Every March, a not-so quiet revolution happens in London. On a Friday afternoon while the rest of the city works on oblivious, 500,000 people (yes, half a million!) start to descend on The O2 for a long anticipated long weekend of country music.
American acts dominate the line-up in the main arena, but one of the most interesting things about the festival is the platform given to local artists on pop-up stages.
This year, rising star Liv Austen set the standard with a blistering set on the Big Entrance stage to close out the first day of free music. That was her first of three performances over the weekend, followed by another full band set and a coveted spot in a songwriters’ round in front of a packed crowd at Building Six.
This wasn’t Austen’s first C2C rodeo; she’d played back in 2015. Her long overdue return was more than warranted by her consistently catchy singles. 2017’s stunning song The Next Time was followed closely by the equally hooky Don’t Regret A Single One, which is currently A-listed on Chris Country radio.
Austen’s sets were obviously required viewing, but with so many other artists on the bill choosing who to see was a daunting task for even the most seasoned C2C veterans. Add 500,000 people to the mix and it stands to reason that a healthy percentage were new to the country scene.
Austen was happy to help orient newcomers. Starting with the big hitters, she picked out some of the most widely known artists on the bill – Faith Hill and Tim McGraw – for a good overall introduction to the genre. She also singled out Little Big Town.
The reasons why were illuminating. The draw of Tim McGraw – “probably as traditional as I go” – was that he represented the whole package: “he stands for good stuff, he seems like a really good man and he has lovely songs, he writes with great songwriters.” For Little Big Town, it was their ability to “change a lot over the years but still [keep] something consistent.”
So, we have values, kindness, songwriting, longevity, progression, consistency – all virtues that Austen herself seems to embody and strive for.
Austen’s face really lit up when it came to recommending artists from the free stages. She name-checked Danielle Bradberry who won The Voice in the U.S. in 2013 aged just 16: “it’s so cool she’s here doing pop-ups. The’re so much good stuff on here!”
She was most effusive in praise for fellow songwriter Clara Bond: “she’s wonderful, a brilliant, brilliant singer and songwriter. I wish I could sing like she does live!”
As if Austen wasn’t already on top form live! There’s a reason her name came up again and again when reviewers and festival goers listed their top performers of the festival. Her three C2C shows were evidence that she needs to be on the Radio 2 stage at next year’s festival, at minimum.
Does she set her sights higher? “I’d love to tour the world and travel round with my music, but essentially it’s just to live off the music that I consider a success.” There’s no lack of ambition there. The quality of the performance was her main concern: “I’d love to do arenas but a stadium? No, that’s just too big, you can’t really connect with people.”
Country was clearly the word of the festival, but that’s certainly not the only genre applicable to Austen’s work. Lightweight pop has been thrown about. It was presumably meant as a slight, but someone who can talk about Hanson at length (see our first interview) was obviously going to claim that backhanded compliment: “I think there should be lightweight pop festivals” she quipped, “arena tours; get them all together!”
Acknowledging that her current single, Don’t Regret A Single One, is a re-recorded re-release, she joked about just filling her forthcoming album with remixes of it – house, electro-pop and, of course, the ultimate lightweight pop version.
Joking aside, Austen *does* embrace pop, unapologetically so. It’s clear that her slick moves during her full band shows, as well as the production of her singles, owe a lot to that world and are all the better for it.
She explained “if I was in America I think they would understand if I just said country because it’s so much bigger, but here some people just think of the boots and the hats. I say country pop just to show that that influence is part of it too.”
Let’s look at the evidence, shall we? Country influences but no twang, no hat, no boots. Could Austen be ::whispers:: Americana? That would certainly be no surprise to anyone who’s seen her at acoustic songwriters’ rounds over the years.
It was also no surprise to Austen herself, as it turned out: “technically I am Americana.” Well, that was easier than I expected. Welcome to the dark side!
She elaborated: “the essence of it is it’s rooted in the Americana music tradition. I definitely do, the lyrics are so important to me. It’s just the production and the arrangement of the songs; they sound poppy because that’s what I’ve grown up listening to.”
“When I do visit that world and I do an acoustic show and you can’t really get that pop sound in because it’s just me and my guitar or me and my guitarist, then the songwriting comes out a bit more and people perceive it as Americana.”
It’s worth noting that while over 200 artists applied, Austen was one of only eight selected to participate in The Americana Music Association UK’s Songwriting Workshop earlier this year.
However, Austen admitted that she was wary of overtly promoting herself as an Americana artist: “The people who are considered Americana don’t really sound like me…I don’t want to mislead people with what sound it is.”
So, does she think there’s space for a poppier sound in the burgeoning Americana scene? “I would really love for that to be embraced. I would love for Americana in the UK, which is growing so quickly, to really open up that side so it doesn’t have to be a specific sound and that it can move a bit more towards what I do. So, if anyone is paying attention in the Americana world…” On it. Americana pop has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
Whether you loved C2C Festival or missed out this time, no need to worry as next year’s festival has already been announced. Early bird tickets for C2C 2019 (March 8-10, 2019) in London, Dublin and Glasgow are on sale now. Check out the official C2C website to buy your tickets. See you in 340 days and counting.
Can’t wait until then?? No drama. Country Music Week is coming back for 2018; 21-28 October. Kacey Musgraves, Darius Rucker, Drake White and Russell Dickerson have signed up already, with more announcements due imminently. Follow @redrospective for updates and footage from last year’s inaugural Country Music Week. Of course, there will be plenty of talented local acts out on the road well before then – make sure you get out and support them!
Liv Austen’s latest single, Don’t Regret A Single One, is out now. The video was launched during C2C Festival. Coming soon here on Redrospective: behind-the-scenes photos of the video shoot and interviews with Austen about songwriting and much more.