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CMA honours for Jim King, Anna-Sophie Mertens

The Country Music Association (CMA) and singer Morgan Wallen have presented promoters Jim King and Anna-Sophie Mertens with a token of appreciation for their efforts in growing the genre outside North America.

King, AEG Presents’ CEO, European festivals, and Mertens, Live Nation VP, touring, were honoured prior to Wallen’s 50,000-cap headline performance at BST Hyde Park in London earlier this month.

“This is a milestone for the country genre and it’s important that we acknowledge the promoters who are supporting country music’s rapidly growing and mainstream appeal in the UK,” says Milly Olykan, CMA VP, international relations and development.

“As the fastest-growing genre in the UK, thanks to countless artists who are focused on building a global audience, we are grateful for the foundation that has been laid that has led to opportunities like BST Hyde Park, and we are more excited than ever to see what’s to come.”

Morgan Wallen became the first country artist to headline BST Hyde Park

Wallen took the stage later that 4 July evening, becoming the first country artist to headline the AEG-promoted London concert series in the process, with country icon Shania Twain also headlining the festival three days later.

K-pop superstars Stray Kids brought this year’s BST Hyde Park to a close last night. Other 2024 headliners included SZA, Kings of Leon, Andrea Bocelli, Robbie Williams, Kylie Minogue and Stevie Nicks, who brought out special guest Harry Styles for the climax of her 12 July show.

Live Nation, meanwhile, launched country and Americana festival Highways with the Royal Albert Hall in 2023. The event returned to the London venue with an expanded two-day format in May, featuring acts such as The Cadillac Three, Brett Young, Shane Smith & the Saints and The War and Treaty.


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Country to Country unveils 2024 line-up

Europe’s leading country music festival Country to Country (C2C) has unveiled Kane Brown, Old Dominion and Brad Paisley as headliners of its 2024 edition.

Next year’s event will take place across three venues: at The O2, London, Glasgow’s OVO Hydro and, for the first time ever, The SSE Arena, Belfast from 8-10 March.

The festival is presented by SJM Concerts, AEG Presents, DF Concerts and MCD, in association with Country Music Association (CMA)

“From ticket sales to streaming, Country Music has seen its best year yet in the UK and C2C has been a key element to that success,” says Milly Olykan, CMA VP, international relations & development. “The festival continues to provide opportunities for fans to discover new artists, while also giving more established Nashville artists international exposure and profile. We are incredibly proud to continue to partner with C2C and engage with the invaluable industry and media in the UK who work to further our genre year-round.”

Since its inaugural edition in 2013 headlined by Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood at The O2 London, Country to Country has grown to a three-day multi-arena event

Other acts will include Carly Pearce, Brothers Osborne, Jake Owen, Lauren Alaina, Brian Kelley, Elle King, Priscilla Brook and Drake Milligan, while the CMA’s international series Introducing Nashville also returns. Introducing Nasville brings Nashville’s songwriter round setup to the UK, with three exciting, emerging newcomers sharing the main stage, recalling the stories behind their tracks. The C2C Spotlight Stage will also return.

Since its inaugural edition in 2013 headlined by Tim McGraw and Carrie Underwood at The O2 London, Country to Country has grown to a three-day multi-arena event showcasing the world’s best country stars and emerging talent, with tens of thousands in attendance each year. BBC Radio 2 is continuing as broadcast partner for the event.

“I’m so pleased to be back at C2C again in 2024,” says legendary broadcaster and BBC Radio 2 presenter Bob Harris. “It’s my tenth time hosting what I truly believe is the best country music festival in the world! I can’t wait to get back onto that stage at the O2 and back into our Radio 2 studio to bring millions of listeners the very best that C2C has to offer.”


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Paradigm signs LeAnn Rimes

Paradigm Talent Agency has signed two-time Grammy award-winning vocalist and artist LeAnn Rimes, for global representation across all fields.

Rimes will continue to be managed by Darrell Brown at Prodigy Management.

“LeAnn is one of the most prolific voices of our time,” says Paradigm worldwide head of music, Marty Diamond. “As a pioneer of making music that transcends across all platforms for the better part of two decades, she continues to be a genre-bending, trailblazing talent with a voice ahead of her time.”

Paradigm Nashville co-head Jonathan Levine adds that the team is “honoured” to have Rimes join the Paradigm family and “excited to support her as she continues to push the music industry forward.”

“LeAnn is one of the most prolific voices of our time”

The country singer was the youngest-ever recipient of a Grammy award, winning best new artist at age 14. Rimes has also won two world music awards, three academy of country music awards, one country music association award, twelve Billboard music awards and one Dove award.

“I’m so excited to be teaming up with the global team at Paradigm in this next chapter of my career,” writes the singer on Twitter. “We are diving in to so much beautiful creation at the moment and I cannot wait to share our magic with everyone soon.”

Paradigm’s roster of globally represented artists includes Halsey, Imagine Dragons, Janet Jackson, Billie Eilish, Kacey Musgraves, Tiësto, Liam Gallagher, Missy Elliott, Shawn Mendes, Sia, Kenny Chesney, Jess Glynne, Charli XCX, Bastille and Sturgill Simpson.

London-based Coda Agency formally merged into Paradigm – its parent company – in July, following a similar rebranding of AM Only and Windish Agency in the US.


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Grand Ole Opry GM Sally Williams join LN Nashville

Live Nation has appointed Sally Williams, a veteran of the Nashville music scene, president of Nashville music and strategy.

Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Williams will report to Live Nation’s president of US concerts, Bob Roux, and oversee the company’s overall business strategy in the city, regarded as the home of country music.

According to a Live Nation statement, Williams will, from September, “lead the company’s overall efforts in the programming and marketing of Live Nation’s concert activity in the greater Nashville market, and collaborate with Nashville-based artists to develop and execute their vision on a worldwide basis.”

Williams will also oversee operations of Live Nation’s existing portfolio of Nashville venues, including Ascend Amphitheater (6,800-cap.), Graystone Quarry (7,500-cap.) and the under-development Brooklyn Bowl, while also leading efforts in the development of new venues.

She joins after nearly 20 years at Ryman Hospitality Properties/Opry Entertainment Group, where she was most recently senior vice-president of programming and artist relations, as well as general manager of the legendary Grand Ole Opry.

“Sally is a Nashville music industry icon, and the perfect executive to oversee Live Nation’s growing footprint”

She has also served as chairman of the Country Music Association (CMA), president of Leadership Music and president of the Opry Trust Fund, and currently sits as co-chair of the Music City Music Council and marketing chair for the CMA board of directors.

“Sally is a Nashville music industry icon, and the perfect executive to oversee Live Nation’s growing footprint in Nashville,” says Roux. “She’s spent decades contributing to the success of Nashville artists, venues, and events, and certainly the community itself, and we’re extremely fortunate to have someone with her industry knowledge and dedication to live music join our company.”

“For decades, Nashville has not only been my home, but also my passion,” said Williams. “It’s been a privilege to be in the middle of such incredible growth and I’m excited about what’s on the horizon.

“Live Nation has built a strong business here and has a terrific team in place. It will be an honour to collaborate with them to create world-class experiences for fans and artists here in Nashville and beyond.”


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Big country: How country music conquered the world

It’s official: country music is cool.

Long stigmatised as restrictively America-centric, country, shed of many of its unfashionable ‘country and western’ trappings, is finding a new generation of loyal fans in the UK, Europe and Australasia, playlisted on commercial radio and championed by tastemakers at Vice, i-D and the NME.

Riding on the rise of festivals like AEG’s UK-born Country to Country phenomenon (now in five countries and counting), crossover success for artists such as Florida Georgia Line, Midland, and Kacey Musgraves, European radio support and the backing of the Country Music Association, country is increasingly big business outside its US heartland – with visiting Nashville A-listers, as well as a mounting number of homegrown acts, helping to build a major new touring market.

(A slice of the) American pie
According to WME Entertainment agent Akiko Rogers, global bookings for WME’s country and Americana artists have increased 14-fold in the past decade alone. “In 2009, 27 international dates were booked out of Nashville, all comprising country artists,” says Rogers, whose roster includes both country (Thomas Rhett, Frankie Davies) and non-country artists (Greta Van Fleet, Alanis Morissette), as well as those sitting somewhere in between (rising southern rockers the Marcus King Band).

“In 2018, that number went to 400 booked international dates comprising country and Americana artists, and sometimes a hybrid of both.”

Global bookings for WME’s country and Americana artists have increased 14-fold in the past decade

“The market interest in country music only continues to grow with the demand for US acts to tour internationally,” adds US-born, London-based UTA senior agent Sean Goulding, whose country and Americana roster includes Jimmie Allen, Ashley Campbell, Logan Mize, the Wood Brothers and High Valley. “C2C [Country to Country] London, the landmark international country music festival, has been growing steadily since its inception in 2013, which is a good indicator of the genre’s impact. Having expanded to Scotland and Ireland previously, it’s now visiting Amsterdam and Berlin this year. A number of our clients have performed at it over the past few years, using it as a springboard for the international market.”

The majority of promoters, agents and managers interviewed by IQ highlighted the C2C phenomenon, as well its various international spin-offs (in addition to Britain, the Irish republic, the Netherlands and Germany, there are also two Country to Country festivals in Australia) as being key to country music’s explosive growth in new markets over the past five years.

Chris York of SJM Concerts, which created C2C in partnership with AEG, says the festival’s genesis formed part of a “conscious decision” to build and grow the market for country music in the UK. “I’d always perceived country as being promoted in a very old-fashioned way,” York explains. It was all about, ‘We’ll pay them some money, put on a show at Wembley, maybe get a tour out of it…’ They weren’t interested in building a community.”

In contrast, York continues, C2C – bolstered by support from radio DJs such as Radio 2’s Bob Harris and Chris Country’s Chris Stevens – helped to establish a tight-knit community of fans, to the point where there is also now a sizeable country touring market in the UK.  “We did 45,000 tickets in London [for C2C 2018]. Four or five years ago that would have been beyond comprehension.”

“We did 45,000 tickets in London. Four or five years ago that would have been beyond comprehension”

Live Nation’s Anna-Sophie Mertens started promoting in her own right three years ago, and is now the “go-to person” for country shows in the company’s UK office, she explains. She says the number of country acts who want to play in the UK has more than doubled since then, including both big names worthy of headlining C2C and smaller emerging acts keen to stake a claim in the increasingly crowded country touring market.

Spurred on
Add hit drama series Nashville into that mix, too, suggests Milly Olykan, vice-president of international relations and development at the influential Nashville-based Country Music Association (CMA). “The contributing factors in those first five years [since the launch of C2C] were the internet, the TV show Nashville and Taylor Swift, but now we can add to that with the growth of C2C and, as a result, the volume of live touring and the radio support of the BBC,” says Olykan, who, as VP of live music at AEG Europe, set up C2C UK alongside York. “Radio 2 and Bob Harris have been long-time supporters, and this year we saw BBC Radio 1 play-listing country for the first time.

“We’ve got a momentum going now, and more and more fans are discovering they like country music.”

Anna-Sophie Mertens says the number of country acts who want to play in the UK has more than doubled in the past three years

In Germany, promoter Oliver Hoppe of Wizard Promotions also identifies Nashville as being a key driver of interest in country music – and ticket sales. “Our most successful tour so far is Charles Esten from the Nashville TV show,” he says. “1,500 tickets, five dates, all sold out.”

Hoppe, who describes himself as the main “country guy” in Germany, says the popularity of country music accelerated “six or seven years ago” after the CMA set its sights on conquering Europe. “A year or two before C2C in London started, we started to pick up shows here in Germany,” he explains. “Ossy [Hoppe, Wizard Promotions founder] used to bring Garth Brooks here in the ’90s, [but] that was a completely different animal – it was a worldwide phenomenon, and he played arenas over here that sold out instantly.

“It really picked up when the CMA put Europe on the agenda and we started doing grassroots work bringing over country and Americana acts.”

Hoppe says while the market is still “some years behind” Britain, “country is on the rise in Germany.

“It was a trickle at the beginning, but for every show we put on, more people come the second time around. We started with one country tour – the Band Perry, in 2012 – and now we’re at 25. We’ve been growing the market very organically but the interest is definitely there.”

“Country is one of the few genres of music where radio airplay can definitely move the needle”

The growth of country festivals such as C2C and CMC Rocks in Australia has been “instrumental in swinging the pendulum” towards country music outside the US, maintains Rogers. “Artists who historically did not want to travel outside of the US are standing in a queue to bring their music across the pond, to share experiences and life stories… I always love it when they return to the US with their stories of fans in Germany, Sweden, Belgium or Denmark singing all their songs back to them.

“It is so gratifying when a country artist plays a support slot on a festival, goes back in six to eight months and plays a headline club tour, goes back in another six to eight months after that and headlines a theatre tour, and then ends up headlining that same original festival.”

Like York, Rogers sees radio, as well as record label promo, as being a “huge factor” in country’s rise in Europe. “Country is one of the few genres of music where radio airplay can definitely move the needle,” she says.


Continue reading this feature in the digital edition of IQ 82, or subscribe to the magazine here

CMA welcomes three new staff members

Three new members of staff join the Nashville-based Country Music Association (CMA) this January. Emily Arvanitis takes on the role of live events coordinator, whereas Michelle Kirk and Megan Sykes join the strategic partnerships department, as director of integrated marketing and director of sales development and strategy, respectively.

Both Arvanitis and Kirk have worked at CMA previously in different roles. Arvanitis rejoins from management company Sandbox Entertainment (Midland, Faith Hill, Kacey Musgraves) and Kirk moves following a stint as brand partnership agent at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment (WME). Sykes also joins from an agency role, with Creative Artists Agency (CAA).

The two roles within CMA’s strategic partnerships department are newly created, as the company continues to focus on developing strategic marketing efforts. Established in 1958, CMA is the first trade association to promote a single genre of music, stating it is “dedicated to bringing the poetry and emotion of country music to the world”.

Country music has enjoyed a global revitalisation over the past few years, with artists such as Grammy Award-winning Musgraves bringing the genre to younger, international audiences. Spotify statistics show that country music streaming has seen a 21% increase outside of the United States since 2015, a figure that is expected to grow in coming years.

“CMA is dedicated to bringing the poetry and emotion of country music to the world”

Users in anglophone countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand are most likely to listen to country tunes, with a large following also presenting itself among Scandinavian listeners.

The resurgence of the genre is reflected in the popularity of live country music events. In 2013, AEG Europe and SJM Concerts worked with CMA to create London-based Country to Country (C2C) music festival. Since its inauguration, C2C has expanded to become Europe’s biggest country music festival. Last year, C2C played host to more than 80,000 country music lovers over three days in London, Dublin and Glasgow.

In response to demand among Australasian listeners, CMA has recently announced an international artist-focused touring series, Introducing Nashville. The tour launches in March in Australia and New Zealand, featuring artists Brandy Clark, Devin Dawson, Lindsay Ell and Tenille Towers. An industry event in Japan concludes the tour.


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Australian country promoter Rob Potts passes away

Rob Potts, the veteran Australian country music promoter, agent and artist manager, has died aged 65.

Potts (pictured) – who as CEO of Entertainment Edge brought some of the biggest stars in country music, including Keith Urban, Tim McGraw, Jason Aldean, Dixie Chicks and a young Taylor Swift, down under, and founded Australia’s biggest country music festival, CMC Rocks – lost his life in a motorcycle accident on Friday 27 October.

“Chugg Entertainment and CMC Rocks are devastated to announce the sudden passing of Rob Potts, who died tragically in a motorcycle accident on the west coast of Tasmania on Friday afternoon,” Chugg Entertainment, which co-promotes CMC Rocks, says in a statement.

“Rob Potts was a pioneer of the country music industry and single-handedly opened the door for the biggest international country music artists to find a welcoming home in Australia.”

Australian country guitarist Tommy Emmanuel comments: “I am sad to hear about the passing of Rob Potts. He has been a friend to me for a long time and such a strong supporter of so many artists in our business. I’ll miss him, I’ll miss our talks, our fun together, but most of all I’ll miss his love. He was a person of strong character, never judged harshly, always steady and full of enthusiasm for the future. When I’d come off stage in a sweat, he’d say, ‘You hosed ’em good, mate!’

“Well, Rob, you hosed us good! Our last conversation was on my phone, backstage at the Hall of Fame, Nashville, where I was excited to tell him that Alan Jackson, who he promoted in Oz, was being inducted into the Hall of Fame, and Alison Krauss and I were about to perform one of his songs. He thanked me for calling and I told him I wanted him to feel included in this special occasion. He told me he loved me and I replied the same.

“Rob single-handedly opened the door for the biggest international country music artists to find a welcoming home in Australia”

“Rob, your friends and family will be gathering together to say farewell. I send my love out to you all, and wish there was a way to say I love you now. RIP.”

“For a decade, Rob was a passionate and hard-working member of the CMAA board and executive,” says Dobe Newton of the Country Music Association of Australia (CMAA). “The organisation and, by extension, the broader Australian country music community, had the benefit of his intimate knowledge of industry operations, his extensive local and international networks and his constant advocacy for a global perspective.

“Among his many contributions, he was a leading advocate for ground-breaking market research which helped raise the profile of local country music and brought it to the attention of the world’s major market.

“Even those just entering our industry owe Rob a debt of gratitude, as he was an absolute believer in the need to increase the artistic and business skills of the next generation of industry leaders. He was one of the most vocal supporters of the CMAA’s world-first college and Camerata (as they were first known) and the CMAA Academy of Country Music (both junior and senior) which, next year, celebrate a unique 20th anniversary.

“This behind-the-scenes advocacy often goes unnoticed, but remains as a wonderful legacy. I know we speak for fans of country music everywhere, when we say thanks for your vision, commitment and friendship.

“You’ll be sorely missed. Rest in peace.”


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“We are heartbroken”: Industry reacts to Route 91 tragedy

Live Nation, the promoter behind Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, has issued a heartfelt statement in response to Sunday night’s massacre, saying the events are “beyond our comprehension” and promising to do “everything in our power” to support the victims and their families.

More than 59 people are now known to have lost their lives after a gunman, Stephen Paddock, opened fire on the open-air country music festival from the 32nd floor of the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel. His motive is not yet known; jihadist group Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the shooting, saying Paddock converted to Islam earlier this year. US authorities, however, say there is no evidence Paddock was a Muslim, and described him as a “lone wolf” shooter.

“We are heartbroken over the tragedy that took place at the Route 91 Harvest festival. To think that anyone would want to inflict harm on a gathering of music lovers is beyond our comprehension,” reads the statement from Live Nation, which has organised the event since since 2014.

“To think that anyone would want to inflict harm on a gathering of music lovers is beyond our comprehension”

“And while we are stunned and grieving over this incomprehensible act of violence, we know that this is a moment when we must come together to prevent more tragedies like this from occurring.

“Live Nation will do everything in our power to support the victims and their families through the aftermath of this horrendous event, and extend our deepest gratitude to the heroic first responders who helped save as many lives as possible. To our Live Nation on-site employees, we cannot thank you enough for your bravery and perseverance over the past 24 hours and will ensure you have the resources and support necessary to heal from this.”

Live Nation president and CEO Michael Rapino also tweeted that the company’s “hearts are with the victims” of the attack.

In a joint statement, Megan Barry, mayor of country mecca Nashville, Sarah Trahern, the CEO of the Country Music Association (CMA), and Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of Nashville Music City/Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp, offered their “heartfelt thoughts and prayers” to everyone affected by the attack, and announced a candlelit vigil for the victims. The vigil, held last night, was attended by country stars Keith Urban, Vince Gill, Amy Grant and Alison Krauss, who also performed.

“Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with everyone involved in the tragic event in Las Vegas, especially the victims, their families and friends and the fans, artists and crews from our country community in Vegas,” they say. “This festival brought together people from all backgrounds united in enjoying life through music.”

Footage of the vigil can be viewed below:


Community Foundation Middle Tennessee, a charity based in Nashville, has also announced a fund for Las Vegas to “help with the immediate and long-term needs of victims” of the shooting. Announcing the Music City Cares Fund, foundation president Ellen Lehman comments: “Country music is the heart of Music City [Nashville]. We are reaching out to country music fans who fell victim to this evil. They must know we care and care deeply. Our prayers are with them.”

Neil Portnow, president/CEO of Grammys organiser the Recording Academy, says the academy plans to provide counselling and support to those affected by the Route 91 Harvest attack.

“The Recording Academy is deeply saddened by the unthinkable tragedy that occurred last night in Las Vegas,” he says. “As members of the music community, we will come together as we always do in defiance of this senseless act, and provide love and support to those affected.

“The Recording Academy’s charity, MusiCares, will be working closely with the music industry to provide trauma counselling and support to those in need. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families during this harrowing time.”

“As members of the music community, we will come together as we always do”

Music Canada Live, a concert industry association north of the border, similarly offered its sympathy to those caught up in the shooting.

“Music Canada Live, the voice of Canada’s live music industry, expresses our heartfelt sympathies to the victims and injured in last night’s tragedy in Las Vegas,” say chairman Jesse Kumagai and executive director Erin Benjamin in a joint statement. “The power of live music, and the artists that make it, will without question be a guiding light as we seek to heal from this unthinkable act.

“Our thoughts are with the families, festival organisers, fans and artists.”

Bonnaroo/Outside Lands co-promoter Superfly, which is launching a new festival, Lost Lake, in Arizona later this month, says its “hearts go out to those impacted by the tragedy in Las Vegas” – and that it’s doing all it can to protect patrons.

“At all of our events, and Lost Lake Festival taking place later this month, the safety of our patrons, staff, volunteers and artists is our highest priority,” reads a statement. “We will continue to work closely with Phoenix law enforcement officials to assess our safety and security protocols to ensure we host the safest event possible.”

“The power of live music, and the artists that make it, will be a guiding light as we seek to heal from this unthinkable act”

Caleb Keeter, guitarist for Route 91 Harvest performers Josh Abbott Band, meanwhile, says the attack has changed his views on gun control in the US.

Writing on Twitter, Keeter says he had been “a proponent of the second amendment [to the US constitution, which enshrines the right of Americans to bear arms] my entire life. Until last night.

“I cannot express how wrong I was.”

Keeter describes how he wrote a living will and a note saying goodbye to his parents as he “felt like I wasn’t going to live through the night”. That, he continues, “was enough for me to realise that this is completely and totally out of hand. These rounds were powerful enough that my crew guys just standing in close proximity [to] a victim shot by this fucking coward received shrapnel wounds.

“We need gun control RIGHT. NOW.”

“We will not let hate win over love. We will not be defeated by senseless violence”

As for the festival itself, a statement from local organisers says that while they will never forget the attack, the best way to honour victims is to persevere in the face of violence.

“On behalf of the entire Route 91 Harvest family, we are completely devastated by the event that occurred Sunday night,” it reads. “Our deepest sympathies go out to the injured and the deceased and their loved ones; senseless violence has claimed the souls of our fans and we have little in the way of answers.

“Our eternal gratitude goes out to the LVPD [Las Vegas police department], emergency services, security guards and fans for their selfless acts of bravery while trying to help those in need.

“While we will try and move forward, we will never forget this day. We will NOT let hate win over LOVE. We will NOT be defeated by senseless violence. We WILL persevere, and honour the souls that were lost.

“Because it matters.”

Route 91 Harvest ribbon


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