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Country Music: New worlds

Country Music: New worlds

Chair: Ben Martin, Marshall Arts (UK)

Guest speakers:
Bertus de Blaauw, Mojo Concerts (NL)
Sean Goulding, UTA (UK)
Bob Harris OBE, WBBC (UK)
Milly Olykan, C2C Festival / AEG International (UK)
Sarah Trahern, Country Music Association (US)

With Country to Country festival (C2C) taking place in London in the days immediately following ILMC, some of the key figures behind the scene came together on Thursday afternoon to discuss the growing popularity of country music outside the United States.

For Country Music Association’s Sarah Trahern, C2C was quite simply a “game-changer” event that has dramatically opened up the market for country acts to visit Europe. “It gives you the chance to create a lot of synergy and momentum behind country in a bigger way than there was when it was more about one artist coming and playing an individual show,’ she told delegates, praising the support of promoter AEG and broadcasting partner BBC.

“C2C is a landmark event,” agreed UTA’s Sean Goulding. “Bands talk to one another. They see the promotion they are getting from radio. There’s an ecosystem that’s being put together here and word spreads.”

Looking back on the first C2C in 2013, Milly Olykan said that launching the event “was definitely a risk, but we knew there was a level of business there. It was really [a question] of how much business.” In her view, "the country community has really been underserved in the UK” and the success of the festival, which has since expanded to Dublin and Glasgow, has overwhelmingly proved demand for country music exists beyond just America.

“I’ve seen a change take place over the past 20 years,” reflected broadcaster Bob Harris, who said that the past insularity of Nashville “does not exist anymore” and the scene’s biggest stars now have a more cosmopolitan outlook. He said that, for him, the “tipping point” came in 2014 when the Zac Brown Band covered Led Zepellin’s Kashmir and Metallica’s Enter Sandman at C2C.

“I watched from the side of the stage as all the traditionalists, 'the old crusties' as I call them, got up and left,” recalled Harris. The following year “every single one of those empty seats were now filled by an entirely new generation of young kids who are bringing a phenomenal energy into the arena,” he went on to say, calling C2C “the catalyst” for the new generation of artists and fans getting into country music and bringing diversity and freshness to the form. “In that respect, I think the whole genre is in a really, really healthy situation,” enthused the long-time country fan.

“I watched from the side of the stage as all the traditionalists, 'the old crusties' as I call them, got up and left"

The question of whether country’s popularity in the UK could translate abroad was answered by Bertus de Blaauw. He said that while the level of interest in the genre was smaller in Holland than the UK, he had been pleasantly surprised by the strong business that touring country acts had done in the market and envisaged further growth.

“There’s definitely a lot of potential there,” he said. “What we are seeing is that the younger generation of country acts are more willing to go into the European market. The fact that the music is getting more open minded, means the Dutch market can relate to it, which was difficult in the old days with the cowboy hats.”

Further evidence of the fast-changing country industry came from a US-based artist manager in the audience. Welcoming the new global market opportunities that had arisen in the past five years, she said that Nashville had become “so over saturated” that her company was now trying to break US country acts in Europe first, before introducing them to American audiences. New worlds, indeed.