Country to Country 2018 Review Day 1 – Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kelsea Ballerini, Old Dominion, Morgan Evans, Brett Young & The Grahams

Though things kicked off at 2.30pm I wasn’t able to get there until just after 4pm, which was the perfect time to park, and walk fast to the Big Entrance Stage where one of my to see list acts had just started, The Grahams. I actually reviewed their Riverman’s Daughter album some 4 years ago when I ran 4000 Miles to Nashville, so was aware of how good they were, or was I? These guys rocked this stage like never before, with impassioned and authentic music that they like to call angry folk rock. It’s actually a perfect description, but don’t get hung up on the angry part, that’s more the deep belief they have in what they sing about and the ferocity of which they wield their guitars, they are smiles and laughter too. The one negative of seeing this performance was when they announced that this was the end of a 4 week UK tour, that I’d missed up to this point. Utter fail on my part, but at least I got to see them at Country to Country, and what an incredible way to start proceedings this year.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 1 - The Grahams

It was on a quest to find the Town Square market that I realised that it wasn’t just the stage that had moved outside into a big tent, but that whole area, market stalls, eateries – the lot! So off we went to what we thought was the entrance, only to be directed around the side and almost into the train station. On entering it was obvious that this was going to a popular venue as it was packed, almost claustrophobically so. The stage was empty though, so maybe the crowds had filtered from watching the music to looking at the vast variety of Westen inspired wares on offer. This included a wide array of CDs, including signed ones, so I was able to get Ashley Campbell’s debuy album, released that day, and the latest Grahams album, both signed. One day earlier I wasn’t even sure Ashley’s CD was going to be sold in the UK, and as someone who doesn’t do digital that was a concern, so bagging a signed physical copy was a big win.

Into the main arena and after the traditional welcome from Whispering Bob Harris it was Old Dominion to get the evening going, a band I knew very little bit about but had uneducatedly prejudged as an act I wouldn’t be that fussed about. Oh how wrong was I, as from the very start to the last note these guys rocked the arena, with their brand of uplifting modern country that was just so much fun to witness. Accomplished musicians and with great vocals, songs such as No Such Thing As A Broken Heart and Hotel Key stood out, with the latter being my new holiday song. The set was over far too quickly, and I’d already had my first surprise of Country to Country 2018, a very pleasant one at that.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 1 - Old Dominion

Morgan Evans was the first to grace the spotlight stage, located towards the back of the arena, as he introduced himself as being from Australia and being Kelsea’s husband, a joke I’d presumed at the time. Morgan used his two songs to engage the crowd and put forward a great account of himself. If I’m honest, I remember liking him, but not really any specifics about his music. I’ll blame that on an overloaded weekend of musical excess, sorry Morgan. Next up was his wife Kelsea Ballerini (I learned that she was indeed married to Morgan, and it wasn’t a joke on his part. Well, who knew? Everyone apart from me most probably.) who I’d come to quite like, as discussed in a recent blog post. She seemed to have a bit of a shaky start with some less than stellar vocals, but she improved as her set progressed. I Hate Love Songs is a particular favourite of mine, and she did it justice in front of a packed O2 Arena. What I didn’t particularly take to was her demeanour on stage, which seemed very childlike and made it a little bit too giddy and girly, not helped by the saccharine drenched heart videos in the background. Maybe that’s what her target demographic enjoys, but at an eclectic festival setting like Country to Country, a deviation from the norm would have been a good idea.

Country to Country 2018 Review Day 1 - Tim McGraw and Faith Hill

Next on the spotlight stage was Brett Young, someone I know by name only. He seemed pretty good, but I think his lack of enunciation made it hard to decipher the lyrics, particularly in the first of his two songs. Then the night really took a turn, as excitement peaked with the headlining duo of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. Unfortunately, that excitement was hugely let down by the sound set up, which had so much bass that lyrics couldn’t be heard and the seats were actually vibrating and shaking, such was the intensity. It remained so painfully bad that it completely spoiled what should have been a highlight of the weekend, and after 6 songs we could take no more and left, along with many others. Bad sound has been a recurring problem with Country to Country and I’m never sure why, as I’ve seen so many other gigs at The O2 with no problem. It was a sad way to end the day, but Old Dominion and The Grahams had made it more than worth it, so I wasn’t too down. It also meant we got home earlier than anticipated, and that’s always a bonus! I also got to browse the CDs on the way out and picked up Old Dominion’s Happy Ending and Eric Church’s Mr Misundertood Deluxe, both signed. All in all Country to Country 2018 Day 1 was really good, but could have been so much better.

Day 2 Review
Day 3 Review

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