in this music that speaks directly to them.

There is a lot to find. The boundaries of the country genre have blurred in recent years as a new generation follows in Taylor Swift’s footsteps, trying to use Nashville as a springboard to the world. Saturday night’s afterparty at the Indigo saw young black country R’n’B star Breland duet with another powerful country singer-songwriter of color, Madeline Edwards, who both whip up soulful crossover pop from genres that weren’t even invented when Hank Williams was playing honky tonk bars.

God knows what Hank would have thought of Pillbox Patti, a trash-talking blonde in a big Russian hat who sings clever songs about sex, drugs and country life, backed by an edgy rock guitarist and drummer hip hop artist with heavy hands. She wanted to know where her b—–s were, which isn’t the kind of thing you expect to hear on a show hosted by “whisper” Bob Harris.

Country star Pillbox Patti performs at the O2 Arena as part of the Country 2 Country festival - Ruby Gaunt

Country star Pillbox Patti performs at the O2 Arena as part of the Country 2 Country festival – Ruby Gaunt

Saturday’s main stage headliners inside the O2 Arena, Lady A, offered mid-run acoustic karaoke of favorites Kris Kristofferson and Dolly Parton, but the trio’s own music sounds more like what you’d get if you crossed Coldplay with the Corrs, epic soft rock pop with glamorous styling and folksy trim. Formerly Lady Antebellum, the band recently rebranded in the wake of Black Lives Matter, dropping ‘pre-war’ due to their historical association with slavery, but they don’t appear to have put a stop to their stride. confident.

No matter how far it strays from its core, country’s universality remains configured around reassuringly old-school musicality, direct lyrics about everyday emotional situations, and clear melodies delivered by vocalists mastering every note. , often linked by a harmonic voice style. union perfected by the Eagles. Add Tom Selleck mustaches to all this and you have the superb Midland. They may sound like a crew of male strippers in a Flying Burrito Brothers tribute act, but their songs are precisely crafted to charm any audience and delivered with self-aware macho faux panache and humor.

Bassist Cameron Duddy split the crotch of his jeans while performing a belt cover of Thin Lizzy’s rock anthem The Boys Are Back in Town. “I £50 said Cameron’s pants don’t go through the show,” winked singer Mark Wystrach. Nobody tried to correct him by saying that the word we use on this side of the pond is pants. Some concepts transcend translation, and country is apparently one of them.

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