The C2C Festival has always engendered a certain amount of controversy in certain quarters. The CMA (Country Music Association) has to be applauded for offering the audiences in Ireland and the UK the opportunity to see a wide variety of acts currently trading under “Country Music” umbrella. It has given the more traditionally minded amongst us the opportunity to see such artists as Emmylou Harris, Dwight Yoakam and Marty Stuart.
It is debatable that this mixed billing is totally successful though, the line-up each night strives for some cohesion. In that light ,the only night of interest to Lonesome Highway was the Saturday night bill of Chris Stapleton, Lyle Lovett, Ashley McBryde and Drake White.
The timing of the event meant that White and his band had finished their set when this writer arrived at the venue. Ashley McBryde opened her set with her three-piece band, before performing a set of songs solo. She plays a lot of dates as an opening act in the US as a solo artist and she held the audience well given the size and nature of the venue. She formed a bond with the female section of the audience especially. Not one for the glitz and glamour of the party frock, McBryde in jeans and t-shirt, showed herself to be a real and sassy singer with a powerful voice and a set of songs to match. Once her band returned to the stage she brought the show to a close with songs from her recent album Girl Going Nowhere. After telling us tales of the ironic nature of the title and how her album was the biggest selling debut album last year, she made a sizeable impact on the audience and received substantial applause that bodes well for a return.
After a break the next act was the undeniable classy Lyle Lovett and His Quasi Cowboy Band. These were a skilled group of 8 musicians with a long association playing with Lovett. He thanked the CMA for bringing them over for these show as it would be difficult for many promoters to accommodate bringing so many musicians as a part of one act to Europe in normal circumstances, as well the fact the Lovett has not released a new album for some time.
These craftsmen included Victor Krauss on upright bass, Russ Kunkel (drums), Jim Cox (piano), Keith Sewell (mandolin and acoustic guitar), Luka Bulla (fiddle), Dean Parks (pedal steel), Ray Herndon (guitar) and the wonderful Francine Reed (vocals). The latter making a big impact with the audience when Lovett left the stage allowing Reed to sing an old Ida Cox song Wild Women Don’t Have The Blues.
Other songs included in the set were That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas), My Baby Don’t Tolerate, Pants Is Overrated, If I Had A Boat, Church, Here I Am which has that wonderful lyrical questioning that is indicative of Lovett’s interesting lyrical themes: “Given that true intellectual and emotional compatibility are at the very least difficult, if not impossible to come by, we could always opt for the more temporal gratification of sheer physical attraction.”
However, this may not have been an ideal venue for Lovett given the amount of audience talking that was to be heard during his set. None the less, for many, his set was the highlight of the evening proving again that his blend of country, jazz, gospel and more is very special indeed. The final song, by “one of his songwriting heroes,” was a uptempo version of Townes van Zandt’s White Freight Liner Blues which had various members of band singing a verse. It was a perfect closing number of what was an undoubted highlight of the C2C events to date.
Headliner Chris Stapleton was greeted by wild applause and the range of age and gender of his fans was telling. Around us were several women singing every word of his songs. They were having a good time. However, this reviewer found the sound somewhat muddy and overloud overall. The bass drum was dominating the sound of the first few numbers making it difficult to hear the guitar or vocals clearly. More effective was a set of songs played on his acoustic guitar. Stapleton’s opening slot at a previous C2C event was in some ways more effective. Here, with a longer set length, the songs began to blend into each other as the tempo and sound was very similar. Stapleton’s heavily pregnant wife Morgane joined the trio at several times in the set to add harmony vocals though they were also, at times, hard to discern in the mix.
The material was drawn largely from his threealbums and including Parachute which is built around a memorable stand -out guitar riff, Tennessee Whiskey and Traveller all taken from his million selling album of that name. I have enjoyed all Stapleton albums but, in truth, found this live experience less effective. The live trio of Stapleton, bassist J.T. Cure and drummer Derek Mixon (his usual live band who also play on the albums) have an obvious rapport but it lacked a little light and shade that might have been helped by the addition of a couple more players. However,this mattered little to his many fans in the 3 Arena this night who loved every minute of Stapleton’s distinctive vocals and fluent guitar playing.
The evening did little to change the conundrum of trying to be all things to all people and trying to define the contradictions of the traditional and the contemporary. However hopefully everybody who attended went away having found something they sought from the event.
Review by Stephen Rapid All photography by Ronnie Norton.