You will always remember your first time. For Judi it was the smell of pulled pork and the sound of The Shires. For me, it was feeling a bit embarrassed leaving my house in East London in cowboy boots, but then feeling completely at home as the Jubilee line crept closer to the O2 Arena and anyone not in cowboy boots looked like the weirdo on the tube. These tips are for any UK based country fans who haven’t been to the Country 2 Country Festival (London branch) before.
Perhaps so far in life you’ve had to make do with the occasional country infiltration of Glastonbury alongside a load of drunks who only want Dolly to sing 9-5. Or perhaps you’ve pretended not to know any of of the early Taylor Swift songs like Teardrops On My Guitar. Well, welcome to the family. Think of C2C as your coming-out party and, based on our five years of experience at the London event, here’s how to make the most of it.
First, some basics about tickets:
Your C2C ticket (the bit with all the headliners inside the main arena) will get you access to all the extra stages too, except for Bluebird Cafe and the Aftershow Parties, for which tickets are for sale separately on a first come, first served basis.
As well as the main arena evening shows there are ‘pop-up’ festival stages dotted outside the main entrance and throughout the 02 in walkways and bars. Anyone with or without a ticket can watch free live music at The Big Entrance stage, Club WM (inside the Water Margin restaurant) and in the Town Square which is a hub now found just outside the dome’s main entrance. To get into the other festival stages such as the Radio 2 stage in the mini arena ‘Indigo’, non-ticket holders can buy a wristband online or from the O2 box office on site if there’s availability. These cost £10 and will be valid for all three days giving access to big names like High Valley and Lanco. (Note the Spotlight stage isn’t a pop up festival stage, it’s inside the main evening arena).
So, now all that’s out of the way…
DO get there as early as you can:
There is a LOT going on before the main arena shows; shopping, eating and first rate performances around the O2. Plus with long waits for many of the sit-down restaurants (especially any with American themed menus) it’s best not to be rushed. The schedule is available on the app (see below) but as a guide it all kicks off from 14:00 on Friday then 10:30 on Saturday and Sunday.
DON’T bring the kitchen sink:
Added security measures at the O2 mean strict bag size restrictions. Check on their site before you travel but at the moment (the month before C2C 2018) “Only handbags and other small bags no larger than 35cm x 40cm x 19cm will be allowed into the arena.” If you can fit a portable phone battery pack in your small bag, bring it – there’ll be a lot of photo opportunities before the arena shows. If you really must bring a larger bag there’s a luggage room in Car Park 1 but it’s £10 per item. It’s also worth noting the official stance that small personal cameras allowed but not larger SLR ‘professional’ cameras.
DON’T peak too early:
Such is the novelty of seeing country stars on billboards here in the UK that in our first year at C2C we spent an age posing in front of a huge poster of Carrie Underwood’s face just as we came out of the London Underground. When we finally rounded the corner to actually enter the O2 arena, we were confronted by a poster about twice the size and couldn’t resist getting snap-happy all over again. Every year we’ve managed to fall into the same trap.
DO plan your pop-ups:
Winging it is a great way to discover your next favourite band, but if there’s anyone in particular you’d like to hear from the mammoth list of this year’s pop-up ‘Festival Stages’, advance planning – or cloning – is essential. You can download the C2C app from Apple or GooglePlay to get the schedules for the 12 stages, plus notifications about bonus events like secret gigs during the festival. This year we’ll definitely be sneaking to the front to hear The Wandering Hearts, Mo Pitney, Jillian Jacqueline and Willie’s son Lukas Nelson. We’re also curious to discover just how country girlband survivors Liz McClarnon [Atomic Kitten] and Una Healy [The Saturdays] have gone. Previous years’ freebie performers like Sam Hunt and The Shires prove that today’s pop-ups are tomorrow’s headliners.
DO keep your plan flexible:
We were on the way to get a hotdog (priorities) and then see the next pop-up band on our stringent schedule when the harmonies of then unknown duo The Shires called out across the crowd and pulled us off track. Nashville Grey Skies became the anthem of that early C2C festival.
DON’T go to the toilet:
Well, you’ll need to go to the toilet at some point during the arena shows which last at least 4 hours, but don’t rush off as soon as a set finishes. If you stay in your seat between the main stage acts you’ll be privy to some intimate acoustic sessions from some of Nashville’s finest on The Spotlight Stage.
DO set a budget:
So many boots in so many colours… If like me you’ll look at the rows of whipstitched treats like kids looks at sweets (or, these days, like kids look at iPads) set a spending limit in advance. I still haven’t found a place for the brass “BadAss” plaque I bought at C2C 2015.
DON’T fear your fringe:
This is not an “either / or” occasion. For once there is no need to choose between your turquoise angel wing boots and your red fringed leather jacket; subtle, shmuttle… at C2C more is more. Live through the strange looks as you sport your stetson on the number 108 bus to Greenwich knowing you’ll be admired once you arrive. Don’t worry, it’s highly unlikely that your hat or belt-buckle will be the biggest one there. It’s all worth it for the priceless faces of unsuspecting visitors who just thought they’d pop to the 02 to go to the cinema. Especially if another line dance flash mob breaks out.
DO speak to strangers:
It’s generally a friendly crowd at C2C, partly because we all speak the same country fan language, partly because of the Tennessee whiskey cocktails in the town square. At previous festivals we’ve met a Nashville photographer who was over to take backstage shots of Brantley Gilbert and a guy who was carrying Tim McGraw’s guitar. Forget the usual London laws, for one weekend Greenwich is officially a part of Tennessee, so embrace all those American traditions, like eye-contact. If you’re going solo, there are several social media country fan groups on sites like MeetUp who arrange unofficial meetings throughout the festival.
And finally, DON’T be fooled by a black hat:
There is a theory in country music fan circles (and by circles we mean the very small circle formed by the writers of this blog). The theory has been lazily researched at various gigs and we’ve realised that any man in a black hat (bonus points if it’s a cowboy hat) is instantly 76.9% more attractive. But be warned, not all of them look like Eric Church, Sam Hunt or Tim McGraw when the hats come off.
What are your tips for making the most of the U.K. and Ireland’s biggest country music festival? Let us know in the comment section below, especially if you’ve visited the Dublin branch or Glasgow, which is getting its very own Aftershow parties this year too.
Good luck and if you spot us (CJ or Judi) at the festival please say howdy.