What it’s like to go to a country music festival as a hip-hop fan

Jay-Z’s The Blueprint is one of my favorite albums.
Insider/Barnaby Lane

  • I am a hip hop fan who attended the biggest country music festival in Europe.
  • This year, C2C: Country to Country took place in London, Dublin and Glasgow.
  • I loved discovering new music, but the audience could be more enthusiastic.

C2C: Country to Country is the biggest music festival in Europe.

C2C is the biggest country music festival in Europe.
Luke Dyson.

C2C has been held annually in London, England since it first started in 2013, but has also visited various other European countries, including Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands, as well as Australia in 2019.

Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood and Kacey Musgraves are among the headliners of the festival.

This year the festival was split across three locations – London, Dublin and Glasgow – with each day’s performers rotating through each city once.

I’m a hip-hop fan who went to the London edition this year.

No hip hop albums here.
Insider/Barnaby Lane

When I say I’m a hip-hop fan, I really listen to all kinds of music, from rap to R&B and from house to heavy metal.

Country, however, is a genre I’ve always struggled to get into. I don’t like it at all. I really like Chris Stapleton’s music and consider Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline to be musical icons. But in general, I have a hard time relating to the lyrics and sounds of country like I do with hip-hop.

Singing about fried chicken, cold beers and stars and stripes just doesn’t sit well with me. Sorry, Zac Brown Band.

However, I decided to try C2C in London this year to see if the festival could make me turn to the country.

The London leg took place at The O2 Arena.

Luke Dyson.

The O2 arena, a multi-purpose indoor entertainment complex in North Greenwich, is among the busiest music venues in the world.

On the day I visited C2C, Lindsay Ell, Mitchell Tenpenny, Old Crow Medicine Show and the Zac Brown Band performed on the 20,000 capacity main stage.

Various other artists, including Kezia Gill and Kameron Marlowe, performed on the venue’s other stages.

It was a strange setting for a festival, but it kind of worked.

The O2 is a strange venue for a festival.
Insider/Barnaby Lane

When you think of music festivals, you imagine muddy fields, tents, dirty toilets, beer stands, food trucks, pop-up stages, DJs, merch stalls and people wearing ridiculous outfits.

C2C London had all these things, minus the muddy fields, tents and dirty toilets, which was great.

There were seven stages in total.

The Main Stage and The Wayside were just two of the stages I visited.
Insider/Barnaby Lane

As well as the main stage there was the London Spotlight Stage (although this was only a miniature stage in the same room), the London BBC Radio 2 Stage at Indigo, The Barrelhouse, The Saloon, The Big Entrance stage and The Wayside.

Each stage had a unique setup and there were different acts throughout the day as you would expect at any other festival.

Most impressive was The Barrelhouse.

The Barrelhouse and surrounding tents were great.
Insider/Barnaby Lane

Located right outside the entrance to The O2, The Barrelhouse was a huge pop-up tent that was designed to replicate a typical American lounge. Former “America’s Got Talent” contestant Willie Jones was the headliner here the day I went.

Surrounding The Barrelhouse were numerous other tents where you could purchase cowboy hats, boots, necklaces, rings, jackets, records and more from various independent vendors, as well as grab food and drink.

But the best was The Saloon.

Kezia Gill at The Saloon was the highlight of the day for me.
Insider/Barnaby Lane

Unlike The Barrelhouse, The Saloon didn’t look much like a saloon at all. Instead, it was just the top floor of a chain restaurant that had a stage located out front.

It didn’t matter though as it was still the best scene I’ve been to. Although you had to wait in line for a while to get in, the wait was worth it to get an intimate performance of some of the acts that were already playing on other, bigger stages.

The highlight for me was Keziah Gill, a rising country star from England who gave an outstanding performance.

Overall, however, the atmosphere at the various stages was muted.

There wasn’t a single “yeah”.
Insider/Barnaby Lane

As you can expect at any festival, the smaller venues – in this case The Big Entrance stage and The Wayside – were relatively quiet throughout the day, playing host to up-and-comers rather than established names.

What was surprising at C2C London, however, was that even the superstars seemed unable to galvanize the crowd into action.

Willie Jones’ headline act at The Barrelhouse was packed, but many chose to sit at tables located on the fringes, while those front and center of the stage seemed to be nodding quietly rather than singing their lungs out. At Indigo, Amanda Shires wowed with her vocals, but once again the crowd stood almost still.

The main scene was the same.

Zac Brown Band headlined C2C London on Sunday.
Insider/Barnaby Lane

First, let me say that the two acts I saw on the O2 Main Stage — Old Crow Medicine Show and Zac Brown Band — were excellent.

The former’s ability to seemingly switch instruments between them and their energy on stage was astounding as Zac Brown’s powerful voice carried through The O2 like an echo in a cave.

Again though, the audience was quiet as a mouse for most of the performances. Very few stood and sang, or even clapped along. When I did, the people behind me told me to sit down because I was getting in the way.

It wasn’t until Old Crow Medicine Show and the Zac Brown Band performed their biggest hits — “Wagon Wheel” and “Chicken Fried,” respectively — that the crowd seemed to perk up.

People seemed more concerned with looking the part than the music.

There were serious outfits on display at C2C.
Insider/Barnaby Lane

The muted atmosphere can perhaps be attributed to a number of things.

Firstly, C2C is definitely more of a family festival than Wireless, for example. Second, the O2, while a unique and interesting festival venue, isn’t conducive to the chaos and carefree fun you’d see at, say, Parklife. Third, C2C had a noticeably older contingent than most hip-hop and R&B festivals.

What struck me most, however, was the fact that many in attendance, especially the younger crowd, seemed more interested in how they looked than in the music. I’ve never seen so many people in one place wearing spiked boots, denim shorts, ten gallon hats and plaid shirts.

People posed for pictures at every turn, sometimes even having fun, enjoying the chance to play cowboy for the weekend.

At one point I thought costumes were supposed to be mandatory and I had missed the memo.

It was so different from other festivals I’ve attended.

Zac Brown.
Laura Bradley

As a hip-hop and R&B lover, I’ve attended numerous festivals over the years to catch my favorite acts. I’ve seen Kendrick Lamar in Birmingham, Frank Ocean in London and Tyler the Creator in Reading to name a few.

On each of these occasions, the thousands in attendance, myself included, were ecstatic to be there, singing and rapping every lyric – both the hits and the B-sides. People were gyrating and pushing to get even one step closer to the action, crowd surfing and shouting for an encore when the performance was over.

While I wasn’t expecting crowd surfing, especially given that the main arena at The O2 is a sit-down venue, the lack of crowd enthusiasm throughout the day at C2C London was disappointing.

It was a great day out though.

C2C was fun, just too quiet for me.
Insider/Barnaby Lane

I got to eat, drink, talk to new people and of course listen to live music, which is always a treat. Hearing new sounds and artists is something I will never do no I get pleasure.

However, has my C2C experience made me a covert for the country? As some of the attendees would say, “I am finer than a frog’s hair split in four directions.”

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