Six years have gone by since we said “I just hope this new country music festival will catch on and come back to London next year”. It did. And it’s kept on returning, beating its own records each time. But despite the three-day all-day behemoth that C2C Festival has evolved into, we will always remember that first time. For Judi it was the smell of pulled pork and the sound of The Shires. For me, it was feeling awkward 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.
So as C2C veterans, these tips are particularly 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 music infiltration of Glastonbury alongside a load of drunks who only wanted Dolly to sing 9 To 5. Or perhaps you’ve pretended not to know any of the early Taylor Swift songs. Well, welcome to the family. Think of C2C as your coming-out party and here’s how to make the most of it.
First, some basics about the tickets:
Your C2C ticket is for the glossy evening show inside the main O2 arena with all the headline artists and the Spotlight Stage. As well as these main arena shows there are daytime festival stages dotted throughout the O2 complex. Your C2C ticket will get you access to all of these extra stages (first come, first served), except for the Bluebird Cafe being held in the O2 Blueroom and the Aftershow parties, for which tickets are sold separately and very quickly.
Anyone with or without a C2C ticket can watch free live music at The Big Entrance stage and the busking stages, including a new one inside the ICON outlet shopping centre which has appeared next to the dome. To get into the other festival stages such as Bob Harris’s Radio 2 stage in the mini arena ‘Indigo’, those without C2C tickets can buy a wristband online or from the O2 box office on site if there’s availability. These will cost £10 per day and will be available on the week of the festival, giving access to talent like Runaway June, Jimmie Allen and, ‘Gunnar’ from TV’s Nashville, Sam Palladio. These wristbands have been a great way to give non-country-fan friends a taste of C2C and the wide range of country music without the commitment – or price tag – of the full C2C event.
Got it? Right, now all that’s out of the way, some advice…
DO get there as early as you can:
There is a LOT going on before the main arena shows. The schedules for the festival stages will appear on the app (see below) during the next few of weeks the next, but as a guide things usually kick off from about lunchtime on Friday then 10:00 on Saturday and Sunday. As well as the music, there are competitions, cinema screenings and meet and greets plus the Town Square returns this year; a marquee just outside the dome offering food trucks, and cowboy boot shopping alongside its stage. This year we’re promised a new Town Square layout which hopefully means organisers were paying attention to previous bottleneck issues between Lanco, the boots and the bourbon cocktails!
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 on any of the ‘Festival Stages’, advance planning – or cloning yourself – is essential. You can download the C2C Festival app from Apple or GooglePlay to get the schedules for all stages and select your favourites for reminders, plus bonuses like notifications for secret gigs during the festival. Previous years’ pop up stage performers like Sam Hunt and The Wandering Hearts prove that today’s pop-ups are tomorrow’s headliners.
DON’T bring the kitchen sink:
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 2019) “Only handbags and other small bags no larger than 35cm x 40cm x 19cm” will be allowed into the main arena. That said, 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 and the very useful app can also drain your power. If you really must bring a larger bag, there’s luggage storage outside the main entrance but it’s £10 per item. It’s also worth noting the official stance that small personal cameras are allowed but not larger SLR ‘professional’ ones.
DON’T peak too soon:
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 station. 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. This ‘peak to soon’ rule also applies to whiskey. Just because you can start at 10.30 a.m. doesn’t mean you’ll be glad you did by the time the headliner takes the stage ten hours later. Trust me, this is the voice of personal experience.
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 so be prepared to let the music lead you.
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 the UK and Nashville’s finest newcomers on The Spotlight Stage.
DO set a budget:
So many boots in so many colours… If like me you look at the rows of whipstitched footwear 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. To help keep costs down, remember that water bottles will be confiscated as you go in for the evening shows, all the bars and food stands inside the main arena space will give you tap water for free.
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 appreciated 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 (claim to fame!) plus many performers are just wandering around as music fans themselves. 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 like Meetup.com group ‘Play That Country Music’ who arrange unofficial get togethers for solo attendees 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 Tim McGraw when the hats come off. Especially remember this if the C2C speed-dating comes back this year.
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 or Glasgow branches.
Good luck and if you spot us (CJ or Judi) at the festival please say hi.
*Glasgow folks, watch this space, we’re working on something for you!
**Please note, this is an update of a blog post originally published in 2016.