The first UK performance by reigning country queen Miranda Lambert was a triumphant culmination of the opening night of the 2016 Country to Country Festival. Lambert thrilled the crowd at London’s The 02 at the end of an evening of music from across the country spectrum, from the traditionalism of Dwight Yoakam to the pop and R&B inflections of another UK debutant, Thomas Rhett.
The free, pop-up stages that are also a key part of this ever-expanding annual country celebration were opened at 4pm by Jess & the Bandits, at a packed Brooklyn Bowl show at 4pm. Other early performers included Laura Oakes, Sonia Leigh and prolific Nashville hit writer Shane McNally.
Rhett had confessed to uDiscover his nervous excitement about how his first European performance would be received. He needed have had no fears: even with an early 6.50pm start on the main arena stage, he and his band’s high-octane show was greeted enthusiastically.
The Nashville hitmaker walked through the crowd all the way around the arena to sing ‘Vacation,’ from the Tangled Up album, and there were especially big cheers for its hit ballad ‘Die A Happy Man’ and the poppy ‘Crash & Burn.’
UK duo the Shires, on ambassadorial duties at C2C, then introduced the first Yamaha Stage spot of the evening, by Nashville TV star Charles Esten, aka the series’ Deacon Claybourne. His set included an acoustic strip-down of David Bowie’s ‘Heroes.’
Then it was back to the main stage for the return of a country hero of older fans in the audience, Dwight Yoakam, all of 30 years since he was part of an earlier wave of the genre’s popularity here with his debut albuim Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc. Etc. Ever the mystery man in the Stetson, he and his rocking band revived such gems as ‘Honky Tonk Man,’ ‘Streets Of Bakersfield’ and ‘A Thousand Miles From Nowhere,’ adding his familiar Elvis and Johnny Cash covers, of ‘Little Sister’ and ‘Ring Of Fire’ respectively.
Not all C2C-goers would have known Ashley Monroe, despite the singer-songwriter’s ten-year climb to a double Grammy nomination this year, thanks in part to her current album The Blade. But half an hour later, she had many new converts to her sweet but sassy style, as on ‘Like A Rose,’ the witty ‘Weed Instead Of Roses’ and more besides.
Lambert’s much-anticipated headliner fulfilled all our hopes that she could convey her exciting blend of traditional country revivalist and rock-chick fireball to a British audience. Every song was greeted like an old friend, from the opening title song of her 2005 debut Kerosene all the way to tracks from the current Platinum, including ‘Bathroom Sink,’ the lushly-harmonised ‘Smokin’ and Drinkin” and the feisty ‘Little Red Wagon.’
Monroe joined Lambert, her colleague in the occasional band the Pistol Annies, for an acoustic encore of ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ before Miranda reminded us of her impressive rock credentials with an explosive farewell of the Rolling Stones‘ ‘Bitch.’ It was a memorable debut at the end of a powerful night.