2019 Live Music Highlights – Lesley Hastings

So another country music filled year draws to an end… and what an amazing one 2019 turned out to be! So many female artists made it a year to remember when it came to live shows that it’s sadly impossible to mention them all , but here are just a few of my personal highlights.
While I generally opt for small, intimate venues when it comes to live music these days, when I reflected on this year it was the relatively few shows I saw in larger settings which immediately came to mind.

I absolutely loved everything about Carrie Underwood’s “Cry Pretty” tour which I caught in July at Wembley. As well as her incredible vocals (such range and control!) she demonstrated what a great all round entertainer she is, and alongside her superb band and the phenomenal staging it reminded me why I love catching concerts of this scale every now and again! Talking of scale, just a few months previously I was lucky enough to attend the Loretta Lynn All Star Birthday Tribute Concert at Nashville’s iconic Bridgestone Arena , where an array of country stars gathered to perform the legend’s songs. The lady herself greeted them and watched at the side of the stage before joining everyone for the final song which of course was “Coalminer’s Daughter”. As if having the likes of Kacey Musgraves, LeeAnn Womack, Martina McBride, Brandy Clark, Pistol Annies and Margo Price on the bill, the concert also saw the first ever public performance by “The Highwomen“. Yes, that will take a lot of beating!

Back on home turf, while the O2 Shepherd’s Bush isn’t one of my favourite places to see live music (and I’m getting far too old to join in the downstairs mosh pit for sure!) it played host to some great concerts this year. Always a crowd pleaser, Cam (and her baby bump which we now know was her daughter Lucy!) performed a stunner of a show there in early September, the same month that saw Ashley McBryde sell out the venue where she had performed just a year before as opener for Luke Combs. And she seemed genuinely taken aback by the reception she and her band Deadhorse received. I actually caught them on this same tour in Hamburg and Berlin, where they played much smaller venues and I could witness at closer range the brilliant on stage rapport Ashley has with her musicians. Those two shows also saw Ashley’s long time friend/cowriter Cheley Tackett (who I’m also a huge fan of and who’s solo UK tour was incredible too) as opener, which sealed the deal for me! But back to Shepherd’s Bush, and the following month, as part of October’s Country Music Week in London, Brandy Clark played a rare UK full band show which was fortunately all-seated and I got I see my favourite artist from the second row. Alongside a selection from her back catalogue we were treated to several brand new songs from her next studio album, “Your Life Is A Record” due for release next February, and if I wasn’t excited enough about this before the show I sure was afterwards!
When it comes to the numerous smaller gigs I attended this year, among those that really impacted on me was the first visit to the UK by Erin Enderlin and Kayla Ray who toured together and got such a great reception I’m sure they will be looking to return soon. I caught three of their dates, all of which were slightly different but equally enjoyable … both artists are heavily influenced by the trad country music they grew up listening to but it filters into their own writes in intriguingly different ways. They kicked things off with a sold out show at London’s Green Note, where as always I enjoyed many a brilliant evening throughout the year including another double-bill by two more incredible US artists Sarah Peacock and Michelle Malone. Both are very different stylistically but were equally impressive with Sarah’s music leaning towards storytelling/Americana in style while Michelle showcases the blues/rock side of country and plays a mean slide guitar that has to be seen to be believed!
London’s The Grace as it is now called (I can’t keep up with its ever-changing name!) also played host to two of my most memorable intimate shows of the year, lacking atmosphere it is not one of my top venues and when sold out it is pretty unpleasant to say the least, but both Lauren Jenkins and the always popular Lindsay Ell were worth the shoulder-to-shoulder experience! While I had seen Lindsay several times before, it was my first time seeing Lauren and with Liverpool’s Laura Oakes hand picked by the headliner as opener is was really strong gal power line-up and such a fun evening too with both artists interacting particularly well with the audience.
The sad demise of London’s The Borderline venue in late Summer has left a bit of a hole in 300 ish capacity venues in the capital, but Colours in trendy Hoxton (another venue to undergo a name change! ) is seemingly becoming a popular alternative, with both Tenille Townes and Jillian Jacqueline playing their debut UK headline shows there. These ladies are two of my favourite rising stars on the country music scene, and having seen them play shorter sets in the past I thoroughly enjoyed their extended shows as did both artists… there was definitely a party atmosphere on and off stage at both these very special events!
And talking of rising stars, Emma White made an all-too-short trip to see us here in the UK, having been introduced to her in Nashville courtesy of the regular Monday night Song Suffragettes show there I was so happy to catch one of her performances here and see the wonderful reception she received. The music she has released this year and the buzz she is creating both as an artist and an advocate for female country artists makes me very excited to see what she brings to the table in 2020.
Of course I can’t forget some of our amazing home grown/based talent who entertained me over the past twelve months, having already mentioned Laura Oakes I must give shout outs to Katy Hurt, Jess Thristan, Hannah Paris, Lucy Blu, Red Sky July, Sabine and Shannon Hynes (several of whom who I saw at songwriter’s rounds which I love) but in particular to Joey Clarkson and Hannah Rose Platt both of whom performed incredible album launch shows.
This is just a fraction of the live music I was so lucky to see this year, I really can’t imagine life without the excitement and anticipation when an artist steps on stage whether it’s to perform to an audience of many thousand or 40-50 fans, thanks not only to the musicians themselves but the promoters, venue staff and everyone else involved… 2020 is already shaping up nicely too, see some of you out there I’m sure!

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