Album Review: Golden Hour – Kacey Musgraves

I realise Golden Hour has been out for a couple of weeks now, but rather than write about Kacey Musgraves’ third and latest album, I was listening to it…over, and over and over again. Without even the slightest hint of hyperbole I have never, that I can remember, listened to an album so many times in a short space of time. I think I clocked in 6 complete listen throughs in the first 24 hours and that number had reached 10 by the end of 48 hours. I knew from hearing Space Cowboy and Butterflies which were released before the album, and songs such as Slow Burn and High Horse at Country to Country, that Golden Hour was going to be a different sound to her previous 2 albums. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how appealing that sound was going to be to me.

Album Review: Golden Hour – Kacey Musgraves

As soon as the intro to Slow Burn kicks in I get a sense of calm, and then when Kacey’s trademark vocals kick in it’s as if I’ve been injected with happy juice, such is the feeling of pleasure I get from hearing her music. As much as I loved, and still do love, Same Trailer Different Park and Pageant Material they never elicited the feelings I get from hearing Golden Hour, which more than 2 weeks on now is still utter joy. I love that Kacey has given us something different with this album, and while it’s undeniably country (as much as labelling music seems almost redundant in an era where the lines defining them seem very blurred) we get a spacey cosmic sound, which given Kacey’s Instagram handle is spaceykacey, it was surely only on a matter of time. It’s not just musically that we see changes, as the lyrics are more reflective, mature and in songs such as Butterflies, blissfully happy. We haven’t lost the blunt and humorous observations that have been a trademark of Kacey’s previous music, as High Horse deals with that person that we all know, who manages to get eyes rolling every time they open their mouth – I know I do.

Whilst Space Cowboy is an absolute anthem, and sounded incredible live, filling The O2 with space country decadence, Mother tugs on the heartstrings like nothing else on Golden Hour, or anything I’ve heard in quite some time. If your Mother is still around, you’ll be calling her after hearing this. I was lucky, Golden Hour came out on Friday 30th and I was due to spend the weekend with my Mum (I don’t call her Mother so I’m returning to my own lexicon), so I didn’t have to wait long. Emotion is also in spades at the end of this album in the shape of the utterly sublime piano ballad Rainbow, a song that has been existence for a number of years, and to be honest, it fits so well on Golden Hour that I’m glad it was not released before now.

Kacey has such a gorgeous tone to her voice that the cliche of hearing her sing the phonebook most certainly applies, but with Golden Hour that’s not needed, and instead we have an album of beautiful songs that I personally can’t get enough of. I feel very encouraged that Kacey has evolved as an artist, written songs from the heart, and created the greatest album of her career so far. As a huge fan of Kacey Musgraves, I now know that no matter what direction her creativity goes, she’ll still be making music of the absolute highest quality, and selfishly, that makes me very happy. Kacey is on tour later this year and having tickets to see her at Wembley, knowing I’ll be hearing these songs live again, is bloody fantastic. Right now, as I write this blog post, and after listening to Golden Hour maybe 25 -30 times in the last weeks, possibly more, there is still no album I’d rather I’d listen to. Right now, Golden Hour is my favourite album OF ALL TIME, so congratulations on this masterpiece Kacey, and thank you.

The Long Road Festival Announces Lineup – Spoiler, It’s Amazing!

A little while ago this festival called The Long Road kind of appeared on social media and had it’s home on the internet at thelongroad.com. At this point we didn’t know a great deal about it, other than it was set to run September 9th-11th and is being spearheaded by BBC Radio and Chris Country’s very own Baylen Leonard. He does other stuff too, but that’s where I know him from. We got to see the layout and that it was more than just music, with activities and themed areas, plus it’s outside. A big-time outdoor country music festival – you know, like the ones they have in America that us UK fans feel so hard done by that we don’t get. It being in Leicestershire, in the grounds of Stanford Hall, also meant that selfishly for me being in Hertfordshire, it’s not too far away.

Last week we got the exciting news that the lineup would be announced today, 2 days BEFORE the tickets go on sale. At 5pm, just a few hours ago, the lineup was released, and it’s brilliant. Set your eyes upon this incredible bunch of musicians appearing at the inaugural Long Road Festival:

The Long Road 2018 Lineup

Have a look around this blog and you’ll see that Ashley Campbell, Angaleena Presley and Danni Nicholls (album #3 Pledge Music campaign – go pre-order now) are among my absolute favourites, all of who I’ve been lucky enough to see live in the last 12 months and am very excited to see again in September, especially in this unique setting. The Worry Dolls I saw at my local record store last year and were fab, and The Shires I haven’t seen since their media showcase gig with Cassadee Pope back in 2014, aside from a cameo appearance at a Striking Matches in Union Chapel. Oh yeah, Striking Matches are there too, so I can look forward to some guitar playing par excellence. Actually, Danni Nicholls is quite the 6 string wizard herself – collaboration please! Megan O’Neill is someone I am only recently becoming more familiar with, and her new single Without is fantastic, as her upcoming album promises to be too.

My personal favourites aside, Billy Bragg and Lee Ann Womack will be performing – 2 giant names who I know but have never seen live. There are also a bunch of other acts I have been keen to see live, and some names I don’t know and am looking forward to discovering for the first time. The big decision for me is how to accommodate myself, as I’ll be going to solo due to my son going off for a week with school early on the Monday morning. So, do I attempt to camp, on my own, or grab a room in a local B&B. I’m leaning more to the latter such is my lack of camping experience, but we’ll see. I may just get a camping ticket and decide nearer the time. Non-camping early bird tickets start from as little as £85 and go on sale on Thursday at 9am here. That’s an absolute bargain, so really, there are no excuses for not going – I’ll see you there! I used to run a country music blog called 4000 Miles to Nashville, but with The Long Road it’ll feel like Nashville is right here.

100 Word Book Review: Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives – Edited by Holly Gleason

100 Word Book Review: Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives - Edited by Holly Gleason

It felt like this book was made for me, given how many incredible female country music artists fill my playlist on a daily basis. What I didn’t realise, until I received and opened it, was that each featured artist is chronicled by a different writer, giving many different perspectives and experiences. It’s fascinating, reading the varied journeys of each of these musicians, and how their music affected the writer, and the world beyond. I have A LOT of music to discover after reading this incredible book. It’s both fascinating and inspiring, the only shortcoming is the lack of photos.

****1/2 (out of 5)

100 Word Book Reviews are a maximum of 100 words, but can be less

Buy from Amazon: Woman Walk the Line: How the Women in Country Music Changed Our Lives

My Top 10 Animated Disney Films – 2018

I’m sure there are many people who will raise their eyebrows substantially when reading this, but this is the list of my top 10 favourite animated Disney films, at least today anyway. I didn’t grow up with Disney so I have no childhood memories of watching Disney films, except Bambi, which I find as dull now as I did then. This doesn’t include Pixar films, that’s another list for another time. Disagree? Leave your own list in the comments.

My Top 10 Animated Disney Films – 2018

  1. Moana
  2. Frozen
  3. Tarzan
  4. Treasure Planet
  5. Lilo and Stitch
  6. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  7. Pinocchio
  8. Fantasia
  9. Aladdin
  10. Tangled

My Top 10 Disneyland Paris Rides – 2018

This started out as a blog post right here but then turned in to an episode on my Dedicated to DLP Podcast, which you can listen to here. Now it’s back to being a blog post again. There was no clever algorithm used to calculate the placings, no deep thought, just the simple question: if I were in Disneyland Paris right now, what would I go on first? And so on.

My Top 10 Disneyland Paris Rides – 2018

  1. Big Thunder Mountain
  2. Pirates of the Caribbean
  3. Star Tours – The Adventures Continue
  4. Toy Soldiers Parachute Drop
  5. Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast
  6. Ratatouille: The Adventure
  7. Peter Pan’s Flight
  8. Cars Race Rally
  9. it’s a small world
  10. Phantom Manor*

*This list assumes all rides are actually open – hey, my blog, my rules.

100 Word Book Review: Night School – Lee Child

100 Word Book Review: Night School - Lee Child

For 20 books I lapped up the adventures of the almost superhuman Jack Reacher, revelling in his ability to outsmart and outmuscle any adversary that stood in his way. That didn’t change for this 21st instalment, and it’s always interesting seeing Reacher leave the US, and team up with his old pal Frances Neagley. However, with just a few pages to go it seemed like we were headed for a cliffhanger, but instead the story wrapped up rather abruptly, with a sprint to the last page and the usual Jack Reacher departure. The first Lee Child book to leave me unfulfilled.

*** (out of 5)

100 Word Book Reviews are a maximum of 100 words, but can be less

100 Word Book Review: No Is a Four-Letter Word: How I Failed Spelling But Succeeded in Life – Chris Jericho

!00 Word Book Review: No Is a Four-Letter Word: How I Failed Spelling But Succeeded in Life - Chris Jericho

I like wrestling, I like rock music, Chris Jericho is one of my favourite wrestlers and I enjoyed his first three books, a lot. This actually reads like a self-help book, with a difference – Jericho makes it interesting with stories from two wildly different but also very similar worlds, and the advice he gives actually makes sense, and I have integrated some of it into my life since. There’s an air of arrogance, but that’s the Jericho character and it only works for him. My only real complaint is that it was too short – book five soon, please.

**** (out of 5)

100 Word Book Reviews are a maximum of 100 words, but can be less

Country to Country Presents: Ashley Campbell, Mo Pitney, The Adelaides at The Boderline, London Review – 17th March 2018

Rewind back to Country to Country 2016 and I walked into The O2 as one Ashley Campbell started her set. It soon became apparent that this was Glenn Campbell’s daughter, whose music I knew and had liked for many years. What also became apparent was just how talented she was, and is, both as a singer and musician. On banjo particularly she was spectacular, and stood out, because although this was a three day Country festival banjos were a rare sighting. It was when she played Remembering that hairs pricked up on the back of my neck and I realised I was watching something special.

I kept an eye on Ashley’s music for the next two years, eager for an album, which came the same day as the Friday of Country to Country 2018. I saw Ashley perform on the Saturday of Country to Country and you can read my thoughts on that here. That wasn’t enough though, so this past Tuesday I contacted a friend and we booked tickets to see her headline gig at The Borderline in London this past Saturday. Of course, the weather had to change yet again, and snow threatened my attendance, but I figured as long as I got there, what came after would be a bridge I’d cross when I got there. So off to London I went.

I’ve always liked The Borderline as a avenue, but even more so since they refurbished it and made it more roomy by the stage area. A 20 minute wait in the freezing snow and we were inside, where thankfully the heating was on. First on stage were a relatively new trio called The Adelaides, who I’d heard of and caught maybe 2 minutes of at Country to Country where they were doing a cover of Maren Morris’ My Church, but not enough to make any kind of real judgment. Firmly in the pop country camp they kicked off the night with a ton of energy and actually sounded pretty damn good. Two of the ladies play guitar and sing, with a dedicated singer front and centre. On stage it’s evident they are fairly new to this, and could do with focusing more on who they are and what they want as a music act, rather than worrying about how they look, but that will come with experience. Having three people sing can sometimes be unnecessary if they all sound the same, but all three ladies have very different tones, from deep (relatively) gravel to high pop, and harmonise well. They finished off their set with a really fun song called jellybaby, which I’ll let you Google and discover for yourself. I probably wouldn’t go specifically to see The Adelaides play, not yet anyway, but I’d be more than happy to see them on the bill of a gig I had tickets for.

Country to Country Presents The Adelaides at The Boderline, London Review – 17th March 2017

Mo Pitney took to the stage next, and another artist that I knew the name of from the previous weekend’s Country to Country festivities, but whose music I wasn’t familiar with. On stage he didn’t have the effervescent smiles of The Adelaides, but that suited his demeanour and his music. That’s not to say he never smiled, as a wry grin made an appearance now and then, but Mo’s steely, almost distant gazes out to the crowd as he sung, is something I’ve not seen a lot of, but worked well. As a singer Mo has a big voice, that seems to emanate effortlessly. Now that’s a cliche when hearing music reviews, but really, if vocal power was like a car accelerating, then Mo’s voice is at around 3.2 seconds, approximately.

Country to Country Presents Mo Pitney at The Boderline, London Review – 17th March 2017

Mo Pitney is an old soul in a young body, and is reminiscent of the country music many fans clamour for in a genre that expands and evolves daily. With his skilful guitar playing and story filled songs his gigs are a joy to watch. I always appreciate getting to know an artist, and Mo afforded us that privilege, most notably when regaling us with the time he met Merle Haggard, which was of course followed by the uncomplicated but pleasing song, I Met Merle Haggard Today. His brother and sister joined him on stage for a few numbers, adding bass and harmonising vocals, and depth to his set. I’d not heard any Mo Pitney before this Saturday just gone, now I’ll be buying his album and looking out for future gigs.

A few minutes later and it was time for Ashley Campbell, as she came on stage in the same glittery rose emblazoned jacket she wore at Country to Country. I only yesterday saw the Glenn Campbell documentary I’ll Be Me, so I’ll take a stab in the dark that she is honouring her father with that jacket, given he had a jacket with red roses on it too. Thanks to a few people moving around I had the perfect view of Ashley, her brother Shannon on guitar and Eli on fiddle. Earlier in the day I’d tweeted Ashley asking for Better Boyfriend to be on the playlist, and I’d like to think that was a pivotal part of the decision process which led to her opening with that exact song. Ashley has such a sweet and classicly gorgeous country voice that just makes me smile. When she’s on stage it seems like there is absolutely no other place she’d rather be and nothing she’d want to do more. That passion and commitment is evident in her performance, which makes it ultimately more pleasurable for us in the crowd.

Country to Country Presents Ashley Campbell at The Boderline, London Review – 17th March 2017

Ashley’s debut album The Lonely One is fantastic, but seeing those songs performed live, in such an intimate venue with great acoustics, well, it was pretty bloody fantastic. I’m always in awe at her banjo playing, and thankfully she didn’t disappoint, and with Shannon’s guitar playing and Eli’s fiddle skills, we had three great musicians on stage. Not to mention that Ashley swaps between guitar and banjo, depending on the song. We also got an example of Eli’s world record holding clapping – yes, you read that right. Of course since I’ll Be Me, and as Ashley’s first single, Remembering has become a career trademark song already, and one I was looking forward to seeing live for the third time. Once again I got goosebumps, even more so seeing up close the chemistry between Ashley and Shannon, as they sang about their father. Whilst I loved seeing her perform Gentle On My Mind, Remembering has more of an impact on me, because it’s her song.

Ashley is a very much at ease on stage, no doubt coming from years in the spotlight and taking to some of the biggest stages in the world at a young age. She also acts very naturally up there – no airs and graces, just Ashley Campbell. I say just, that’s a charming and endearing, and sometimes vulnerable young lady, who somehow even makes banjo tuning an enjoyable spectator sport, and educational too. I never knew banjos go out of tune quicker in the cold weather, but I do now. She finished her set with Looks Like Time, which she encouraged us to join in on and we great time singing along to some well written, and fun lyrics, and relishing to the opportunity to sing ‘a$$’ – hey, some things never fail to titillate. There’s some pop, some Mariachi, but ultimately Ashley Campbell is country, quite literally, through and through.

Country to Country Presents Ashley Campbell and Mo Pitney at The Boderline, London Review – 17th March 2017

For an encore, we got a collaboration with Mo and Ashley, as he her joined back on stage for three songs, including an impromptu bluegrass number which saw Mo on guitar, Ashley on banjo and Eli on fiddle playing a storm and making this guy grin from ear to ear. Live music really doesn’t get much better. Mo and Ashley had great chemistry on stage and I’d certainly love to see them play again sometime – even forgetting who sang which bit was done in such a way to keep us all smiling and entertained. At one point in Ashley’s main set she and Shannon showed off the Ashley Campbell koozies and extolled their virtues of keeping your beer can cool but not your hand. They didn’t say they were available to buy but I was hoping they would be, and so was delighted to be able to buy one pink and one black from the merch stand afterwards.

Country to Country Presents Meeting Ashley Campbell at The Boderline, London Review – 17th March 2017

I’ve been to The Borderline a few times so knew where to loiter in hope of meeting Ashley, and after three or four people in front of me I got to tell her how much I loved her music, and how much I’d enjoyed seeing her perform live again. I also requested that she come back again soon, whilst she signed my koozie. She was utterly charming and seemed genuinely appreciative of my comments. I was already a big fan of Ashley Campbell before Saturday night, but after that gig on Saturday night I’m an even bigger fan. Today I received the I’ll Be Me soundtrack on CD so now, at last, own a physical copy of Remembering. Ashley, as I said two nights ago, please do come back soon. And dear reader, don’t hesitate for one second if you get the opportunity to see Ashley live – she’s up there with the very best, and with such a huge career ahead of her.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 3 – Emmylou Harris, Margo Price, Midland, Lindsay Ell, Russell Dickerson & Ryan Hurd

I’ll be the first to admit that we (we being my wife Denise and I) didn’t make the most of Day 3. After a hectic Saturday and a late night Friday too, we were absolutely shattered, and me managing just 2 hours sleep the previous night didn’t help. Still, after a lunch at Wagamama, where we got chatting to a lovely guy about C2C experiences, we made our way to the All Bar One stage, to see Ryan Hurd again. It was quite crowded up there but we were stood not too far from the stage and with a good view. He did a couple of full band songs but then went acoustic on his own, which suited the venue well and gave us the opportunity to see a different side to Ryan. It was just as good as Saturday’s rock sound and I appreciated that he didn’t reel off the same stories as some are guilty of doing. We got to meet him afterwards and he seemed really humbled by the praise we were all heaping on him. He has no CD at the moment which is why I couldn’t find it. But in his words, they are going to market the *%$# out of it when it’s done, so I expect to see it make waves once released.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 3 - Meeting Ryan Hurd

After that, it was straight into the arena as we took our seats back in block 409. First up were Midland, whose album I had listened to and really enjoyed. Live on this afternoon it just didn’t click for me though. I’m not sure if it was just because I was massively overtired or what, but as much as I like them, I didn’t love them, as I thought I was going to. I can’t put my finger on it, but I got a vague feeling of it being a tiny bit spoofy, if that makes sense. I do think my tired state was at play and they are a band who I’d definitely like to give another chance. Maybe I’ll try to get a ticket to their autumn tour.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 3 - Midland

Lindsey Ell was the first act to grace the spotlight stage and she is someone I heard a lot about and had seen some of her brilliant guitar skills in YouTube videos I’d browsed. There that night in the arena, it just didn’t seem that great. For starters one of her guitarists wasn’t plugged into the sound system, so whilst we could just about hear him, only because we were sat back where the stage is. Lindsey’s voice seems a little weak too, and I was expecting one full of power and emotion, and I didn’t get that. Her guitar playing was good, but I’ve seen her do far better. I was left feeling a little underwhelmed to be honest.

I was beginning to think that my lack of sleep was going to ruin this whole evening, that was until Margo Price took to the main stage. Well, I had a slight worry as when she said Hello London I could hardly hear it, and so I worried that audio problems might be back in play. Thankfully when she started to sing it was crystal clear, and I could hear those wonderful lyrics and her beautiful voice. I’d been listening to All America Made for a couple of months, on heavy rotation, and was already a signed up member of the Margo Price fan club, but seeing her perform live was on another level.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 3 - Margo Price and Lukas Nelson

I found Margo utterly mesmerising to watch, and listen to, as she belted out songs, that for the most part, I recognised. She is a throwback to the classic country sounds that the genre was built on, but with her own cool and quirky edge that makes her very unique in an ever-growing industry. As if just singing her own songs wasn’t enough, and it was, she brought out Lukas Nelson for a wonderful duet, twice. If ever two voices, and personalities, blended together perfectly, it’s these two. I’d pay all the money to see these two tour together. We were also treated to a spectacular dual drumming solo as Margo sat at the second drum set, that I hadn’t noticed until this point, and kept up with the band drummer beat for beat as they thrashed out a hypnotic instrumental. Margo was the only act I saw all weekend who had a costume change, from country and western jumpsuit to sparkling dress, just to make sure her set had absolutely everything.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 3 - Margo Price

What I am about to say will surprise anyone who knows me, but if I really had to rate the performances of the weekend I’d actually put Margo Price at the very top. YES, even above the exalted, in my mind, Kacey Musgraves. I had seen Kacey 4 or 5 times before Country to Country 2018, but I wasn’t quite prepared for just how incredible Margo is live. I came back and ordered both her albums on CD (digital does not suffice), as well as her buddy Lukas Melson’s CD too. I get goosebumps just thinking about that 60 minutes of pure country excellence I was honoured to be in attendance for.

Poor old Russell Dickerson, he had the unenviable job of following the mighty Margo Price. He did a decent job though, with a strong voice and a likeable and confident personality. At the time I didn’t think it resonated with me that much, but since last weekend, his song Yours has been going around in my head, so job well done Russell. Then it was time for country music royalty Emmylou Harris, and while I absolutely knew I was in the presence of a legend, my tiredness had become too much, and we left halfway through her set. This is no reflection on Emmylou who played and sang sublimely, it’s just that she has a very relaxing sound, and with limited sleep for 3 days she was just a little too relaxing. I really wish I could have stayed longer but I was exhausted, sorry Emmylou. This also meant we missed the night’s headline act Little Big Town, but their music has never been for me and seeing them play at Country to Country in 2016 did little to change my mind.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 3 - Emmylou Harris

It might seem like Sunday wasn’t a great day but it was, believe you me. It was worth every penny and more just to see Margo Price. Throw in half an Emmylou Harris set, a second chance to see Ryan Hurd and Midland set that has left me intrigued, and I see value and then some. I loved Country to Country 2018. it felt different to previous years, what with the different layout, but I saw so much great music and have come away with a huge list of artists to check out. I told myself, and my wife, repeatedly, that I wasn’t going to book early bird tickets for next year and I’d just wait and see what the lineup is, just in case it’s not to my taste. That lasted until 10am this morning when I did indeed book early bird tickets for Country to Country 2019. No matter who is playing I want to be there, to give everything a try, even if just once, and just be in amongst that atmosphere that isn’t replicated anywhere else, not in this country anyway. I love country music, why would I not want to be at Country to Country? See you there.

Day 2 Review
Day 1 Review

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 2 – Kacey Musgraves, Sugarland, Kip Moore, Luke Combs, Ward Thomas, Ashley Campbell, Ashley McBryde, Jillian Jacqueline, Lukas Nelson, Ryan Hurd & Katy Hurt

Saturday was to be our big day, in that we arrived at 10.30 and headed straight into a much quieter Town Square area. It seems early morning is the best time to be there if you want to have stress free browsing of the stalls and watch acts perform on the stage without being in a crowd crush.

Pop Up Stages

First up was Katy Hurt, someone I’d had several people recommend to me and a name I knew, without hearing any of her music. My initial impression was firmly on her voice, which might sound obvious at a gig, but the power and range took me by surprise, wow. She sang with great poise and confidence, engaging the crowd, and showcasing a repertoire of varied songs. From tender ballads to rocking upbeat numbers, she sang her heart out, and backed by a terrific band, the results were fantastic. A combination of modern country and traditional routes, with plenty of twang in her voice, makes Katy Hurt stand out on the UK scene. We met her after her set and she was a pleasure to chat to, signing the already signed CD we bought twice more. Got to be the only thrice signed CD sold at Country to Country that weekend. Katy has a PledgeMusic campaign ongoing for her next EP, and based on what I saw live and have heard on CD, you need to follow my lead and go preorder it, now.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 2 - Katy Hurt

After a look around the stalls, but resisting the temptation to buy a cowboy hat and boots (don’t think cowboy hats suit me and the boots I wanted were £245 😮), it was time for Ryan Hurd, someone I’d heard nothing about. Country rock was on the agenda, and gritty authentic belters at that. It became apparent that Ryan had written songs for lots of stars in Nashville and based on what I saw, his own career should be just as successful as the ones others have using his work. Ryan told us stories in between tracks, and went from unknown (to me) to familiar within a matter of minutes. For a pre-Midday set it had the place rocking, and given that there were no windows to the outside world, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a Saturday night headline set. I went looking, unsuccessfully, for his CD, and you’ll find out why when I write up day 3!

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 2 - Ryan Hurd

A lunch at TGI Fridays with friends and it was back to Town Square again, only this time we had to queue to get in. There didn’t seem to be any kind of one in one out policy, but given the narrow thoroughfares, I can understand them not wanting throngs of guests entering simultaneously. The reason to be there was to see a ‘surprise special guests’ which had earlier been revealed as Ward Thomas, one of my absolute favourites and the most successful UK country music act in, well, UK Chart history! Before they came on stage I caught a bit of American Young, who sounded pretty good from what I could see and hear. They really shone when they had a guitar / fiddle showdown, which was pretty bloody brilliantly, and brought rapturous applause from the crowds in attendance.

Then it was time for Ward Thomas, who I’d missed being a part of Country to Country until this point, and have arguably outgrown the pop up stages. Never ones to forget their routes they embraced being there, and having them come out on stage at the Town Square felt like a really special moment. I’ve seen Ward Thomas quite a few times now, and every time they are just utterly superb. This time was no different, but we did get to hear some of their new songs, presumably from the as yet unannounced third album. How good are those new songs? Let’s just say the incredible high quality of their first two albums will be sustained with the new one, and their telepathic harmonies are as strong as ever.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 2 - Ward Thomas

Aside from their superb musical ability, it’s their relationship on stage that I love. There’s no fake feeling choreographed movements or dialogue, that I saw elsewhere last weekend, but just the naturally effervescent and warm personalities of two young ladies doing what they love most. When Lizzy gets the guitarists name wrong it’s Catherine who corrects her, but all the most endearing way, that only makes us in the crowd love them more. I always come away from seeing Ward Thomas feeling better about the world – they are a bright light and I am but one of many moths. Cheesy gushfest over, but it does come from the heart.

Main Arena Stages

I realise I’ve already written a fair bit and I haven’t even gotten to the main evening acts, so I’ll try to keep it as a brief as I can, whilst saying everything I need to. You know you are in for a good night when Ashley Campbell is the first performance, as she started Saturday in the Arena with a tribute to her father, featuring a montage of his songs, followed by Remembering, her gorgeous and heart-achingly emotional song written about her father while he was still alive. This was an all too short 10 minute slice of decadence, as we were treated to Ashley’s sweet and silky voice, some of the greatest lyrics ever written, and the banjo skills that have become synonymous with Ms Campbell. I can only begin to imagine how proud Ashley must have been to perform in honour of her father, in front of thousands of people. As one of those in attendance, thank you for the gift you gave us Saturday night. We were denied a third song, though we chanted for it and Ashley seemed willing, but tight deadlines had to be adhered to, I guess.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 2 - Ashley Campbell

Saturday’s main stage acts kicked off with Luke Combs, someone I’d heard talked about in a very positive manner, but stupidly never listened to myself. I had it in my mind that he was a Chris Stapleton type singer, but they share a beard and a great voice, but otherwise, they are really quite different. Whilst Chris commands attention and silence, in awe, from the crowds, Luke uses every inch of the stage and brings his wonderful songs to life with much energy and gesticulation. It was a lot rockier than I was expecting, but a perfect contrast to Ashley Campbell, and definitely a set that also finished way too soon. He has two London dates in October but both have sold out, so I’ll have to hope for a second tour, or a return to Country to Country, with a longer set.

Next on the spotlight stage was another Ashley, in the form of Ashley McBryde, another that I’d been told great things about. Well she lived up to the hype, giving us 2 very different songs, one upbeat and full of vigour, the other a heartfelt ballad about being told she’d never get anywhere as a kid. The latter she introduced with a story of being that child and what her classmates said to her. In just 2 songs and a few minutes of dialogue in between, we got an insight into what makes Ashley tick, and its someone I know I want to see more of. She has such a fantastic attitude, and a voice that demands attention, for all the right reasons. Her debut album is out later this month and whilst Amazon doesn’t list the CD in the UK, her website does – phew!

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 2 - Ashley McBryde

Kip Moore was the second main stage act, and wasn’t really for me. I couldn’t make out his lyrics very well at all, to the point that we started to play a game of guess the lyrics, and guessed one to be about an 8 foot girl? He seemed popular enough though, so it’s just a case of different people with different tastes, and it wasn’t so bad that I hated it, just didn’t particularly like it. By complete contrast, Kip was followed by Jillian Jacqueline on the spotlight stage, who was like the summer sun to his winter rain. Such a sweet and honest voice and a personality that makes you want to give her a hug. She oh so very nearly held it together on that stage, but honestly, who wouldn’t forgive her little emotional wobble coming all this way and singing to so many people. I made the mistake of not getting her CD when I had the chance, something I’m regretting now.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 2 - Jillian Jacqueline

Next on the main stage was the recently reformed Sugarland, and it only took a few songs for them to sing the one song of theirs I know, Stuck Like Glue. It sounded great and I loved finally being able to see a song performed live that was on the first country CD I bought some years ago which saw me really start to get into country music. Jennifer Nettles was a ball of energy on stage, and nobody can deny she has a great voice, but there are two Sugarlands, and I much prefer one to the other. I love when they focus on the songs, and less so when it’s fun time Sugarland, which reared it’s head just a few too many times for my liking, feeling at times like Country Eurovision. They finished off their set in style though, with some stunning vocals from Jennifer and a promise of a new album on the way.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 2 - Sugarland

The fourth and final spotlight stage act was Lukas Nelson, son of the legendary Willie Nelson. Lukas hit the high bar set by the previous mini stage acts with some achingly good vocals and guitar prowess that saw him play that 6 string to within an inch of its life. It can’t be easy being the son of Willie Nelson, but Lukas has carved out his own identity and it suits him perfectly, and is someone I really need to see more of. Holding such long notes with that gravel toned voice can’t be easy, and the effort is palpable, but the results are stunning. His album is on order, it’s just not getting here soon enough for my liking.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 2 - Lukas Nelson

Last to grace the stage, and I use the word grace intentionally, was the one person I was most looking forward to seeing at Country to Country this year, and up there as my absolute favourite of the last 5 years – the incomparable Kacey Musgraves. I’ve loved Kacey’s music since the very first time I heard her debut album, Same Trailer Different Park, and this was my 5th or 6th time seeing her live. She glided on stage, looking every bit the superstar she is, and delivered those silky vocals that give me shivers down my spine when I hear them. Kacey sings with such an effortless and smooth style, that it’s like being covered in a cool cotton sheet on a warm summer’s day, and yes, I’m aware I’ve used the summer simile twice in one article, bad Steve.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 2 - Kacey Musgraves

With her third album, Golden Hour, coming out on March 30th, Kacey treated us to a bunch of new songs, with Space Cowboy being one that I had already heard, and sounded just absolutely sublime live. She has described her new sound as Space Country, and I’m in, all in. At one point she took a stroll to the spotlight stage, where accompanied by a pianist, she sung a song she wrote six years ago but has never released. Rainbow will feature on Golden Hour and is just gorgeous. I had wondered if any of the main stage acts would use the spotlight stage, as I saw Talor Swift do on her Red tour, and was glad to see Kacey do just that. It’s always nice for us people at the back of the arena to see these people just a little closer.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 2 - Kacey Musgraves

It had been an incredible day already, and seeing Kacey deliver her usual dose of perfection was the only way to end it. Her three song encore even had giant inflatable light up balls bobbing around the audience, as she finished her set with a very fitting cover of the Brooks And Dunn song Neon Moon. Kacey Musgraves is an absolute class act, and while she seems to be the consummate pro on stage, there’s that little hint of vulnerability that just adds to her charm. She was kind enough to reveal, exclusively, that she is going on a world tour later this year, including Wembley Arena, for which I got a ticket for just this morning. Kacey Musgraves just gets better and better, as a singer, songwriter and as a performer, she’s absolutely top notch.

Day 2 at Country to Country 2018 was a packed and ultimately very tiring day, but one that allowed to see some of my favourites and find new favourites along the way. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many great performances in such a short period of time in my life – what a day.

Day 1 Review
Day 3 Review