12 Days of Christmas – Day 9!

Welcome to our festive feature where the Belles and Gals team get together to bring you the highlights of their year. Today Lesley Hastings  (twitter.com/lesleyhastings) shares her highlights of 2018!

Looking back over the past year and all the fantastic female country artists I’ve been fortunate enough to see, hear and sometimes interview it was impossible to chose a single highlight! What I’ve done, therefore, is gone through each month selecting my favourite moments to share with you!

2018 got off to a fantastic start with a whistle-stop trip to Boston ( Massachusetts not Lincolnshire! ) to see favourites of mine Brandy Clark and Angaleena Presley perform at a CMA Songwriters round, the type of event I particularly love. The venue was the beautiful brand new City Winery and these two ladies were as entertaining as they are talented. I also had the privilege of presenting Brandy with the Belles and Gals award for “ UK Country Event of the Year” for her 2017 tour which saw her playing an impressive thirteen shows!   
I love discovering “ new to me “ artists, and one who’s music made an immediate impression on me this year was Jaime Wyatt. Touring the UK to promote her album “ Felony Blues” I got to interview her before her superb headline show in London. She promised to take me out for a vegan meal next time I’m in LA, don’t think I’ve forgotten, Jaime! 


C2C month of course!! Despite not having arena tickets this year it was my favourite ever, seeing so many artists on the smaller stages and getting to chat with several too. A few of the weekend’s most notable moments included  catching  Ashley McBryde, Delta Rae, The Adelaides  and Jillian Jacqueline live for the first time. All these artists performed in the living room type set up of O2’s NY-LON Lounge…..you can’t get more ” up close and personal ” than that.  But DEFINITELY my March highlight ( and highlight of the year) was interviewing, at length, the aforementioned Ashley McBryde before her headliner at London’s Borderline the day after the festival.  What a truly down to earth person she is, I think we chatted about dogs and tattoos as much as we did about her ( then) forthcoming album which has just received a well deserved Grammy nomination. Oh and her gig was something incredibly special too! 
Another fun month! Cam put on an amazing show in North London, my biggest memory is how blown away she was to hear everyone singing along to her single “ Diane”

The same month saw UK’s own Megan O’Neill  launch her stunning album “ Ghost of You” at a brilliant live event and also the return to these shores of TexanWhitney Rose who had impressed me so much last year at the tiny Green Note. This time round she could really let rip at the larger Lexington with a full band. 
 This month Gretchen Peters released her latest gem of and album “ Dancing With The Beast” and tour the UK,  I caught her date at the always great Milton Keynes Stables . Gretchen is one of my total favourite songwriters who often tours alongside Mary Gauthier who also visited the UK this month. I finally made it to one of her shows, getting to hear some incredibly moving and inspiring songs from her Grammy nominated album “ Rifles and Rosary Beads” co-written with U.S. veterans and their families. UK duo The Shires were mid tour promoting their latest album “ Accidentally On Purpose” and I thoroughly enjoyed their slick show in Oxford which also introduced me to the fantastic Nashville based artist Sinead Burgess who opened for them. 
Having to combine these months as my trip to music city straddled them both! It had been a while since my last Nashville visit, and I’d never stayed more than a few days, so a fortnight there let me really soak up the atmosphere. An airbnb is East Nashville ( actually Kacey Musgrave’s first home in the city!) was perfect for both exploring downtown and relaxing away from the hubbub. As well as meeting up with several friends I’ve made over the years due to our shared love of country music, I of course got to see some great female artists some of whom were new names to me but have become firm favourites ( Emma WhiteTiera , Brittany McLambJudy Blank) ) some who I knew of but had never seen play ( Erin EnderlinCandi CarpenterTenille TownesLiz Rose,  all of whom surpassed my expectations ) and others I was more than happy to see again ( Little Big TownErin RaeCaroline Spence ). Backstage tours of both The Ryman and the Opry gave fascinating insights to these iconic venues but for live music I favoured the smaller places such as The Basement, The Listening Room ( a big shout out to the Song Suffragettesshow there on Monday evenings!) and 3rd and Lindsley. A fantastic holiday and the direct BA flight from Heathrow is highly recommended! 
A pretty quiet month ( good job as my credit card was still recovering from Nashville!) but Caroline Spence returned to the UK and I was more than happy to see her again! Another great show at Camden’s Green Note.  
One of my top three gig highlights of 2018 was Leeann Womack’s riveting and vocally flawless acoustic performance at London’s Union Chapel which held me spellbound from start to finish. Having seen her just once before as C2C it was a real treat to catch her at this amazing venue playing songs from her extensive catalogue. And the evening before I caught Angaleena Presley for the second time this year at her only UK headline show. By now Angaleena was complete with baby bump and was as hilarious as ever while also still conveying the important messages in many of her songs. 
The busiest month of the year for me for sure! It kicked off with catching Ashley Mcbride again ( opening for Luke Combs and at her headline show). The release of her  album “ Girl Going Nowhere” saw her popularity and those intimate shows of hers I mentioned earlier are definitely things of the past! An artist Ashley is both friends and co-writer with, Cheley Tackett , played a house-concert local to me the following week and definitely won me over. The following evening it was the Belles and Gals showcase, such talent on stage at the packed out Water Rats (Hannah Paris, Lucy Grubb, Shannon Hynes and Emily Frith all seriously impressive).Lindsay Ell wowed everyone at the Borderline a couple of nights later, despite having most of her gear stolen just before heading to the UK.  And then it was headlong into Country Music Week!!  Despite the female representation this year being sadly light regarding headliners I still got to see some fantastic artists including Tenille Townes  ( thanks for such a fun interview!)  Kassi Ashton and Ashley Campbell at the excellent CMA Songwriters Series, and I seriously loved the” new to me” all round amazing Lainey Wilson  A busy week finished with Kacey Musgraves’ first ever Arena show at Wembley, of course performing songs from one of my albums of the year “ Golden Hour” and sounding/looking as wonderful as ever. 
Was frazzled but very happy come the end of the month! 
Another of my albums of the year was released this month, what a stunner from Pistol Annies, the ultimate gal power trio for sure! Gig wise I was totally bowled over by Maren Morris who played a rare intimate acoustic gig at O’Meara, together with a solid opening set from UK’s Catherine McGrath who has had a brilliant year with fantastic reviews for her debut album “ Talk of the Town”.   And it was lovely to catch up with O&O, my favourite UK based duo, who played at the cute “ Coal House” , part of Woodberry Wetlands in Hackney. 
For me Christmas doesn’t begin until the now legendary Red Sky July December gig at the Green Note! This year’s was bitter sweet as founder member Charity Hair has moved back to the States, but on only her second appearance with this trio Haley Smith won everyone over with her harmonium and guitar playing, rich vocals and songwriting.
A great end to a great year, and 2019 is already beginning to shape up nicely……bring it on! 
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