Australian’s have always had a deep love for country music. It’s the unique storytelling that can transport you to another place and capture some untapped raw and vulnerable emotions.
Over the years country music has crept more and more into the mainstream spotlight with artists like Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Morgan Evans and Lady Antebellum leading the way. In spirit the yearly CMC Festival in Ipswich has continually grown with a yearly sold out status along with more country artists heading out to Australia for their own headline tours.
For the first time ever, C2C Country To Country has brought their unique concept to Australia for it’s first run of festival dates in Sydney and Brisbane. This exclusive 10 hour music festival held at an arena in metropolitan areas is a unique experience that allows some huge international names and local favourites to play alongside each other. For the inaugural 2019 line up, country royalty Tim McGraw christened the festival with Kelsea Ballerini, Midland, Eric Paslay, Raelynn, Blanco Brown and The McClymonts.
With the hot afternoon sun shinning down on the Brisbane Entertainment Centre, a lot of fans turned out early to get the beers flowing as they watched Sinead Burgess, Judah Kelly, Reverie Lane, Adam Eckersley Band, Kaylee Bell and Casey Barnes kick off the special courtyard and gymnasium stages. With a lot of people showing up early to be apart of the festivities, some more bars and food stalls would have broken up some of the long lines that scattered around the area during the in-between moments.
Inside the arena, The McClymonts kicked off proceedings on the main stage with their strong harmonies and their captivating stage presence. Opening their set with ‘Wrapped Up Good’, ‘Here’s To You & I’ and ‘Going under (Didn’t Have To)’, they immediately grabbed the audiences attention and held it for the rest of their set.
“Do we have anyone in love tonight?” Brooke McClymont asked the packed arena before playing ‘Like We Used To’ and ‘Forever Begins Tonight’. With only a few people cheering back she quickly quipped back “okay, the rest of you must be married then”. And it was that confident quirkiness that set them apart from everyone else. They’re not afraid to get cheeky, but they’re also not afraid to show vulnerability. On ‘Don’t Wish It All Away’ they opened up about their children and had the audience in awe of their beautiful harmonies, while they then had everyone grooving along to their flawless cover of ‘Little Lies’ by Fleetwood Mac.
“Okay Brisbane, it’s time to get up on your feet, stretch those legs and have a little dance with us” Brooke McClymont commanded as they closed out their set with the energetic ‘House’ and ‘Kick It Up’.
Texan country rockers Midland turned up the heat on the main stage as they delivered a performance deeply cemented in their roots. Kicking off their set with ‘Playboys’, ‘Burn Out’ and ‘21st Century Honky Tonk American Band’, they delivered some retrospective country rock.
Their sound is very distinctive, and at times their rock n roll side really shined through and gave me moments that reminded me of Bradley Cooper’s character from A Star Is Born. ‘Cheatin Songs’, ‘Put The Hurt On Me’ and ‘Roll Away’ continued this direction before lead singer Mark Wystrach headed into the crowd for ‘Drinkin Problem’. Wrapping up their set with ‘Fourteen Gears’ they closed it all off with a big band outro that saw them jamming out and clearly enjoying their time on the stage. These guys are true born performers.
The most surprising act of the night was hands down Blanco Brown. The hip-hop meets country singer has delivered a fusion of music that has taken the world by storm. His smash hit ‘The Git Up’ is one of the biggest songs of the year and has broken him into the mainstream world. But for his performance on the Spotlight stage at the back of the arena he wanted to prove that he was more than just a one hit wonder. And he did that. He opened his set with an unreleased track that saw him just belting out impressive vocals and some whistle tone notes that the crowd did not see coming. And they made sure they applauded him and let him know how impressed they were, because damn, he’s got PIPES.
With the packed arena immediately on his side, he kept the slick vibes rolling with ‘TN Whiskey’ from his debut self titled EP before having a little fun with it and dropping low for ‘Georgia Power’. Throwing in a mashup of covers like ‘Walk The Line’, ‘Miss Jackson’ and ‘Hey Ya’ he paid homage to the two distinct genres that sonically inspire him.
Running around the stage and jumping into the crowd, he made sure his interaction with the crowd was unique and special, and the felt that. The powerful ‘CountryTime’ and ‘Ghett Ol Memories’ took the set in a reflective direction as he tackled some heavier topics like mental health before giving the audience the moment they were waiting for. Dripping in sweat, he danced his heart out during ‘The Git Up’ which was easily one of the biggest sing alongs of the night.
Kelsea Ballerini is one of the biggest rising stars in the country music scene. Following a massive headlining arena tour in the US and the chart topping success of her single ‘This Feeling’ with The Chainsmokers, she’s returned to Australia to headline alongside of Tim McGraw. THAT’S A HUGE DEAL!
The Nashville singer-songwriter is no stranger to being down under, with appearing at CMC in 2016 and 2018, she has also recently officially become an honorary Australian after getting married to Morgan Evans. With the arena in full capacity, the country-pop diva strutted her way onto the stage for the sassy opener, ‘Miss Me More’.
“Oh Brisbane, you want to get a little sassy, do you?” she asked the crowd as she lead into the break-up anthem ‘Get Over Yourself’. Looking around at the arena, her smile was contagious. Explaining to the crowd that for the next 45 minutes this arena was a safe space for them to be who they want to be and to do what they want to do. So if they wanted to get up and dance, and scream along to the lyrics then do it. And if they were more comfortable to sit and watch her, then she wasn’t going to judge. Following her command, her fans across the arena stood up and danced her set away to songs like ‘Unapologetically’, ‘Yeah Boy’ and the doo-woop favourite ‘I Hate Love Love Songs’.
Remixing the production of ‘Dibs’ slightly, she intertwined it with a cover of LAUV’s ‘I Like Me Better’ which fitted so perfectly. There’s no hiding that Ballerini loves a good country-pop ballad and ‘Love Me Like You Mean It’, ‘Legends’, ‘Peter Pan’ and her new vulnerable single ‘Homecoming Queen?’ highlighted that in her live set.
Thanking the crowd for singing, swaying and dancing along so passionately, she asked everyone to get up on their feet for her collaboration with The Chainsmokers, ‘This Feeling’ before she said good night.
Her stage presence is so genuine. Her talent is next level. And hopefully her deep connection with Australia will see her returning for shows over and over again.
Tim McGraw is a legend in country music, there’s no denying that. And looking around the arena and seeing everyone dressed in their checkered shirts, cowboy boots and hats, theres no mistaking who they were all excited to see.
Delivering a powerhouse set of greatest hits like ‘Truck Yeah’, ‘Something Like That’, ’Humble And Kind’ and ‘Indian Outlaw’, he made sure that he covered all bases. He even put his unique spin on Elton John’s classic ‘Tiny Dancer’, which had the crowd losing their minds.
His whole live show was very interactive, with special moments where he walked through the crowd and made sure he gave everyone the headline set they deserved to have.
For a first year, C2C delivered an impressive line up of rising and established country artists that showed the diversity that this genre holds. With the festival setting at a metropolitan arena, it is a unique concept that worked really well and maybe the pop world could adapt a concept similar to this?