When one considers the country music scene, there has never been any doubt that the particular country in question is the United States.
But coming off the wildly successful Country to Country Festival that showcased numerous top Nashville acts, including headliners Brad Paisley and the Zac Brown Band, to a British audience of over 40,000 fans, many wonder if the genre is about to expand internationally.
Sure, there have been a few international performers to breakthrough, such as Australia’s Keith Urban, who has racked up 16 number-one hits since his self-titled debut in 1999. Yet, the 46-year-old Urban is arguably most popular here in America, and his success only modestly broadened country’s music reach.
Bringing live country music to an ever-growing audience in the UK, the recent two-day event was held inside London’s 02 Arena on March 15 and March 16. The second-annual festival featured a packed house for both shows and crowds additionally cheered such chart toppers as Rascal Flatts, Martina McBride, Chris Young, The Band Perry, and Dixie Chicks.
That is an impressive line-up by any standard, as each performer has earned multiple number one singles on the BIllboard charts. Furthermore, several acts proudly possess a “genuine country” reputation, which otherwise precludes overt alterations in style to persuade cross-over fans.
While heartening to see the willingness of the “C2C” artists to expand the scope of country music, it is even more impressive to see the popular reception by an international audience.
In fact, as a long-time country music follower, I’m not certain fellow supporters in markets like New York City or Los Angeles could match that kind of devotion — and ticket sales.
Will the success of the Country to Country Festival start a trend, with more Nashville-based artists expending greater energy on the overseas market? Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Brantley Gilbert, and Lady Antebellum all enjoyed some degree of success on recent international tours to Europe and Asia. Demand certainly appears to exist in Britain and countries like Ireland and Sweden have also witnessed country tours enjoy success.
In fact, musicians may even believe in a richer upside to wooing new fans in places like London than in reaching out to non-traditional American audiences.
Speaking after his sold-out London show, the affable Paisley told the British press, “Country music has a huge amount of radio play in America. It’s the largest format. It’s a huge percentage of the live music landscape, yet it’s not as represented in America as you might think.”
Paisley went on to note that despite country music’s widespread popularity, it is only minimally represented in cross-over forums such as the Grammy Awards.
Though last year’s inaugural Country to Country festival was smaller, it still featured mega-stars Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood. This year’s event actually served as a week-long celebration of music, which additionally offered new fans access to a songwriter’s showcase, merchandise sales, and more.
Momentum is clearly building and it would not surprise me to see a wise promoter take advantage and expand the concept.
The third edition of the C2C concert has already been scheduled for March 7 and 8 and tickets for the 2015 show will go on sale on Friday, March 21.
I think country music’s efforts to broaden the reach of the music are commendable. A potential movement could pay immediate dividends by attaining new fans and greater record sales.
More intriguingly, however, long-terms gains could also include producing a diversity of artists, which always raises concerns of changing a format so beloved for its uniquely American roots.
Yet, few fans could complain about what Keith Urban has added to the genre. In fact, I suspect future performers who come to Nashville from different backgrounds will similarly strive to be country, not to change it.