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Country State of Mind: The rise of country music

Historically bolstered by cowboy western movies and the likes of US servicemen stationed around the world, country music has been something of a niche international genre. But now, with a multigenerational audience and impressive growth figures around the planet, country music is everywhere, with acts appearing on mainstream festival stages and selling out arenas. IQ reports.

With the likes of Beyoncé and Lana Del Rey set to release country music albums this year, countless million new fans will be switching on to the genre, further elevating its success both at home in the United States and around the world.

Statistics show that country music was the second most popular genre in the US last year, behind only pop and rock, while it also showed year-on-year sales and streaming growth of more than 20% in 2023, according to American publication Newsweek.

And that growth curve is being replicated internationally where promoters are exploiting newfound interest in the genre to organise concerts and festivals for a loyal fanbase, which is expanding rapidly with an eager – and younger – set of converts.
Underlining that progress, the streaming of country music in the UK has grown by 380% in the past five years, and one in every 100 tracks streamed there is reportedly a country song.

“The UK is one of the strongest international markets for country music, and it has been building steadily for many years, but most recently, we’ve seen an explosion in the genre with ticket sales doubling and tripling and several artists selling out UK arena shows in minutes, such as Morgan Wallen, Shania Twain, and Chris Stapleton, all of whom we work with,” says Anna-Sophie Mertens, VP touring for Live Nation UK.

“Morgan Wallen played his first European show last December at The O2 [arena], which sold out in minutes, and we are already able to bring him back to headline Hyde Park six months later; this simply underlines how fast country music is growing and the size of the audience it can now reach.”

“I’m not a promoter. But I do know the country music industry”

The growth of the country genre in the UK has been helped by radio presenter Baylen Leonard, originally from Bristol, Tennessee – the birthplace of country music – but who has been living in London for the last 24 years.

While working at the BBC, Leonard recalls he always wanted to broadcast country music. “If it was a bank holiday and everybody else was away, they’d let me do a country show, which helped them cotton on to the fact that country music was a thing, so I started doing that more on Radio 2 with Bob Harris and then moved into commercial radio when Absolute and Bauer launched their commercial radio country station,” he says.

“I’d also always wanted to do a festival, and somewhere along the way, I was linked up with U-Live and met [general manager] Dawn Jones, who I now do the Long Road Festival with. Dawn and U-Live are very robust and know what they are doing, because I’m not a promoter. But I do know the country music industry, so we trust each other and do our thing.”

Having launched the first event in 2018, Leonard reports that debut attracted about 12,000 fans. “In terms of looking at a heat map, the audience comes from all over the UK, and that was one of the reasons we located it in the Midlands so it was easily accessible, because lots of people come from Scotland and the likes of London, Bristol, and Birmingham. There are also a chunk of people that will fly over from Europe.”

Non-English-speaking markets
Another European operation expanding its presence in the country scene is TAKK ab Entertainment, which formed in July last year when it brought together three generations of promoters – Swiss business pioneer André Béchir, TAKK Productions founder Sebastien Vuignier, and IQ new boss Théo Quiblier.

“We strongly believe in the genre, and we put a lot of effort into convincing artists and entourages to include Switzerland in future tours”

“André promoted all the major country artists back in the years, including Johnny Cash, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, The Chicks, Willie Nelson, and many more,” states Vuignier. “He was also doing a country music festival at the 12,000-cap Hallenstadion every year in the 1980s. This created a strong country music fanbase in Switzerland, which we can still count on today.

“We strongly believe in the genre, and we put a lot of effort into convincing artists and entourages to include Switzerland in future tours. Thanks to a strong fanbase, we are able to reach really good figures, and we recently had sold out shows with Luke Combs and Brad Paisley, for instance.”

Across the border in Germany, Wizard Promotions is another long-term specialist. Speaking to IQ from Nashville, Wizard managing director Oliver Hoppe says that country music has been the company’s second-biggest genre, after rock, for many years.

“It’s interesting in Europe, where now you have Live Nation coming in strong, and AEG is building good things, but we’ve been doing country for a long time – we promoted Dolly Parton and Garth Brooks back in the day, and we did Brad Paisley’s first show in Germany,” says Hoppe.

“Back in 2014, the Country Music Association [CMA] decided it was going to put a bigger focus on Europe, and that’s ramped things up, but we’ve been working with country acts long before that. At the moment, the market is quite strong, and most acts come back to Germany and do better figures each time.”

“The constant stream of American artists coming and playing for the theatre-capacity audience is something new, and it’s happening throughout the year”

Further north, Live Nation Norway’s Vegard Storaas is also following a long tradition of country music promoters. “Our company founder, Rune Lem, had a poster of Garth Brooks from 1994 when he sold out Spectrum in a matter of minutes, so country has had a strong foothold here for a long time.

“There are nearly 5 million people in the US claiming Norwegian ancestry, which is almost equal to Norway’s own population. When people came back to Norway from the States, it created some sort of cultural bond between the two countries, and the music came with them. I think there are similar situations in Ireland.”

Detailing the recent local growth in the genre, Storaas says, “Before Covid, there were maybe two to four acts visiting us each year and going into the semi-big venues. You had Brad Paisley coming every once in a while, or Garth Brooks, or Shania Twain doing her thing. But the constant stream of American artists coming and playing for the theatre-capacity audience is something new, and it’s happening throughout the year. We also have a domestic group of artists, but they have their own musical direction, which is different from Nashville – they’re somewhere between country and Bruce Springsteen.”

Having specialised in the country genre for the past five or six years, Storaas says he’s witnessed a sea change. “After Covid, the willingness of American artists to invest in coming to Norway really changed – it’s gone from two or three per year to 20-30, including neighbouring genres like bluegrass and Americana.”

He points to Luke Combs as the potential catalyst. “For his world tour, he sold out, upgraded, and again sold out all his rooms in Europe,” reports Storaas. “That showed Nashville that there’s a big market here, and the reason Americans are just coming to Norway is because they can now see on their streaming charts that sometimes Norway ranks number five, behind the US, Canada, the UK, and Australia. That’s a really strong fanbase for a small population.”

“The big record labels look at trends and see that Gen Z is pushing up the streaming numbers for country artists”

That support is backed up by Norway’s P10 Country radio station being one of the most listened to in the nation. “The big record labels look at trends and see that Gen Z is pushing up the streaming numbers for country artists, so I think more acts will be encouraged to record country music tracks,” adds Storaas.

Changing attitudes
There’s also been a noticeable difference in the way that American-based country acts are viewing the rest of the world when it comes to career planning.

“We’re finding that more younger acts are visiting here from very early on in their careers because they want to grow internationally as much as they want to grow in the US market,” comments Sina Hall at Semmel Concerts in Germany. “So sometimes our country shows start out in the small caps, and then we go up all the way to the arenas, depending on what artist is coming along.”

That pattern is also acknowledged by agents Sarah Casey and Beth Morton in UTA’s London-based HQ, who have been working hard to develop business internationally for the company’s country music clients.

“We are working with artists earlier than ever to develop international strategies for them,” confirms Morton. “It used to be that US artists would develop over there and then think about touring [internationally], whereas more of the clients that we’re working with now are considering international at the same time as they start thinking about the US. For example, Oliver Antony wanted to start his tour in Europe: we started in Scandinavia and finished in Ireland, and his shows blew out in minutes, especially in the UK. Dylan Gossett is another really good example. He kicked off his global tour in Europe, and again, those shows sold out in a matter of hours.”

“It can be tricky with American country acts because their international touring periods tend to be very short”

Morton cites UTA client Megan Maroney as one of the rising stars to watch. “She came over to do a UK tour last August, and we just put a September tour on sale for her. She’s very keen to go into markets that aren’t just the UK, so she’s going into Scandinavia, we’re opening up Switzerland, as well as Netherlands and Germany.

“What’s brilliant about her is that her management have been really focused on trying to build out Europe, the UK, and Australia from quite an early stage. Her hit, Tennessee Orange, was such a huge viral moment for her that she could have been booked every weekend throughout the US, but her management were keen to carve out time to come to Europe and Australia, too.”

That trend is embraced by Mertens at Live Nation. “Artists are developing international careers early at club- and small-theatre-level, and they love the experience and reception they get from their UK fans and [therefore] commit to international for many years to come. This has led to some US country artists selling more tickets in London than they do in the US, as they are so well received over here.”

She continues, “Australia, Canada, and the UK are leading the charge, followed by the Netherlands, Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Denmark), and Germany all now being part of most country artists’ touring schedules. This is sometimes extended into Belgium, France, and Spain for the right acts, and artists can easily have a two- to three-week window across Europe for touring these days.”

Semmel’s Hall hopes that period of commitment for fans of country music will be further extended as the genre becomes more popular. “It can be tricky with American country acts because their international touring periods tend to be very short, meaning we cannot have them playing as extensively as we would with other international talent. But country stars coming to Europe was once a rare event, whereas now they seem to be a lot more enthusiastic, so it’s moving in the right direction,” she says.

“The US is very single-driven because of country radio. But here in Germany, if people like an artist, they will listen to their entire catalogue”

Hall also details differences in the way that fans in Germany and fans in America consume music. “The US is very single-driven because of country radio. But here in Germany, if people like an artist, they will listen to their entire catalogue.” That, she says, has led to some interesting moments for those acts who ask their fans for song requests. “People hold up signs [for] all kinds of stuff, where artists are like, ‘Oh, my God, no one ever has requested this song before. How do you guys know this one?’ And then they are astonished when everybody can sing along.

“So artists are learning how respectful and tuned in people are to their storytelling and lyrics here in Europe, whereas at home in America, where it’s single-driven, it can be all about getting your own momentum and fighting for it. It’s quite a nice change of scenery to come over here and have such a respectful and appreciative audience.”

Fellow German promoter Hoppe, with whom Semmel has co-promoted a number of country acts, observes, “The cycle of breaking country acts in the United States is much more streamlined because if they are picked up by country radio, it can really accelerate. In Germany, as with most places internationally, we don’t have that media, so the way acts build their fanbase is by playing in the market. That’s why we encourage acts to come to Germany early in their careers to begin that build.

“What we’ve found with some acts is that they are capable of going to London to play to maybe 3,000 people, and then when they see that the German show might be in a 1,500-cap venue, they decide it’s not financially worth it. But if they do it and build up sensibly, then it does pay off in the end.”

“At WME, we’ve seen our volume of international country touring activity increase by 50% over the past few years”

Agent Shannon Saunders at WME in Nashville confirms that enquiries for her clients are picking up from overseas. “Interest in country music touring is certainly growing outside of North America,” she says. “At WME, we’ve seen our volume of international country touring activity increase by 50% over the past few years. Not only are we seeing substantial increases in ticket sales for these artists on headline touring, but we are also receiving more interest than ever from contemporary festivals to include these acts on their lineups.

“The UK and Australia have traditionally been the strongest non-NA markets for the country genre; however, we are seeing some exciting new growth in South Africa, Switzerland, and across Scandinavia. I suspect these trends will continue further into mainland Europe and into South America over the next few years.”

Summing up the evolution of the genre, veteran agent Neil Warnock at UTA says, “Considering the state of play 17 odd years ago, working with the likes of Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, we’re now seeing a tsunami of interest in country music around the world. The perception change has been like night and day.

“By having such a great relationship with our Nashville office, we’ve developed something of a fraternity between Europe and America, but it has taken a long time to get to where we are.”

Warnock adds, “What’s most encouraging to me, is seeing the young artists and young managers more involved in developing acts outside of Nashville, having the trust in agents and promoters here, and ultimately seeing the value in Europe and the rest of the world. Country is really a catch-all for so many genres and styles, so we’re going to see more crossover of artists into other areas, where they’ll only continue to be accepted in more mainstream spaces going forward.”

“We made the strategic decision to work in the genre. We felt there was the potential for it to break out of a niche and move into the more mainstream market”

Strategic growth
Hall explains that Semmel first became involved in country music in 2018. “That’s when we made the strategic decision to work in the genre,” she says. “We felt there was the potential for it to break out of a niche and move into the more mainstream market. But to do that it would need a strategic approach, especially when it comes to marketing and communication.”

As a result, Semmel founded its Sound of Nashville brand for anything in the country or Americana field. “It was based on the idea that we needed to start out with small club shows, which usually don’t have a lot of marketing budget. So we’d kind of bundle them a little bit to get the most out of the budgets,” continues Hall.

“Funnily enough, right after we decided to do that strategic approach with Sound of Nashville, AEG approached us about the C2C festival in Berlin, and that obviously made total sense with our setup. We launched the first C2C in 2019, with Keith Urban, which sold out right away. Then we came back with an extra day for a three-day festival in 2020, which was one of the final events before the lockdowns came along.”

While the ban on live events was brutal, Semmel pushed ahead with its Sound of Nashville planning. “We did a lot of editorial content and reached out to artists to keep building those relationships. We did a couple of livestreamed shows, but we also took the Berlin C2C footage from 2020 and turned that into a three-hour stream that we broadcast on the date that C2C 2021 was supposed to happen. So there was a lot of activity on our side during the pandemic to keep the spark going.”

And that investment in the concept is paying dividends. “When we started out in 2018, we looked at all the data that we had access to, and the demographics told us that the average age for anything country music-related was 55 years and up. But if I pull that data now, we’re looking at an average age of 35, which is significantly younger in a very short time.”

“The big development is that we are now seeing far more headline touring playing in bigger buildings”

WME’s Saunders also believes the genre grew during the coronavirus crisis. “The heart of country music has always been with the songwriting. We saw significant growth in country music streaming during the pandemic, as consumers were drawn to music that reflects the human experience in such an authentic and universal way,” says Saunders. “This streaming growth has not slowed down. And now, with the return of the touring business, the live shows hold up.”

The genre’s continuing expansion is in no small part down to the hard work of the Country Music Association and its board, of which both Sina Hill and Anna-Sophie Mertens are directors.

“I joined the CMA board in 2020, becoming a vocal ambassador and advocate for what has traditionally been a niche genre outside of the US,” says Mertens, who has been a fan of the genre for most of her life, courtesy of her parents’ record collection.
Mertens developed and launched Live Nation UK’s first country event Highways in 2023, in partnership with the Royal Albert Hall. “The inaugural event featured Kip Moore, Morgan Wade, Jackson Dean’s UK debut, and Stephen Wilson Jr. whilst also hosting additional events such as Highways Songwriters Round, Country for Kids, Late Night Special, Official After Show Party with media partners Absolute Radio Country, and a month-long exhibition of the Nashville Portraits by Jim McGuire,” she tells IQ.

That debut last year was such a success that the 2024 edition of Highways has been extended to two days and nights of programming at the Royal Albert Hall. But Mertens acknowledges that events like CMC Rocks in Australia and the travelling C2C extravaganza in Europe paved the way for her and others to follow.

“The big development is that we are now seeing far more headline touring playing in bigger buildings, and with audiences growing, we are making compelling offers to get acts over for hard ticket tours,” says Mertens. “New events like Highways offer a different and very exciting offering to artists and fans alike.”

“The landscape, especially when it comes to festivals, seems to be getting busier”

Agent Morton concurs. “The landscape, especially when it comes to festivals, seems to be getting busier,” she observes. “In the UK, there’s also the likes of Black Deer, which is an Americana and country-leaning festival, and there are new properties in Australia as well. Frontier, who promote CMC Rocks, launched Ridin’ Hearts last year in Sydney and Melbourne, for example, and and Semmel Concerts in Germany are launching the Sound of Nashville event this year.”

Indeed, Semmel will promote 20-30 Sound of Nashville-branded events throughout Germany this year. But that’s hopefully just the tip of the iceberg.

“As country music grows in more countries, hopefully the international timeframes will expand so that Nashville is not just cramming in Europe, UK, and Australia within a three-week time period,” says Hall. “At the moment, that’s all you get when you’re international. But I think we will see more touring as acts realise they need that to really break the market… It takes more than one show in Berlin to break the entire German market.

“You need to be aware that because of country’s range, it will attract different fans. There is not necessarily just one country fan who consumes everything, so you have to market artists differently if it’s Zach Bryan or Luke Combs or Kacey Musgraves,” opines Hall. “Knowing those nuances and being tuned into what’s happening in Nashville, what the labels are doing, and the feedback we’re getting from our community are absolutely essential to do the right marketing.”

A global genre
At Frontier Touring, COO Susan Heymann says, “CMC Rocks has been building the profile of country music in Australia since 2008. Our business has been focused on bringing international country artists to Australia and building the local scene through the large audiences that the international acts draw for the festival.”

“An artist can make more money playing a state fair or rodeo a couple of hours from where they live as they’ll make spending two weeks touring internationally”

She recalls, “When we started in the genre, there were only a handful of international acts who considered Australia or New Zealand as a market worth putting the time into.” But she doesn’t blame them. “An artist can make more money playing a state fair or rodeo a couple of hours from where they live as they’ll make spending two weeks touring internationally.”

Nonetheless, the metrics are changing. “There are now a lot more artists who see this as a market worth investing in. We’re now at a point where we’re selling out the festival every year, we feature 16-20 internationals on the bill, we’ve started building a sister event called Ridin’ Hearts, and we’re touring international country artists year-round, outside of the festivals,” says Heymann.

While the rollout of more events in markets where strongholds of fans have been consuming country music for years is a welcome development, Morton believes brand-new markets could be on the horizon.

“It’s pretty early stages, but I am hearing about a potential country music festival starting in the Middle East, either the end of this year or beginning of next,” she reveals. “More and more promoters in Scandinavia, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, and France are getting involved, while Live Nation are particularly keen to get into this space. But with artists like Megan Moroney and Dylan Gossett, we’ve had all the major promoters come to us wanting to work with them.”

And she is also witnessing more mainstream avenues open up. “We had Brittney Spencer open for Bruce Springsteen at BST Hyde Park last summer. That was an amazing look for her. The War and Treaty are our clients, and they’re performing at Love Supreme this summer, which is a jazz festival. So we’re definitely seeing more mainstream festivals try and get into this, as well as mainstream media starting to cover the genre as well. Dylan Gossett got one of his first plays on radio in the UK on Radio 1, and for a tastemaker like Jack Saunders to be playing a country artist like Dylan on Radio 1, I think is brilliant for the genre.”

“The C2C team has driven the growth of UK country touring out of the festival, and we promote a large number of tours each year, from clubs to arenas and beyond”

AEG Presents promoter Rachel Lloyd works closely with SJM Concerts in promoting C2C in London, Glasgow, and Belfast. She has been working in country music since 2017 but says she has been really focussed on the genre since returning to AEG Presents in 2021.

“The C2C team has driven the growth of UK country touring out of the festival, and we promote a large number of tours each year, from clubs to arenas and beyond,” says Lloyd. “It’s a great model. To be able to introduce new artists at the festival, put them in front of excited fans and the media, and then bring them back for headline touring, hopefully over and over. Ashley McBryde is a great illustration of this, she worked her way up from the [C2C] Spotlight Stage and now does incredibly solid numbers over here.

“The wave of artists that first came over [for C2C] all reported back the same thing – that UK audiences are some of the best in the world. That tempted more and more to follow, and the exponential growth of the fanbase over here pushed US teams to take it seriously.”

While C2C currently plays to audiences in England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and the Netherlands, at TAKK, Vuignier is hopeful the juggernaut will one day expand its routing to Switzerland. “We have been trying hard to get C2C over to Zurich, but at the moment, the festival is only running over two weekends. However, we are closely and constantly talking to all parties involved, and we are trying to get the C2C acts to play mid-week shows in Zurich, in between both weekends.”

He continues, “Drake Milligan, who sells out 5,000-cap venues in the US, played the 500-capacity Mascotte around C2C and enjoyed it a lot. This was his very first headline show in Europe, and he played for almost two hours instead of the 90 minutes planned, because the audience was so hot.”

“There is generally a lot more crossover with country music these days. Country is now cool!”

In the UK, Jack Dowling at SJM Concerts has been working in partnership with AEG’s Lloyd for two years. “Chris York was the original pioneer of C2C from our company over a decade ago and deserves a huge amount of credit for where the genre is in the UK,” he states, adding, “C2C Presents is a combination of SJM and AEG; we promote a lot of tours outside of the festival under that banner in the UK.

“We are seeing a lot more US-based acts looking to build their business in the UK from the off – they are coming in at grassroots venues, circa 250 capacities. The genre really has exploded here in the last few years, and people have seen it’s a market to invest in early.”

And Dowling is one of the many execs who is excited by what is being referred to as ‘the Beyoncé effect.’ He tells IQ, “I think this is really helping to get the youth into the market. They hear these songs and do a bit of digging into what else is out there. Similarly, people are listening to great acts like Hozier, then they find Zach Bryan because of it. There is generally a lot more crossover with country music these days. Country is now cool!”

That’s hardly news to Baylen Leonard and his team at the Long Road Festival. But his plans for future editions of the festival are simple. “While we want to grow, it’s step by step, slow and steady, because we want to maintain what the festival is, without losing sight of our values,” he says. “If you grow too big, you can lose that special atmosphere. And I think that’s one of the things people really like about the Long Road.”

Looking to the future, Mertens comments, “I am particularly excited for artists such as Lainey Wilson, Tyler Childers, Jordan Davis, and Brett Young who are all doing phenomenal business in the UK. Both Lainey and Tyler are having an incredible career moment, and both will no doubt be headlining arenas in the not-so-distant future.”

On Beyoncé’s new country album, Cowboy Carter, Mertens adds, “I hope it will help see some of the more mainstream outlets – radio, TV, all genre playlisting in streaming – dive deeper into the genre and embrace it, giving current country acts a chance. Add in Shania Twain also playing Hyde Park and landing the coveted legends slot at Glastonbury 2024, another huge moment for the genre.”

“The market is definitely increasing in size. And I think this is just the beginning”

At Frontier in Australia, Heymann notes, “Mainstream artists having country albums may not resonate with the core country fans, but the appeal of country music is so much broader than what the core fans want, so it can only help build that audience and introduce indie and pop fans to new artists and music they might not otherwise explore.”

Wizard boss Hoppe says, “The new Beyoncé album will definitely have an impact, but I see it as more of a stepping stone to help develop the market even more.”

Considering Lana Del Rey’s forthcoming album, too, AEG’s Lloyd echoes Hoppe’s sentiment. “They are such mega artists that they need to be treated like outliers to the conversation generally,” she says. “But by the sheer statistics of their reach, they will make people take notice, so if they use their platforms to highlight other artists or musicians firmly in the genre, they will create new fans.

“What would be great is to see them, or any other artist who claims the genre, invite country or Americana artists as supports on tour. That would be huge for so many emerging artists and really put the spectrum of country music directly in front of people. I’m a firm believer that there is a country sound for everyone, so I hope all this will encourage fans to do some digging.”

Saunders at WME is also embracing the Beyoncé effect. “Ultimately, this helps to widen the lane for what it means to be a country artist, creating more opportunities for all,” says Saunders. “The country music genre is more sonically diverse than ever before. I welcome any creators who want to collaborate and push boundaries to create great music for everyone to enjoy.”

In Norway, Storaas predicts busy times ahead. “The market is definitely increasing in size. And I think this is just the beginning,” he says. “Maybe 15 years ago, indie was the number-one genre; ten years ago, it was EDM; five years ago, it was rap. So maybe country could now be number one for a couple of years.”

Live Nation colleague Mertens concludes, “We are certainly seeing younger fans at concerts, especially in the 18-35 age bracket, which is super exciting. At Megan Moroney’s first London show, for instance, we saw an overwhelming amount of young fans, mainly female, and what was even more interesting was seeing fans wear t-shirts of acts such as Imagine Dragons, Troye Sivan, and others. It blew me away as I wasn’t quite expecting that association, which made me very excited for the future.”

 


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Stagecoach booker talks country music’s evolution

Goldenvoice booker Stacy Vee has discussed country music’s growing influence on the wider music scene ahead of this weekend’s Stagecoach Festival.

Launched in 2007, the sold-out Californian gathering returns to Indio’s Empire Polo Club – the home of Coachella – from 26-28 April.

The genre has reached new audiences outside its traditional heartland in recent years with the advent of streaming and events such as Europe’s Country to Country, while pop superstars such as Beyoncé and Kylie Minogue have released country-tinged albums, with Lana Del Rey set to follow.

“Obviously it’s ushering in so many new fans, but also new voices,” reflects Vee, speaking to the Los Angeles Times.” People who never thought they’d make a country record are making a country record. New people are giving Nashville a chance, and in Nashville, people are giving other things a chance.

“A lot of artists are embracing it and putting their own interpretation on it. That’s something I’ve been intentionally focused on with Stagecoach, giving it its own identity, a California sound and my own interpretation of what country music is.”

“I’d love to think that we’ve been a pioneer in ushering in new voices”

Headlined by country icons Eric Church, Miranda Lambert and Morgan Wallen, Stagecoach will also feature the likes of Post Malone, Diplo, the Beach Boys and Nickelback.

“I’d love to think that we’ve been a pioneer in ushering in new voices,” says Vee. “I really rolled the dice booking Diplo for the first time. I didn’t know what Stagecoach fans would think of something like that, but he was just wildly embraced. And in 2022, I booked Nelly, and I’m like, ‘What are people gonna think about this?’

“We really do approach Stagecoach with a Coachella brain. People are really excited about the things they don’t ask for. It’s really encouraging, and I think that country music fans are much more open minded than maybe they get credit for.”

She continues: “[The Nickelback booking] is taking a chance. And I gave Post Malone a big slot on the main stage. But I don’t think I’ve read one negative comment on our socials about it. Every single person embraced Post with open arms, that he’s stepping his foot into country music. That’s what’s drawing in people like Beyoncé and Lana Del Rey. Everybody’s discovered this country music thing is really fun.”

“We’re focused on creating the country culture of tomorrow”

Stagecoach’s 2024 bill also includes Jelly Roll, Elle King, Willie Nelson, Hardy, Bailey Zimmerman, Carin León, Dwight Yoakam, Megan Moroney, Paul Cauthen, Clint Black, Ernest, Charley Crockett and Leon Bridges, among others. The festival will again be livestreamed exclusively on the Amazon Music channel on Twitch and Prime Video.

Vee, who was promoted to EVP at Goldenvoice last summer, started with the AEG subsidiary in 2002 and oversees the booking department alongside fellow EVP Jenn Yacoubian.

“The approach I take to booking Stagecoach specifically is I want to deliver to every type of country music fan,” she adds. “There are my beloved loyal Stagecoach fans who’ve been coming since 2007. I want the top-streamed, most-airplay acts selling out stadiums. I want songwriting. I want what I call ‘country curious’ people to give me a shot. People who are like, ‘Well, I don’t really like country music, but there’s Wiz Khalifa and Diplo and Post Malone and Dillon Francis and Nickelback, what’s going on over there?’

“We’re focused on creating the country culture of tomorrow. It’s the best part of my job and some responsibility, but it’s also a blast.”

 


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George Strait on pace to break US attendance record

Country music legend George Strait could break the all-time attendance record for a ticketed concert in the US with his June performance at a Texas football stadium.

The one-off show at Texas A&M University’s stadium, dubbed The King at Kyle Field, has already sold 100,000 tickets since its announcement on 28 March. His only home-state performance this year, set for 15 June, the potentially record-breaking venture will see him play in the round during the venue’s first-ever concert. He’ll be supported by two additional Texas natives, Parker McCollum and Catie Offerman.

While seats are still available, including platinum-level seats ranging up to US$2,750, the gig could break the standing record of 107,019 set by the Grateful Dead in 1977 during their Terrapin Station Tour at New Jesery’s Raceway Park. Internationally, Italian singer Vasco Rossi holds the overall record with over 225,000 tickets sold for his 2017 show at Modena, Italy’s Enzo Ferrari Park.

Strait’s performance could also break the College Station football stadium’s attendance record, set at 110,633 during a 2014 matchup between the Aggies and the University of Mississippi’s Rebels.

“George has always said he has the best fans, and there’s nothing like a Texas crowd,” says longtime promoter and Messina Touring Group founder, Louis Messina.

“We knew the show at Kyle Field would be exciting as it’s the first-ever one of its size to be held in the stadium, but even I didn’t expect we’d sell over 100,000 tickets in just a few days. He’ll play to more people in one night than we did at AT&T in 2014! It’s a testament to George’s reputation as an entertainer and performer that here we are, still setting records and personal bests years later.”

“Bringing these magical nights from the King of Country music to fans has been one of the greatest honors of my life”

The homecoming gig is on pace to break Strait’s personal attendance record of 104,793, set in 2014 during his Cowboy Rides Away stop at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The finale to his 47-show retirement tour grossed over $18.1 million, a record for the largest gross at a single-show country concert. Strait has since played speciality productions, including his 17-weekend Vegas residency Strait to Vegas at T-Mobile Arena (20,000-capacity).

“The King of Country Music”, Strait’s career spans five decades and includes a multitude of accolades, including a Grammy; Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year in 1989, 1990, and 2013; Academy of Country Music Awards Entertainer of the Year in 1990 and 2014; and induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2006.

The 71-year-old has landed 60 No. 1 hits, the record across all charts by an artist in any genre of music, a record he’s held since 2013 with Give It All We Got Tonight. He’s also the only artist to have a top 10 hit every year for 30 years and has sold more than 105 million records worldwide.

Strait’s upcoming performance — his first one in Texas since 2022 — lands amid his 10-stop summer stadium outing alongside Chris Stapleton, supported by Little Big Town. Kicking off 4 May at Indianapolis’s Lucas Oil Stadium (70,000), the country pioneer will play MetLife Stadium (82,500) in New Jersey, Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium (51,444), and Soldier Field (61,500) in Chicago. After a break in the autumn, the tour will wrap up at Las Vegas’s Allegiant Stadium (65,000) on 7 December.

“We’ve spent the last few years playing specialty one-off shows in markets he’ll likely never play again,” Messina adds. “I’m excited about this summer of special shows with Chris Stapleton – it’s always been such a great experience for the fans. Bringing these magical nights from the King of Country music to fans has been one of the greatest honours of my life.”

 


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South Africa to host ‘biggest country fest outside US’

A new two-day country music festival is coming to South Africa this autumn, in what organisers are calling one of the genre’s largest events outside of the US.

The inaugural Cape Town Country Music Festival is set for 26-27 October at the 60,000-capacity DHL Stadium. Since its first show in 2011, the stadium has hosted international acts including U2, Rihanna, Foo Fighters, and Justin Bieber.

American artists Kip Moore and the Zac Brown Band will lead the programme, with an array of local and international artists set to perform across the two days. US country stars Darius Rucker, the Brothers Osborne, and others will join the lineup, in addition to 10 South African artists.

The festival builds on recent success for country music in the African country, with Moore selling 44,000 tickets across three shows last spring in Cape Town and Pretoria.

“The door is now wide open for the entire country music genre”

“When we went to SA for the first time last year, the surprising part was it felt like a grassroots fan base that had been with us all along. There was a spark in that audience that I’ve been itching to light again,” Moore says.

Local DJ and Heroes Events producer Wimpie van der Sandt, who helped bring Moore to Africa in 2023, is producing the festival. The founder of Afrikaans-broadcasting BOK Radio made history last year as the first South African to receive a Country Music Association award nomination in the international country broadcaster category.

“The success we had last year with Kip Moore in South Africa proved there’s a vibrant and healthy country music scene over here. People in the music industry were sceptical when we explored the market, but we proved the concept and that gave us confidence to build the biggest country festival in the world outside the US,” van der Sandt says.

One of Moore’s managers, Gaines Sturdivant of Red Light Management, will serve as an executive consultant.

“Wimpie and I dreamt up this idea together on a napkin after watching Kip’s jaw-dropping success in South Africa last year. I am incredibly proud of the new ground Kip has plowed for country music and music in general.”

“CTC ’24 is the next iteration, and the door is now wide open for the entire country music genre,” Sturdivant says.

Tickets for the October event go on sale tomorrow, 16 February.

 


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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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Jason Aldean cuts gig short due to heat exhaustion

Country singer Jason Aldean was forced to bring his recent concert in Connecticut to a premature end after suffering from “dehydration and heat exhaustion” on stage.

The 46-year-old American was playing the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford on Saturday (15 July), when temperatures reached up to 89°F/32°C, according to CBS News.

Video footage shows the star appearing to struggle midway through the performance, which was part of his Live Nation-promoted Highway Desperado US tour, before rushing from the stage.

“Just want to let you know, thanks to everybody that’s calling and checking,” says Aldean in a video posted to social media. “I’m doing fine. Just one of those things. It was hot. I was playing golf all day yesterday and then got to the show… I think it was a combination of dehydration and just heat exhaustion.”

“A rep has confirmed he is now doing well after experiencing heat stroke”

In a statement issued after the show, Xfinity says: “We appreciate your patience as we work on rescheduling a new date, as well as the outpouring of well wishes for Jason. A rep has confirmed he is now doing well after experiencing heat stroke during last night’s performance.”

The incident came a week after 17 people were taken to hospital, mostly for heat-related emergencies, during Ed Sheeran’s concert at Pittsburgh’s Acrisure Stadium in Pennsylvania, US.

Aldean was back in action at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York, the next night and the Connecticut date has since been rescheduled for 30 July, with all tickets for the original gig still valid.

 


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Titans unite to create Oz country music agency

Artist manager Dan Biddle has inked a partnership deal with Chugg Music and Select Music to launch Wheelhouse Agency – a new specialist booking enterprise focused on Australasia’s growing market for Americana and country music.

The new company will see Dan Biddle Management combine its expertise with the extensive live touring and country music market knowledge sets of Chugg’s Andrew Stone and Michael Chugg, and that of Select’s Stephen Wade and Rob Giovannoni to provide a premium agency service for artists in the country and Americana genres.

Giovannoni and Biddle will take on the roles of agency co-heads continuing in their existing roles – Giovannoni as senior agent at Select, and Biddle as special projects manager for Chugg Music and Dan Biddle Management. Katie Krollig, who has been part of the Select Music setup for over six years, joins the Wheelhouse team as lead agent while continuing to service her roster of Select clients.

“It was clear that the market needed a new agency to service the many great new artists coming through, along with the established artists who are kicking major goals”

“The growth of country music in Australia over the last few years has been well documented and it was clear that the market needed a new agency to service the many great new artists coming through, along with the established artists who are kicking major goals,” says Chugg. “With our many decades of experience across all facets of live touring, combined with our knowledge of the country music industry, there is no better team in Australia to help artists develop their live careers and grow their audiences.”

The agency is launching with an impressive roster of award winning and best-selling artists combined with some of the most exciting emerging acts in the genre. The Wheelhouse roster includes Amy Sheppard, Andrew Farriss, Bud Rokesky, Casey Barnes, Henry Wagons, James Blundell, Kingswood, Lane Pittman, Leroy Macqueen, Loren Ryan, McAlister Kemp, Sara Berki, Sara Storer, Shannon Noll, Sweet Talk, Taylor Moss, The Paper Kites, Travis Collins, and Wagons.

Artist Henry Wagons comments: “I’m excited to be in the sublime twangy company Wheelhouse have corralled. What a great broad ranging stable for live country music of all shapes and sizes.”

 


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Loud and Live unveils new country music festival

Miami-based promoter Loud and Live has announced details of the inaugural Country Bay Music Festival in conjunction with its South Florida-focused live events division, EngageLive!

Staged on the grounds of Miami Marine Stadium, the festival will take place from 11-12 November with headliners Thomas Rhett, Sam Hunt, Chris Young, Lee Brice and Lainey Wilson.

“We are thrilled to announce the launch of this premier country music festival in Miami, bringing together the best of country music across the vibrant and energetic backdrop of this magical city,” says Loud and Live CEO Nelson Albareda. “Our goal is to create a memorable experience for music fans and our partner sponsors alike, and ultimately to establish Miami as a destination for country music enthusiasts from around the world.”

Country Bay Music Festival also promises to showcase performances from Randy Houser, Chris Lane, LOCASH and Elle King, as well as up-and-coming artists such as Restless Road, Blanco Brown, Josh Ross, Hailey Whitters, and David J, plus country-Latin duo Kat & Alex and Neon Union.

“We are confident that Country Bay Music Festival will be a must-attend event for years to come”

“With an incredible lineup of the top country music artists and a picturesque waterfront venue that has a long history of iconic country music shows, including Jimmy Buffet and Kenny Rogers among others, we are confident that Country Bay Music Festival will be a must-attend event for years to come,” adds EngageLive CEO Tony Albelo.

The two-day festival will also offer activities, including The Saloon Experience, a 360-degree country-themed bar offering an assortment of craft beer, whiskey, bourbon, and tequila. Fans will also be able to enjoy other festival experiences, including sponsor activations, games, culinary experiences, photo booth opportunities, line dancing, a mechanical bull, and a giant Ferris wheel.

Fans will also have the opportunity to attend the event by boat or yacht with an anchorage access pass. Weekend festival passes start at US$159 (€148), with Beach Club passes available from $699 (€652) and platinum VIP weekend tickets at $1,599 (€1,491).

 


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Live Nation teams with RAH to launch Highways fest

Live Nation and the Royal Albert Hall have teamed up to launch new Country and Americana festival, Highways.

The London venue has confirmed acts such as Kip Moore, Morgan Wade, Jackson Dean and Stephen Wilson Jr for the inaugural festival on Saturday 20 May 2023.

Performances will be held in the main auditorium in addition to curated showcases speckled across adorning rooms.

“I am thrilled to bring to life this incredible festival alongside our partners at the Royal Albert Hall,” says Live Nation’s VP touring, Anna Sophie-Mertens. “It is every artist’s dream to play this legendary venue; and delivering such an unforgettable occasion for the Country and Americana community has been a longstanding dream of mine.”

Tickets go on sale this Friday (9 December), with further musical performances and offerings at Highways to be announced soon.

“We’re particularly pleased to be able to build on the long-running history of country music at the Hall in this way – as these genres continue to grow from strength to strength in the UK”

“We’re delighted to be building a completely new Country and Americana event with our long-standing partners at Live Nation,” adds Matthew Todd, head of programming and engagement at the Royal Albert Hall. “Our 152-year old auditorium will provide a backdrop unlike anywhere else for some brilliant acts, and we’re particularly pleased to be able to build on the long-running history of country music at the Hall in this way – as these genres continue to grow from strength to strength in the UK.”

The Hall has a long history of promoting country music and Americana in the UK, including shows by Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, John Denver, Kacey Musgraves and the UK debut of Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1970.

Other notable moments of American history at the venue have included addresses by five Presidents from Taft to Clinton, UK v US basketball tournaments during the war, The Beatles attending a Bob Dylan concert, Pink Floyd opening for Jimi Hendrix, and appearances by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Jay Z, and Diana Ross.

Elsewhere, the Country to Country (C2C) festival has added Morgan Evans to its main stage lineup for 2023. The Australian singer/songwriter joins previously announced headliners Zac Brown Band, Thomas Rhett and Lady A on the bill.

C2C’s 10-year celebration will take place at The O2 in London, Dublin’s 3Arena and Glasgow’s OVO Hydro from 10-12 March.

 


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AEG’s Goldenvoice announces new LA festival

Goldenvoice, one of the largest promoters in the world, has announced a brand new alt-country festival for Los Angeles.

Palomino Festival will debut on 9 July at Brookside at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, featuring some of the biggest names in country, folk, bluegrass, and pop.

Kacey Musgraves, Willie Nelson & Family, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, and the Old Crow Medicine Show are among the acts slated to perform at the one-day event.

Other artists announced for the inaugural event include Orville Peck, Valerie June, Paul Cauthen, Charley Crockett, Nikki Lane, Morgan Wade, Sierra Ferrell, Low Cut Connie, Langhorne Slim, Sierra Hull, Jamnie Wyatt, Ian Noe Loga Ledger, Amythyst Kiah, and special guests The Compton Cowboys.

AEG-backed Goldenvoice has already built a dedicated audience of US-based country music fans via its Stagecoach Country Music Festival.

“It has been a dream to do a festival taking a modern, fresh approach to today’s alt-country music”

“It has been a dream for as long as I can remember to do a festival taking a modern, fresh approach to today’s alt-country music. Artists in the space have been pushing boundaries, creating sounds that are brand new,” says Goldenvoice talent buyer Stacy Vee, who also oversees the bookings for the company’s Stagecoach festival.

“I wanted to fan these flames and celebrate this changing culture. We at Goldenvoice love doing things ‘our own way,’ and there are a lot of artists out there right now doing the same thing. We came together to celebrate carving your own path: this is Palomino.”

Palomino is the latest new festival Goldenvoice has announced after This Ain’t No Picnic and California Vibes.

In the US, Goldenvoice produces several festivals, most notably Coachella, as well as operating 14 mid-sized venues and promoting over 1,800 shows per year.

 


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