Country-girl power as Country to Country hits 3Arena

by James Hendicott

Ireland’s love of country music only occasionally seems to raise its head above the parapet.

It comes in moments like the 400,000 sales country-rock singer Garth Brooks had pulled off back in 2014, before his five night stand at Croke Park fell victim to licensing issues, or in sporadic appearances from visiting stars on the Late Late Show.

There’s little in the way of radio play, even for the likes of Brooks, and Ireland’s own country-leaning scene would still, broadly, be better categorised as a more native brand of folk.

Nevertheless, ‘Country to Country’ has become a regular on the gig circuit in the last few years, showing emphatically that there are tickets to be sold, as it packs out Ireland’s biggest indoor venue, the 3Arena, for three consecutive nights.

This year’s event has a distinctly feminine flavour, not least through the star-factor and huge-selling headliners Lady Antebellum, fronted by the distinctive Hillary Scott.

The band are on the back of an extended break, one that led plenty to believe they’d split permanently, but returned just over a year ago. They’ve sold an incredible 18 million albums, and clocked up more than two billion streams.

“I definitely think the span of country music in general has grown a lot,” the band said around the release of their most recent album Heart Break, their fifth US number one in six releases.

“For one thing they seem a lot younger, which is neat. A lot of young fans are coming to our shows. We have all kinds of fans.

“If you love music, come and check it out! That’s always been our motto. We know we’re not so much a traditional country band. But that was never our goal. We just try to be true to whatever songs are coming out.”

Another star set to turn out at the festival is Camaron Ochs (CAM), a Californian exception to the general southern-state dominance of the genre.

CAM wrote tracks for Miley Cyrus and funded her own debut through a Kickstarter project before really breaking through.

She also sits a little outside of country convention in her music, and is particularly outspoken about male dominance in the genre.

“I came into country music and as I started moving up in my career, I started looking around and there were no women and there were no people of colour,” she said.

“I also know that a lot of rooms made me feel a little awkward. Then I hit a wall for myself where I couldn’t progress.”

Her stance came to the forefront when Keith Hill, a country radio consultant, advised his clients to play less female-fronted country, as he claimed the tracks damaged ratings.

“I was complicit in this whole thing, too,” CAM recalls.

“I was a part of this system and I’ve let it go this far, and now all of us are waking up and saying, ‘Hey, nobody’s got to get burned, all we’ve got to do is wake up and get better together.’”

CAM will have plenty of allies at the 3Arena, with seemingly overnight Arkansas success story Ashley McBryde, Caroline Jones, and Carly Pearce, who’s toured since the age of 11, also taking to the stage over the course of the weekend.

The Country to Country Festival takes place at the 3Arena on Friday 8, Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 of March. It features every artist mentioned in this article, as well as Keith Urban, Chris Stapleton, Hunter Hayes and more. Single day tickets start at €55.

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