This is not a drill. The non-country-fan boyfriend met My Big Fat Caribbean Family at Christmas and survived. Now he’s agreed to come along for one day of Country 2 Country Festival to face the country family.
It’s not a done deal. “Something came up” when he was due to join me at Buckle and Boots festival and then he “accidentally” broke his shoulder the week before The Long Road. If he manages to stay in one piece and make it, my mission is to guarantee he has the best possible experience.
Previously I’ve focussed on tips for first-timers at Country 2 Country in London or Glasgow. But, on behalf of the NCF Boyf and those of us who are C2C veterans (this’ll be my 8th year!), here are some extra ways to make the most of London’s Country to Country 2020.
1. Get VIP experiences
Try to upgrade your festival experience by entering the Big Machine record label competition. The prize is getting into an exclusive C2C London party with goody bags and meet and greets. Also, there’s no shame in tracking down all the competitions on the Town Square stalls which include chances to win a trip to CMA Fest or a £300 pair of Ariat cowboy boots.
2. Convert a future gig buddy
Treat a non-country-fan friend (or as I like to call them a ‘not-yet-a-country-fan friend’) to a daytime wristband. This year the wristbands will cost £20 per day for those who don’t have arena tickets, with limited numbers going on sale during the week of the festival. You don’t need a ticket to enjoy sets on three of the stages (the Big Entrance, Icon and Garden stages) but the wristband grants access to the other festival areas including the C2C Hub and the Indigo’s BBC Radio 2 stage. These host some incredible bands you may have already heard on the radio like A Thousand Horses and Catherine McGrath.
3. Get in the mood
Ensure you’re not that one person singing the wrong lyrics at the O2 by listening to this Spotify playlist featuring this year’s main stage acts. (This has been subtly on in the background when NCF Boyf has been around recently). There’s nothing like singing along at the top of your voice with an arena full of fellow country fans.
4. Enjoy bonus gigs
If you’re London based, keep the post-C2C Monday night free, just in case. Historically one or two of the arena acts have announced their own shows at smaller venues on that night. A favourite Monday night was Brothers Osborne in a Camden basement with support from The Wandering Hearts. Also, if you’re London based, get into the pre-C2C Thursday night CMA Songwriters event if you can; the intimate event is always one of my highlights of the week.
5. Treat your feet
The voice of experience says make sure your cowboy boots are worn in a bit before trying to last a whole weekend in them (saddle soap can apparently help speed this up, though I’ve not tried it). And pace yourself; it’s OK to sit down for lunch even if it means missing a set. Or if you can’t bear to miss out, at least try to find food and a perch within ear shot of the Town Square or in the onsite Cineworld cinema where their country music screenings are included with your ticket (on a first come, first served basis).
6. Stay healthy
Depending on who you subscribe to, we’re either all over reacting about the flu or in the middle of the apocalypse. This has revealed two types of people; those who panic buy loo roll, and those who wonder what it all means for their upcoming country music events. For the moment, the O2 arena has been very clear that their events are going ahead as planned (though with more hand sanitiser around the site) and Luke Combs has already been spotted in Heathrow. But, organisers can’t control which artists are willing to fly over so keep an eye on social media for any lineup changes. So far The Shires are stepping in for Old Dominion, while the Love Junkies trio have been replaced in the CMA Songwriters evening. You can check on the O2’s safety stance here. Maybe this year we should all just knock boots (in the literal sense) instead of hugging, and I love the official Public Health advice to “wash your hands for as long as it takes to sing Happy Birthday twice”. I’ve timed myself and it’s about the same duration as one Wagon Wheel chorus.
7. Don’t miss your must-sees
Some of the smaller festival stages host artists who may well be in the main arena next year (previously Jimmie Allen and Runaway June). But, if there’s if there’s a name you recognise from the radio, there are usually a lot of other people vying to see them too. It’s fine on the open stages like the Big Entrance stage or the Town Square, but in limited capacity venues like the CMW Hub above All Bar One, queue early (or head in for the previous act) to avoid missing out. This year, I’ll be doing whatever it takes to see Austen Jenckes.
8. Stay up to date
Download the official app and keep an eye on it for surprise daytime sets (previously to the delight of The Shires fans). The timetable and alerts on the app will also help your essential task of planning strategic toilet breaks (seriously). But, thanks to the app updates and the many photo opportunities, pack a portable phone charger.
9. Find new friends
Not all UK country fans know someone who shares their passion for the twang, so lots of people come to C2C alone. There are a couple of friendly groups for people looking to meet other people. The Facebook group ‘Country Music Attendees (C2C)’ has upstairs at the Slug and Lettuce booked for a few hours each day and will always have an ambassador or two on duty there to welcome lost souls like Chris and Zoe below). Alternatively, Meetup.com group ‘Play That Country Music’ also arranges times and places to meet – including in All Bar one at 4pm each day before heading into the arena.
10. Take advantage of perks
Check the O2’s own website in advance for any perks and offers such as 02 priority fast-track queue and bar, or the American Express VIP queue and lounge. And since most 02-priority folk are entitled to bring three mates in on the benefits with them, it’s worth making friends with someone on that phone network in the next week.
11. Book the Monday off work
Every year I underestimate the toll that three days of euphoria will take on me. I repeatedly vow to pace myself, then get swept up on a high of Southern Comfort, BBQ sauce and live music. If you’re not a happy but exhausted heap by Monday, you probably weren’t doing it right.
What are your C2C tips? Tag us in them on Twitter and please say hi if you spot our boots around the arena.
(P.S. thanks to Graham Joy Photography for the excellent backdrop to our subtly photoshopped cover image)