Keith Urban scored an emphatic victory last night (8) as he made his debut appearance at the Country to Country Festival at London’s The O2, crowning a typically vibrant and varied opening day of the 2019 event.
The festival is taking place this weekend in its regular hubs in London, Glasgow and Dublin, following new C2C satellites this year in Berlin and Amsterdam. As always, the format of the ever-expanding extravaganza entices country fans of all ages to a daytime schedule of many dozens of showcase performances of free stages around the O2, before the ticketed evening line-up.
Yesterday, throughout the afternoon and before the action began in the main arena, fans enjoyed sets by new and established visitors from the North American scene as well as home-grown favourites and emerging talent. An inevitably selective sample of these included the first appearance, on the Town Square stage situated next to the arena, of singer-writer Ingrid Andress, with her sensitive, keyboard-led songcraft.
On the Big Entrance stage just inside the O2’s doors, a warm welcome was provided by Liverpool’s Robert Vincent, who continues to make great strides in the wake of his 2017 album I’ll Make The Most Of My Sins. His songs were hugely enhanced by the presence of leading pedal steel player C.J. Hillman, fresh from another victory as UK Instrumentalist of the Year at the 2019 UK Americana Awards.
The same stage also hosted a typically lively, beguiling turn by CC Smugglers, whose customised brand of vintage-style gypsy Americana is centred on the engaging presence of frontman Richie Prynne. Always guaranteed to create a good mood in minutes flat, the band were at C2C (with another performance on Sunday) to celebrate the release of their new single ‘Well Well Well,’ ahead of the album How High and a British tour starting on 30 March.
Evening proceedings got off to a teatime start with Chase Rice on the main stage and Adam Hambrick on the Spotlight space at the other end of the arena. The heartfelt and stylish presentation by Cam, on the back of her impressive hosting of the curtain-raising CMA Songwriters Series event the night before, is sure to make her one of the key “takeaways” of the whole weekend. She ended the set with a typically committed performance of her signature song ‘Burning House’; other new material from her long-awaited upcoming album suggested the presence of a major country star in the making.
Short interludes by soloist Abby Anderson and vocal trio Runaway June provided further colour. Anderson shared a duet of the already much-covered A Star Is Born anthem ‘Shallow’ with rising star Jimmie Allen, who had performed earlier on the BBC Radio 2 Stage at the Indigo. Brett Eldredge energised the crowd with his own songs, augmented by an ebullient cover of Queen’s ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love.’
Urban’s return to the UK, as was emphasised by the words of a particularly effusive Scottish fan that he invited on stage, was long overdue. But this first time at C2C by the CMA’s current Entertainer of the Year underlined exactly why he holds that title, and the fact that he will surely return to Europe for his own dates in due course.
Having played a London warm-up at the Forum during the week, he led a tight band through a sparkling, high-octane two hours among his rich catalogue. With an almost endless supply of smash hits to call on, such as ‘Somebody Like You,’ ‘Days Go By’ and the soulful ‘Blue Ain’t Your Colour,’ Urban was on winning form throughout, also reminding us of his extreme prowess as a lead guitarist.
His duet with Carrie Underwood, ‘The Fighter,’ featured his fellow superstar on video for the choruses, and the fun continued when Urban skipped singing through the audience to enjoy a moment on the Spotlight Stage. Rarely can an artist have made up for lost time quite so decisively.
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