15 March 2014 (gig)
01 April 2014
Music’s a funny old thing. Here I am, stood drinking a glass of neat bourbon and wearing a cowboy hat, wishing I had a pair of boots with metal spurs on them to complete the look. Now, only country music can do that to a British man from the Midlands. And, while I appreciate that it sounds like I am somewhere in the heart of old Dixie, I’m actually at Country to Country Festival at The O2 in Greenwich, London. Yeah, put that in your pipe and smoke it.
First up on the Town Square stage, it’s the Stevie Agnew Band. The songs are solid and the fella’s voice sounds like it’s been nurtured on a fine balance of gravel and honey. But, quickly attentions are drawn to the band’s backing singer, Beth Malcolm. Sure, she’s still quite young and, yes, there is some fine-tuning to be done, but it seems that working with Mr Agnew et al may prove to be a fine apprenticeship. Look out for this one.
Over in The O2’s most recent addition, and, perhaps, its most-suitable venue for the occasion, The Brooklyn Bowl, McKay hit the stage. These guys have everything you expect from an American country outfit, only, they’re from bonnie Scotland. They’re slick, and have plenty of swagger. Thankfully though, not so much you wish for them to trip over their stage monitors. These guys have mastered the art of working the crowd and are entertaining from start to finish.
After some ribs, mac n cheese and pit-smoked beans we hit the arena for Dixie Chicks, which in all honesty, weren’t top of today’s list, but quickly, their songs, delivered in a fashion that only a band with their experience can, smack you in the face in way you know you will not forget. More than anything else, the tunes are honest and, like the girls themselves, are genuine. They are what they are and that’s quite nice.
Now, there’s something uber-American about Dierks Bentley, who is next up on the main stage. His brand of big old Americana makes you want to snuggle up to him on the front seat of a pick-up truck, under a stars n stripes blanket, while sharing a big ‘ol tub of Ben and Jerry’s, while listening to, well, Dierks Bentley. His stuff is quite obviously self-aware of the fact it is so hyper-American. When Dierks tells the crowd that he remembers playing at the Academy, to a mere 700 people, it’s clear to see the legwork he’s put in to make a name for himself over here. Commendable stuff, that.
Last up, it’s the Zac Brown Band. Where do you start with these guys? How about with their audience-polarising cover of Metallica’s Enter Sandman – there’s a good start. It was immense! These guys have everything, from Caribbean-inspired pop songs like ‘Jump Right In’ to cruising ballads like ‘Sweet Annie’, to tracks like the gospel-influenced ‘All Alright’ and the epic ‘Day For The Dead’, taken from the recently recorded Grohl Sessions. From start to finish, the energy of the set is palpable – it’s a performance that’ll live on for a long time in the minds of those lucky enough to see it live, that’s for sure. And what a band – Massive.