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Sample: Building a new Nashville across the pond...

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Building a new Nashville across the pond…

Country music is pretty much synonymous with the great American dream. Born in the 1920s, it’s rooted in the folk music of the working-class American. It’s a mix of blues, folk, bluegrass, hillbilly, Irish and Celtic fiddle music, and gospel. Now in its sixth generation, make no mistake – today country music is HUGE.

And its appeal isn’t limited to the States. Country music is loved across the globe, particularly in Canada and Australia. The UK isn’t exactly a hotbed of country music, but just watch this space. Our love for country music is a’growin…

I write this after a storming night spent at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro in the company of Lady Antebellum and two little-known support acts, Brett Young and Kelsea Ballerini. Well I say little-known, but actually Kelsea Ballerini is the hot young star of country music in the USA. Now, having seen her perform for myself, I know that her career is going to be stratospheric. The soulful tunes of Brett Young – football player turned country music star when injury put an end to his career – were a promising start to a diverse evening of country music.

Glasgow’s SSE Hydro was the biggest sell-out UK venue of Lady Antebellum’s You Look Good world tour. You won’t get away with anything less than the real deal in front of a bunch of tough, tell-it-like-it-is Scots. And how Glasgow showed them the love. Having come to the show myself with only a passing acquaintance to their biggest hit – Need You Now – I was blown away in particular by the charisma of singer and showman Charles Kelley. Yeah, I’m a complete convert.

The country music phenomenon is growing arms and legs in the UK. Just check out the growing array of choice we have from country music acts coming across the pond to spread the word: the Dixie Chicks, Kacey Musgraves, Lady Antebellum, Brandy Clark, Thomas Rhett, Maren Morris, Shania Twain, the Nashville show tour…

We’re also starting to see real chart success from home-grown country music bands such as Ward Thomas, the Shires and Raintown.  If I put in a search for country and folk music on ticketmaster.co.uk I get 388 results for November alone. ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris has a weekly show on Radio Two every Thursday and he plays the best of country music at home and abroad. It’s an education for us country music newbies. He also frequently hosts digital ‘pop-up’ country radio shows, and we get annual coverage of the CMA awards here every year, thanks to Patrick Kielty.

Historically, country music has been seen as something of a joke in the UK. But stars like Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Kacey Musgraves are lyrically and musically more appealing to the British fan. This kind of progressive country music is winning us over. And the Country to Country (C2C) music festival is symbolic of its growing popularity.

C2C – the brainchild of 02 and SJM concerts in collaboration with the CMA – kicked off at London’s 02 arena in March 2013 (March because it falls outside peak touring season in the US). Headlined by huge country stars Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw, it didn’t make much impact that first year. But low numbers didn’t dampen enthusiasm either side of the stage, and the stars came back.

This year, the C2C festival has expanded to three simultaneous events in London, Glasgow and Dublin, and all the biggest country stars cross the pond to perform. Recent performers include Miranda Lambert, Chris Stapleton, Eric Church, Kacey Musgraves, Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood again, Brad Paisley.

A new mix of influences – including a more urban, hip hop sound – are bringing country music to a young hip crowd.

‘Looking out from the stage at last year's C2C, this music is bringing in a young audience who are much less conservative,’ says Bob Harris.  ‘They're down the front, they're dancing, they're really right in the middle of the energy of it all. And that has been a shot in the arm. It's brought this new, young energy into the music that will take it into the future.’

 In 2018, C2C will again open in London, Glasgow and Dublin and the line-up will be bigger and better. Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Kelsea Ballerini, Emmylou Harris, Little Big Town, and Ashley McBryde are among the acts both confirmed and rumoured.

So yeah, country music is alive and kicking in the UK. We’re building our own Nashville here. Give country music a whirl for yourselves, cowboy boots optional…

Country to Country 2018 is at Glasgow SSE Hydro, London’s 02 Arena, and Dublin’s 3 Arena, 9-11 March 2018.