It seems I’m not very good with change. I had assumed that I was a flexible, go-with-the-flow ‘young’ woman until this year’s Nashville Meets London Festival was announced… (see the festival details in a nutshell at the end of this post)
What had, since 2016, been a free July weekend where we’d sit out with our own picnics in the shade of Canary Wharf’s towers is going to be different very this year.
It’s still a carefully curated mix of emerging U.S. and U.K. based country artists, but for 2022 it will be across two weekday evenings, held in a new inside venue and with – the most controversial of the changes – a fee. The fee, after I calmed down and got the calculator out, is only about a fiver per artist for some names (like The Wandering Hearts and Kyle Daniel) who I’d pay to see headline. Even so, was this a change too far?
I nervously opened zoom for a frank conversation with the festival organiser Peter Conway who, surprisingly, didn’t shy away from even the uncomfortable questions.
But could Peter convince me Nashville Meets London was still an event for the UK’s country community to get behind?
We warm up, recapping Peter’s vision from the start of the festival. He’s both a music industry veteran and a country fan, managing Raintown and citing Johnny Cash as ingrained on his psyche. It was Peter and a friend, the late Jeff Walker from Nashville, who came up with the concept back in 2015: to develop what would grow to be a sort of exchange programme of a festival.
But then the conversation must move on to all the Nashville Meets London changes for this year. While movies, or perhaps our recent political headlines, may have led me to expect some sinister fat cat plot, there are some mundanely practical explanations instead.
Why change venue?
Peter reveals that when London’s Canary Wharf (the previous hosts and funders of the event) decided not to keep it going, the hunt was on for a different venue; one with the space and inclination to grow.
Why the unexpected choice to move to a weekday?
It wasn’t really a choice, it turns out. The first weekend planned at this new location fell prey to 2020 and the c-word. Now, after the two enforced fallow years, these were the only dates available to go ahead this summer. Peter assures me;
“We are already talking [to the venue] about next year… definitely in future years we will revert to a weekend.”
Falling in the week between Scotland’s Millport country festival and England’s The Long Road festival has meant,
“we could pick up artists who are coming to play at one or both of those festivals who wanted a London show because London for any country music act is the place they wanna play.”
BUT, I engage devil’s advocate mode, doesn’t that mean people are already seeing some of these acts and getting their festival fix elsewhere?
Why should we still come to this festival?
Peter is gracious with this:
“At the end of the day with each year we’ve got to prove ourselves, that we’re good tastemakers, that people can trust our judgement in terms of the music programming.”
It’s true, this festival was the first place I heard Yola’s voice and which booked then relatively unknown Russell Dickerson. This year the lineup includes Manny Blu and Matt Hodges who I won’t be seeing elsewhere. Then there are its practical USPs.
“It’s going to be in an indoor venue… a big warehouse. This is the first year we’ll be doing it this way; we’re going to learn a lot through the whole process and if it does work, which I’m sure it will, we’ll then expand into the second warehouse and will expand into the outdoor areas as well so you’ll eventually have more opportunity and more stages than we ever were able to have a Canary Wharf. This is about building it for the future.”
As someone who’s stood in clear plastic waterproof at a previous Nashville Meets London festival thanks to the Great British summer, I can see the appeal of this industrial chic converted factory space.
But isn’t this just a completely different festival then? Why not call it something else?
Peter is quick to shoot this idea down because he says NML has been gathering traction in Nashville.
“Our brand is a global brand. So when we did the first year in 2016… American Young and Logan Brill went back and told their agents that they had not only had a great time but they had been looked after. And the doors opened to agents saying to me when I went next back into Nashville, you know we really appreciate what you’re doing and we’re prepared to work with you and build this. Eventually want to take the UK back into Nashville and show them the best of the UK scene…”
That’s a mission I can get behind. But there is still a big elephant in the zoom. Even though the loss of Canary Wharf’s backing partly explains it, I must bring it up. Money. Decidedly un-British of me.
The price has gone from zero to £34 per day in one unexpected leap…
Nervous giggle (me, not him). Peter is frank about it. And, yes, he’s seen the social media complaints.
“If promoters are honest they will tell you 2022 is still a very difficult year… we decided we were going to start small again, develop this new venue...
“We’ve got to be realistic at the end of the day you can’t always have something for nothing. So we’ve gone down a ticketed route, we’ve got that message out there… [Each day] you get six acts in a fantastic venue on the River Thames if that ain’t good value for money then I don’t know what is at this moment of time. So we know what the challenges are, we know what the criticisms are, we’re going to meet them head on and I hope that by the time next year comes around people will have got used to the new venue. We’re going to be determined that people leave with a smile on their face at the end of the night or the two nights.”
Ultimately the transition into a paid event was always going to be a tough sell, especially in an increasingly crowded festival space. But I admire its intent, the future aspirations, the regular opportunities they give to UK talent (at the brand’s monthly Pizza Express Live residencies) and the lineup, so hope the festival will indeed survive to revert to a weekend spot and create its own space. We’ll be watching this year closely.
Will we see you there? All the details you need are below!
NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO…
WHEN: Nashville Meets London is being held on Weds 24th and Thurs 25th August 2022, 16:00-23:00
WHERE: Trinity Buoy Wharf, 64 Orchard Pl, London E14 0JW
TRAVEL: 5-10 minutes walk from Canning Town underground station or East India DLR station, or the D3 bus to Orchard Place from Canary Wharf. Or 15:00-19:00 you can arrive directly by boat (which must be pre-booked HERE for £9.30)
WEDNESDAY LINEUP: Shy Carter, Sarah Darling, Manny Blu, Ruthie Collins, Arbor North, and Matt Hodges
THURSDAY LINEUP: Priscilla Block, Kyle Daniel, Candi Carpenter, The Wandering Hearts, Tebey, and Essex County
TICKETS: Buy in advance HERE, or on the door while there’s availability.