Today (October 19) marks the start of Country Music Week, the annual seven-day celebration of the genre brought to you by the organisers of Country To Country Festival. Only this year there’s a twist.
While the coronavirus pandemic has had a huge impact on CMW 2020 – not to mention C2C Festival 2020, which was cancelled at the onset of lockdown – it has not, however, stopped it, with this year’s instalment going digital.
Between Monday October 19 and Sunday October 25, Country Music Week Digital will be offering live sessions, exclusive interviews, social and radio show takeovers, showcases, quizzes and more across a host of platforms and all exclusively for UK and European fans.
A host of artists have signed up for the event, including Ashley McBryde, Brett Eldredge, Cam, Carly Pearce, Chris Young, Danielle Bradbery, Ingrid Andress, Kalie Shorr, Lady A, Lindsay Ell, Midland, Morgan Wallen, Runaway June, Ruthie Collins, Scotty McCreery, Tenille Townes, The Shires, Twinnie, Ward Thomas and more.
Legendary broadcaster Bob Harris will host Stand By Me: 50 Years In Broadcasting, a special zoom event hosted by Destination Country, while other activity includes special Country Music Week Party Mixes with DJ Hish on Country Hits Radio, with further takeovers including Caylee Hammack, Jameson Rodgers, Lauren Alaina and more.
Here, Alex Simmonds (promoter, SJM Concerts) and Tom Saunders (promoter, live music at AEG Presents) tell us what we can expect…
What has the ongoing evolution of Country Music Week done for country’s profile in the UK?
Tom Saunders: “It has had a really positive impact on the country touring circuit. By having an autumn event to go alongside C2C in the spring, it's a further opportunity to build awareness and press around the genre by bringing a number of shows together under one banner. It's also an additional chance for emerging talent to benefit from playing an event alongside some more established names. With CMW and other country-specific events launching in the calendar, there are more and more windows for country artists to plan European touring and activity – this flexibility allows more opportunity for country artists to balance US commitments with developing their career internationally.”
Alex Simmonds: “It’s great to have another moment in the year where the UK country music industry can have artists, management, labels, agents, the CMA and press all in the same place. There is a lot of focus to grow country music here and having another opportunity for artists to perform to their fans as well as tie in new releases, promotion and meet with their UK teams is a big help.”
How does CMW differentiate itself from C2C – can it do anything for country music that the festival can’t?
TS: “Country Music Week is a very different experience for fans. For one, it's an opportunity to see acts they have seen on big festival stages at C2C in a more intimate setting. Country artists tend to thrive in these settings where their personality, and passion for the music and the songwriting really endears themselves to the fans. It’s these intimate connections that have built strong relationships and loyalty with fans.”
AS: “For me, CMW enables talent to tour across the UK too. It allows us to bring country music to cities and towns where C2C doesn’t happen. Our goal is to grow the genre and make country music more accessible to its fans.”
What's the level of industry participation this year?
TS: “As you can see from our line-up, there has been a massive amount of interest from artists, media outlets and labels to be part of the event. There are a number of events taking place on radio including Radio 2, Country Hits, Chris Country and Smooth Country, as well as a number of label showcase events we have worked on with Sony Nashville, Big Machine Records, BBR/BMG and Curb. As the live element is so crucial to artist development, particularly in the country space here, it has been important to find ways to be creative to still provide opportunities to artists who are keen to grow their audience here, and to keep the prominence of the genre growing. There has been great collaboration across the industry to build CMW in the different way needed this year.”
AS: “We’ve also worked closely with the CMA who will be running a number of industry webinars throughout the week.”
We started off thinking we might get 15 things happening over the week, we now have 60
Alex Simmonds (SJM Concerts)
Country has posted some extremely promising streaming results in the UK – how big a role do you think C2C & CMW has played in that?
TS: “C2C and CMW have had huge impacts on the international profile of country artists. Being physically present in the market has a really significant impact on the success of these artists, and drives up streaming as fans discover new artists at the festivals. Coupled with further country playlisting from DSPs and new national radio platforms such as Country Hits Radio and Smooth Country, this has had a big impact on country music’s upward curve.”
AS: “The events have shown there is a demand for country music in the UK. Being able to see thousands of people of all different age ranges attending these events has given confidence to radio stations and streaming platforms.”
Just how big of an operation was it reimagining what you had planned for CMW in the digital space?
TS: "It’s a completely different set of challenges. Firstly, there are fewer logistical problems as artists can get involved and participate in the event from their US homes, rather than needing to make the trip to Europe so that has benefitted getting more artists involved. Having worked with the Bluebird Cafe for a number of years and having brought their brand of shows to C2C, this year the event will stream a show featuring Ashley McBryde, Lindsay Ell and Carly Pearce, from the venue itself which will be really special.”
AS: “We started off thinking we might get 15 things happening over the week, we now have 60. It’s taken a lot of time to put together but the labels, management and agents have been extremely supportive. When we came up with the idea, so many artists were doing livestreams on social media. We wanted to create a week of various different types of events that weren’t just livestreams. Country Music Week is about jumping around venues in London. I wanted to emulate that online with the different platforms representing those venues. I’m excited to see how it goes.”
Is there scope for CMW to expand in the future?
TS: “There has been such a positive response to this year’s edition that there is an appetite to continue to work on further digital content that could become part of the event in years to come. A mix of live and digital content would be a great way to expand the number of artists that can grow their audiences. The brand was launched in Germany last year following the first of C2C festival in the country, and there is certainly hope to take it to further UK and European cities as demand for the music grows around the continent, just as C2C has done. In recent years, there has been more and more country touring this side of the pond, and as that demand continues to grow, maybe we will end up with Country Music Month… Every month!”
Finally, what does the line-up of talent you’ve assembled say about where country music is at in 2020 and going into 2021?
TS: “There are over 50 incredibly talented artists on the line-up this year, and there could have been the same again, such is the talent that is emerging in country music right now. The number of acts that wanted to be part of our event illustrates that even in these challenging times there is the desire from artists and industry to grow the genre outside of the US. The significant streaming growth that has been seen in recent months justifies that investment. All in all, this should hopefully amplify the desire across the industry to grow the genre outside of the US, now that we are seeing such exciting engagement and growth.”