Spoilt for choice is not an expression I ever expected to use in relation to the Country and Americana scene in the U.K. But this coming festival season is bringing chart-topping artists like Jon Pardi over to headline, a new Country and Americana music Festival ‘Highways’ will debut in the Royal Albert Hall, and last year’s new kid ‘West Country Music Festival’ returns for a second year, headlined by Wandering Hearts.
It’s not all good news: last year ambitious Essex festival Tennessee Fields was cancelled, and stalwart Millport festival is cancelled for this summer at least. It feels more vital than ever to support our precious festivals before we lose them. But when life events, or peksy details like the gig fund running dry, mean that you can’t attend them all, how do you choose?
For festivals it’s about more than the line-up, especially as many of the acts coming to the U.K. for a festival will add their own tour dates so you could potentially catch a favourite elsewhere. Instead, along with the names on the posters, I’m thinking about the whole experience: from the stages and sound quality to additional entertainment, the vibe, the food and, yes, the loos. Always the loos.
After a decade squeezing in as many UK festivals as I could while also trying to be a responsible adult, these three annual events have come out as my top picks. But you can also check out our festival map below to see other events happening near you throughout 2023.
BEST COUNTRY FESTIVAL FOR COUNTRY RADIO SUPERSTARS
COUNTRY TO COUNTRY (10-12th March 2023)
If your country music sweet-spot is the weekly chart countdown on the Bobby Bones Show, C2C needs to be written in permanent marker on your calendar. This, Europe’s biggest Country Music Festival, is largely pitched at New Country fans with back-to-back concerts from artists who sell-out stadium tours across the States. 2023 headliners are Lady Antebellum, Thomas Rhett and Zac Brown Band, while previous years have welcomed stars like Tim McGraw, Miranda Lambert, Luke Combs and Darius Rucker.
The event’s pedestal has been wobbling in recent years with rising ticket prices, repeat artists on the line-up and new festivals to compete with but, now a decade old, it’s still the most epic and polished event for UK country fans. Plus we can’t forget that C2C’s groundwork paved the way for the increase in U.S. acts adding the U.K. to their touring routes.
For a fuller festival experience beyond the mainstream arena shows, London is the best value with plenty of smaller stages and acts to see, and for the first time this year the festival is offering a budget-friendly alternative to its O2 main stage with events continuing outside the main auditorium throughout the evening. For Glasgow there’s also a daytime stage at the arena’s record shop plus a seperate event ‘Country on the Clyde’ runs alongside C2C, filling the gap with more daytime gigs and after parties.
BEST COUNTRY FESTIVAL FOR MEETING FRIENDS AND THE ARTISTS
BUCKLE AND BOOTS (25-28th May 2023)
This is a small (in size rather than aspiration) family-run festival and so its line-ups reflect this: usually just a few but well-chosen international acts and plenty of quality UK artists. For 2023 duo Everette are headlining and while they were relatively unknown when they played tiny festival stages in the UK in 2022, they proved themselves worthy of more prestigious billings.
The picturesque farm-site in Greater Manchester is easily walkable with just two stages and a central bar congregating spot, so it’s great for getting to know fellow country fans, even if you’re attending alone. You’re also likely to be side-by-side with a performer in a bar or food truck queue. On that note, queue times have always been minimal and the loos have been spacious and clean. We’d recommend camping though as local cabs are notoriously unreliable.
Above all, Buckle and Boots always offer something surprising on their schedule, from a Sunday morning church service with hymns led by a headliner to an orchestra playing classical versions of country hits.
BEST COUNTRY FESTIVAL OVERALL
THE LONG ROAD (25-27th August 2023)
A mere toddler on the UK festival scene but not one to be underestimated. The Long Road has just announced its first raft of acts for 2023, it’s 4th year, to reveal a now trademark, satisfying mix of: billboard chart-toppers (Jon Pardi and Eli Young Band), Southern rock (Blackberry Smoke), throwback artists (Nickel Creek) and both traditional and alt Country (Sierra Ferrell and Margo Price).
As well as keeping up the unwritten commitment to diversity in its line-ups, the smaller print reveals distinctive talents we’ve long championed like Gabe Lee and the UK’s Foreign Affairs. But it’s not just the music which keeps us coming back.
This outdoor festival, a mix of open-air and marquee stages, plus themed ‘county zones’ will leave you feeling like you’ve jumped on a flight to the southern states, rather than hopped on a train / motorway to Leicestershire. The holiday vibe is added to with varied activities like swimming, yoga, classes and games or after-hours options including karaoke, campfire singalongs and dancefloors. It’s dog-friendly, family friendly, camper and non-camper friendly (with a regular shuttle service to and from the local hotels and train station) and budget-friendly, offering an instalment payment plan (on the already good value tickets) which other festivals should pay attention to.
What’s your favourite country music festival? Find more Country and Americana festivals near you including others that just missed this list (like Kent’s epic Americana affair Black Deer festival) by visiting our UK Country Music Festvials Map below. Also check out our gig calendar and keep an eye on our socials for updates, @britsinboots.
Also shout out to Black Deer & Nashville Meets London!