Rotterdam’s Ahoy Arena Ignites with Country Music Brilliance: C2C Festival Delivers Unforgettable Acts

From Nashville to Rotterdam: C2C Festival Transforms Ahoy into Country Music Paradise...

Live Review by: Gabor Kleinbloesem

All Photos Credit: Charles Batenburg

 

The festival C2C (Country To Country) is the biggest European country rock festival and it takes place in various cities every year. I never experienced this festival, so when I was able to attend the festival in the area where I live, which is in the city of Rotterdam, it was clear that this was going to be an interesting visit, because country musicians do not visit The Netherlands very often. It was a good opportunity to catch up with a bunch of the latest new sensations from the USA, but also a few established acts were part of the line-up. In 2024 the festival is spread over London, Glasgow, Belfast, Berlin and Rotterdam. The London edition is huge, with many stages and at least 100 acts playing over 3 days. In Rotterdam there are 3 stages and a total of 22 artists/bands performing over 2 days. However, what surprised me is the incredible high level of all the acts, because from the very first seconds of the event on Saturday afternoon until the end on Sunday evening it was a joy to watch and experience all these high profile acts doing incredible performances at the Ahoy venue in Rotterdam. Some of these acts are huge in the USA, but over here in Europe there is a smaller audience for the country related music, which is a pity, because their music is often much more than country, as most of the newer acts melt it with other music influences, and eventually some become major superstars (TAYLOR SWIFT).

Actually in The Netherlands we do have some Dutch country crossover pop/rock acts that are very popular, such as ILSE DELANGE, WAYLON, DANNY VERA and perhaps DOUWE BOB, but when you get the chance to see some of the hottest new acts from Nashville, Texas, Georgia and other parts of the USA, then you will understand that those acts, such as RANDALL KING, RESTLESS ROAD, JACKSON DEAN, LAKEVIEW, OLD DOMINION, DRAKE MILLIGAN and of course the legendary BRAD PAISLEY, they are simply said the real deal when it comes to the best of the best in country/americana/singer/songwriter related pop/rock music. The collection of 20-25 artists and bands on 2 nights without a single minute of waiting time means there is some overlap and you have to choose here and there, but overall it was possible to see each act for at least a while without missing anything else. The main stage and spotlight stage were in the same hall, making it possible to continue with live music all throughout the afternoon/evening. In the main hall of the venue there was the food and merchandise area, but also a second stage, so you could always drop by to catch some of the great acts on that stage.

HALLE KEARNS was the opening act of the festival, but she also performed later that day on a different stage, so for yours truly the festival started with an amazing unique performance labelled as Introducing Nashville, which was host to 3 Nashville based singer/songwriters whom each performed a few songs, and I have to say that they all sounded sensational, both vocally and songwise. They performed with their acoustic guitar only, and you can definitely hear the high level of such Nashville based artists. GREYLAN JAMES, LAUREN WATKINS and KARLEY SCOTT COLLINS are their names, and they performed a lovely show together but separately, because they sat next to each other and switched during each song. Especially Lauren has an incredible voice (a la JAIME KYLE and KT TUNSTALL), but Karley and Greylan sounded great as well. I loved in particular Karley’s song Heavy Metal, which was dedicated to the music her father played in the car on the way to school. I am quite sure these singer/songwriters will become bigger in the near future, because their performances on this main stage showed they are able to keep the people interested from start to finish.

After this fantastic start it was up to newcomer MASON RAMSEY to perform on the smaller spotlight stage, and he is a very young talented singer, who sounded pretty good actually. However, at the same time on the second stage a singer/songwriter called FANCY HAGOOD was presenting his music, so I moved on. Fancy is from Nashville, but moved to Los Angeles for a while after coming out in 2011. He is now settled in Nashville again, and building up a career with some great country music, and all together this was a solid acoustic show that would serve as a nice warming up to the rocking evening that started at 18:05 sharp with RANDALL KING.

RANDALL KING is yet another upcoming country singer that brings us classic country, yet with a typical Americana/AOR touch here and there. During songs like Burns Like Her and Hey Cowgirl he has that VAN STEPHENSON ish AOR touch during the catchy hook and memorable chorus, although vocally Randall has got the typical Country voice like for example KENNY CHESNEY, BRAD PAISLEY, TIM MCGRAW, KEITH URBAN, etc. etc. I am convinced Randall will become a huge star in the future. I sadly missed CARTER FAITH as I had to grab some food in order to make it through the rest of this sensational evening, because up next was RESTLESS ROAD. This is actually a trio of 3 lead singers (Zach Beeken, Colton Pack and Garrett Nichols) who sang lead and harmony together each and every song, while being backed by a full band. Although at first sight they look and act like a boyband, they are really good singing those harmony vocals together. They recently released their debut and they are definitely an act to watch out for in the future, because these 3 singers are going to be bigger stars for sure. The only complaint here is that this stage was way too small for them. Their catchy melodic country pop/rock belongs to a bigger stage and I am convinced that next time they will not be seen in such a small setting, because those voices scream for a much bigger stage.

ALANA SPRINGSTEEN was up next on the main stage and she is not related to Bruce, although you might think she is with such a name! Her music is live on stage this evening more leaning towards commercial melodic pop rock with an AOR touch. She has a superb guitar player in her band who throws some lovely soaring guitar solos in each and every song, while the songs are very catchy and as already mentioned it’s actually far removed from country music. It’s a bit sounding like ILSE DE LANGE, but overall much better I think than Ilse’s music, and it’s clear that Alana is following the footsteps of her idol TAYLOR SWIFT to make crossover country-pop for a bigger audience than only the country community. She has a very strong voice and her stage performance is really good, so who knows she will become a huge star herself in the near future. Fans of female fronted singer-songwriter AOR/Poprock a la JAIME KYLE, MARTEE LEBOW, PAT BENATAR and such might also want to check out ALANA SPRINGSTEEN, because it is more in that direction than pure country music, at least live on stage on C2C, because when listening to her recently released debut album Twenty Something it is definitely classic female country 90s pop/rock of SHANIA TWAIN, FAITH HILL, CARRIE UNDERWOOD, etc.etc. Personally speaking I loved the live performance, the music and Alana’s voice, so definitely a winner here, although the die-hard country fans might find her music a bit too pop/rock oriented here on this stage. On the other hand, she couldn’t do anything wrong this evening, because the crowd sang along with her when she did a cover of the 80s WHITNEY HOUSTON classic I Wanna Dance With Somebody!

Anyway, moving on to the smaller spotlight stage again with the young upcoming star HALLE KEARNS, who brought us a nice typical modern female country pop style, and her strong voice made it definitely worth it watching the whole show, but there was another female singer on the second stage at the same time, and I really wanted to see her, because COLBIE CAILLAT is already huge in the USA with several Grammy Awards. It’s clear why, because her voice and music is excellent melodic music that combines country, pop and rock. She has already released a lot of albums the past few decades, and many charted high in the US Billboard Charts, while she also co-wrote songs on TAYLOR SWIFT 2nd album Fearless. Colbie stays true to her melodic acoustic tingled music and despite the fact this might only appeal to a smaller audience than Taylor’s huge following, Colbie’s music is authentic and beautiful to listen to, especially live on stage.

BRAD PAISLEY was the main attraction on the Saturday line-up, because he is a major star in the US Countryscene and far beyond. He is one of the big names when it comes down to country music for at least the past 25-30 years. Actually TAYLOR SWIFT was one of his opening artists about 15 years ago, but we all know that she eventually became the biggest popstar ever to come out of the country world. However, Brad remains a true country rocker and delivers here the best show of day 1 of the C2C festival, because from the start until the end he performs an excellent mix of uptempo country rockers, midtempo pieces and ballads. For example I Thought I loved You Then is an incredible ballad (AORish) and Tennessee Home and American Saturday Night cool uptempo rockers. He is a fantastic lead singer and he can shred the guitar very well, while his performance act on stage was phenomenal, because he’s really connecting with the audience, especially when at one point he takes a selfie with a cell phone he got from a girl in the audience. He didn’t gave the cell back before checking all the pictures on her phone, so he was fooling around and making fun, and that’s basically what was going on throughout the whole show, having fun and giving everyone the best time of their lives, because after all, BRAD PAISLEY is not a musician you can watch live many times in your life if you live in Europe! Between all his own songs he managed to sneak in a crowd favorite country classic such as JOHN DENVER’s Take Me Home, Country Roads, which of course completed the show as being the purest country show of the day. Concluding, day 1 was an incredible roller coaster ride with so much great music by a lot of fantastic singer/songwriters, so it was already a successful festival after just 1 day, but there was one more day to come…

Day 2 started at 16:15 sharp with BEN CHAPMAN, another great singer/songwriter who looked like a rocker, kinda reminding me both visually and vocally of the days when BRETT MICHAELS of POISON and JON BON JOVI added a little country touch in their music somewhere in the early 90s. It sounded quite close to Blaze Of Glory, so then you more or less understand what Ben was doing. He was connecting quite easily with the crowd and the short show was a nice opening of Day 2. Then I went to the main stage to watch the amazing DRAKE MILLIGAN. He’s a singer/songwriter/guitarist from Texas who is clearly influenced by ELVIS PRESLEY and classic Country singers such as GEORGE STRAIT. He definitely has the Elvis looks and moves, while his music is a mix of old time 50s rock and roll and country, kinda rockabilly a la THE STRAY CATS, and without a doubt, he owned the stage from start to finish. The crowd loved it and I am convinced that Drake will return to Europe in the near future and eventually become a big star, because he has that certain X factor that is needed to make it big. His music is also very catchy and memorable in a way that it has this old rock and roll/country soul approach which we don’t hear much nowadays.

REDFERRIN had the weirdest hair of the whole event, and although it wasn’t bad at all, I went on to check out RITA WILSON, who was performing at the same time as REDFERRIN. She is a popular singer/songwriter/producer/actress in the USA and has so far released 5 albums, which also includes a duets album where she did duets with legendary singer/songwriters like JACKSON BROWNE, ELVIS COSTELLO and KEITH URBAN and such. Rita herself has a great voice and her story-telling Americana songs are a pleasure to listen to. After a while she suddenly says that she wants to do a rap song and although it isn’t a bad thing to think out of the box, it wasn’t necessary to do this during this short show at a country festival, so it got people moving eventually, especially considering the fact that the following artist on the main stage was set to become the highlight of the whole festival!

JACKSON DEAN was one of the singer/songwriters/multi-instrumentalists I was looking forward to the most, because his voice is incredible, and his music is raw outlaw country-rock crossed with a touch of southern rock, yet with a catchy melodic hook and chorus in each and every song. He is the youngest country musician to score a number 1 hit single, so I guess you can say that he’s got all it takes to become really huge in the future. Tonight he and his band (the lead guitarist was sensational in a RITCHIE BLACKMORE style!) were on fire and bringing down a real rock and roll show to town. It rocked quite hard from time to time, easily reaching the strength of a southern (hard) rock band like ROBERT JON & THE WRECK or LYNYRD SKYNYRD. The fact that he has just delivered his solo debut album is quite surprising, because he looks and sounds as if he has been in the music business for over a number of years already. His voice is one-of-a-kind, and of course CHRIS STAPLETON comes to mind here and there, but JACKSON DEAN rocks harder. In Conclusion, a big voice surrounded in a country southern rocking setting is what we got to see and hear, and I can easily say that he was in the top 3 of best acts of the C2C festival!

DYLAN SCHNEIDER is another newcomer and he showed that with his strong voice and stage performance he has got all it takes to become a superstar. Sadly I couldn’t watch the whole show, because at the same time another very interesting act was performing on the second stage. LAKEVIEW is a superb acoustic guitar duo of 2 guys that can truly sing and harmonize their voices just perfectly. They look like a bunch of punk pop guys, but their music is super melodic acoustic guitar driven Westcoast pop/rock and they remind me a lot of NELSON. I wonder if they plug in their guitars and get a band backing them up, because then they might sound even better and get ready to rock on a main stage!

LAUREN ALAINE has been around for a slightly longer time now, but personally I had never heard of her, so this was my first introduction. Her music is just like ALANA SPRINGSTEEN more moving into a melodic pop rock direction with a tiny Country influence, and once again the guitarist did some great stuff here, He did a cool Enter Sandman meets Pretty Woman guitar riff as intro to one of Lauren’s songs, and all throughout the show he did some excellent guitar work as if he was playing in a hardrock band! Lauren herself is a singer with a raw tone in her voice, and she looks and sounds a bit like BONNIE TYLER. Her stage performance is also top-notch, because she makes the much-needed connection with the audience, and despite country might not be present all the time here, the show was a nice pop/rock live performance with as highlight her song Road Less Traveled, which got the audience singing along. Her cover of Fat Bottomed Girls was the least interesting song, and I have to admit that Lauren was not the strongest singer on the bill, while also her songs were not that spectacular, but on the other hand she got the crowd enjoying her performance and that’s the most important thing.

It was a bit less crowded than on Saturday, so grabbing something to eat was easier, although I would advise for a future festival in the Ahoy venue that the food area should be a bit more spread over the inside and outside area, so people can easier get their food, but most importantly more places to sit down should be arranged, because eventually now people started to sit on the floor because there was no other possibility! Anyway, after a quick snack I moved on to see ALEXANDRA KAY, a female singer who was performing here in an acoustic duo setting. Her studio album is clearly more into a melodic rock direction (check out her lovely song Easy for example), while this evening it was a calmer show where Alexandra sang in a pure country style, and she definitely does this very well. However, I look forward to a full blown rock band show of this talented singer, so hopefully that will happen next time.

STEPHEN WILSON JR is a singer/songwriter with an alternative Americana rocking sound that fits somewhere between BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, NEIL YOUNG, THE NATIONAL, THE WAR ON DRUGS and TOM PETTY, and he definitely got the attention of the audience due to this tough uptempo heartland rocking sound that had its highlight during the catchy Year to Be Young 1994. No overlaps this time, so everybody could watch Stephen’s full 30 minutes set and then move on to the main stage to see the headliner of Day 2, which was OLD DOMINION.  

OLD DOMINION is one of the major country rock bands in the USA right now, although their music is much more than just country music, because they melt it with all kinds of other music genres, such as rock, soul, reggae and Westcoast, which are harmonized perfectly, and it is quite clear that they are the most professional band of the festival. They are one of those bands that has a full set of potential hit songs, and even in Europe they could easily become a big Arena Rockband. The harmony vocals are crystal clear and these are 5 fantastic musicians performing an incredible show that from start to finish had everyone in their pocket! They threw in a lot of fun as well, so it was one big happy fun rock and roll show, and although they follow a bit the rules of the country-pop rock bands of the past such as POCO, RESTLESS HEART, BLACKHAWK, BOULDER (remember them???), etc., OLD DOMINION definitely does it in a modern way, because they sound like a band from the current modern era with a retro vibe, including the aforementioned influences of other music genres. This is a band that consists of musicians who have written songs for big country acts in the past 10-15 years, but eventually they joined forces and started a band on their own, and especially in the USA they are a major band. One of their songs even had me thinking of HUEY LEWIS & THE NEWS (Midnight Mess Around), especially due to the lead singer’s Huey kind tone in his voice! Anyway, thanks to this performance at C2C, OLD DOMINION are definitely entering a new territory, and I am quite sure they are able to secure an even bigger audience next time they come over. This was one of those nights where this band couldn’t do anything wrong, because from start to finish this was a champions league performance. It was the perfect ending of a fantastic 2-day festival, which hopefully will return at the same venue next year…

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