“Typical; you wait two years for a gig, then six come along at once.”
May 2022 is offering the biggest non-festival invasion of country music artists the UK has seen. As scheduled tours collide with previously postponed dates, for one epic month live music is not just ‘back to normal’, but better than it ever was on this side of the Atlantic. I have stocked up on vitamins.
The month arrives in style winning us over with a bank holiday and visits from guitar hero Keith Urban, Britain’s own The Shires with Eric Paslay, crooner Brett Eldredge and personal favourite Ashley McBryde in just the first week. They’re followed by nationwide Brothers Osborne shows, before we finally get to use those Midland tickets we’ve been holding on to since 2019. Those guys were postponing before postponing was cool.
But are we ready for it?
After emerging from the live-music vacuum for C2C festival in March, there are a few lessons we’ll be carrying into May, to fight the potential overwhelm and make the most of this much-needed month of music.
Country music is emotional at the best of times but when we’re all a bit rawer some of those lyrics cut even deeper than usual. At C2C, seeing Ashley McBryde tear up as the reality of being back in front of crowd set me off so, even if just for happy tears, I’m packing the Kleenex this time.
Support the support
Promoters don’t always get this right; we’ve seen tiny-voiced Taylor Swift wannabe’s lost on the crowd for a gruff Southern Rock band. But turning up early is how we’ve discovered some of our now favourite acts as todays support become tomorrow’s stars. This time round, Austin Jenckes (pictured above) seems the perfect pairing for Ashley McBryde and Brothers Osborne have a history of excellent support choices (like Kendell Marvel) with their opener Stephen Wilson Jr looking set to maintain that standard.
Book the morning after off (if you can)
Stamina, it turns out, is like a muscle. And without being put to use, mine has apparently been getting weedier. So naps will be needed.
Set your bar budget before you start drinking
Venue bars are not quite as generous as the home drinks cabinet. I confess that after two years of my super strong homemade margaritas, it can take me a while before I even taste the alcohol when out. And with the sudden gig escalation this month, I’m aware bank balances don’t regenerate as automatically as livers do.
I’m not sure my tolerance for queues, for non-free-poured drinks, even just for other people is still intact. I do know at C2C there was some shockingly bad behaviour as a group of interlopers decided to make trouble and nicked our seats while I was in the loo. I’m hoping the memories of how friendly UK country gigs were pre-pandemic won’t turn out to be just rose-tinted glasses.
Cameras down please
While I was massively missing live music, I learned that not one single shaky YouTube phone video can compensate for the real thing. So ‘being in the moment’ is my goal for these May gigs. But if you’re a fan of filming it’s good manners to keep it to short bursts, never use a flash and, as a gig guru friend once advised, keep the camera/phone at your eye-level rather than over your own head so that you’re not ruining others’ view.
The more the merrier
After a void of culture, non-country-fan friends seem far more willing to accept gig invites than they used to be. And, since we can’t believe that anyone could remain unmoved by hearing Ashley’s songs first-hand, not grin from ear to ear when Midland walk out in Nudie suits, or question country’s musicality after a John Osborne guitar solo, let the country music conversion commence.
See you when the lights come up,
Cover image by Brooke Cagle.