Six countries, one genre: C2C makes 2020 return
AEG’s Country to Country (C2C) festival is returning in 2020 for the eighth edition of its flagship London event, alongside repeat editions in Ireland, Scotland, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia.
Luke Combs, Darius Rucker and Eric Church will headline C2C’s European festivals, alongside acts including the Cadillac Three, Tanya Tucker, Charles Esten, Brett Young and Old Dominion.
International touring series Introducing Nashville will be present at C2C for the first time this year, with acoustic performances from Abby Anderson, Eric Paslay and Tenille Townes.
C2C 2020 will take place from 13 to 15 March in London’s 20,000-capacity O2 Arena, which yesterday (22 October) celebrated reaching 25 million ticket sales. Simultaneous events will take place at Ireland’s 3Arena Dublin (13,000-cap.), promoted by MCD Productions, and the SSE Hydro (13,000-cap.) in Glasgow, Scotland, promoted by DF Concerts.
The country music festival is also returning to Afas Live Amsterdam (6,000-cap.) and AEG’s Verti Music Hall (4,350-cap.) in Berlin, following successful first outings last year. Greenhouse Talent will co-promote C2C Amsterdam, which takes place from 7 to 8 March, with Semmel Concerts taking charge of the Berlin edition on 6 to 8 March.
“C2C Festival 2020 continues to build on the massive success of Country to Country in the UK and across Europe”
“I am so proud to be part of the C2C family,” said Bob Harris OBE, the main stage host of the London event, at C2C’s line-up launch party at Country Music Week, which began on Monday.
“I can’t wait to listen to the best music in the world, enjoy the fantastic atmosphere of the main auditorium, catch the excitement of the pop-up stages and meet the incredible Country fans that make C2C so special.”
Chris York, C2C Festival promoter for SJM Concerts comments: “C2C Festival 2020 continues to build on the massive success of Country to Country in the UK and across Europe. We look forward to seeing all you passionate country fans in March once again.”
Tickets for all C2C’s European events go on sale on Friday 1 November at 10 a.m. (GMT).
More information about C2C Australia, which also returns for its second year in 2020, will be available at a later date. The Australian version of the event, promoted by AEG Presents and TEG Live, takes place in Sydney and Brisbane with a different line-up to other C2C events.
Read more about country music’s rise to global fame here.
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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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From Parton to Musgraves: All roads lead to country
“Everyone is talking about country music now,” I can hear someone saying to their friend who is checking out the current swag in the stalls at Country to Country (C2C) Festival in London. “It’s suddenly cool now.”
For years, the genre was associated with the Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw die-hards, and further back to the George Straits, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard eras. But anyone who knows their music understands that just as rock music was born from the influence of blues and jazz, so has the umbrella of country music that crosses over from folk to Americana to bluegrass to pop.
Ten years ago, if you mentioned country music, you were likely to chat about the icons of the industry, and the chances of seeing them live outside of North America were slim, as the cost of bringing their stage shows to the UK, Europe and beyond was too high.
Push forward to the present day and people are talking. Promoters are finding the interest in concerts and events surging and festivals are selling out.
People are listening, buying and relishing in all that there is to hear – and there’s a lot.
People are listening, buying and relishing in all that there is to hear – and there’s a lot
We had our Dolly Parton moment (one of the biggest crowds Glastonbury’s Pyramid stage has seen) and C2C had just had its most successful year to-date including expanded dates in Glasgow, Dublin, Amsterdam and Berlin.
New artists like Lukas Nelson (his father’s namesake has made a huge splash in the country world and is touring worldwide), Thomas Rhett, Ashley McBryde, Maren Morris, Chris Stapleton, the list goes on.
Successful TV shows like Nashville have expanded the fan base and paved the way for artists of the programme to continue their musical journey (Charles Esten recently completed a sold-out tour of Europe and Sam Palladio sold out his first UK headline show at the Roundhouse).
But what can we expect for future artists and the business? How dedicated we as industry professionals are in helping to develop these artists achieve a successful career is key, and so far, the future looks bright. National gem “Whispering” Bob Harris has been a huge influence from his early days with The Old Grey Whistle Test, to introducing new artists through his Under the Apple Tree Sessions and hosted stages at festivals around the UK. It was here that I was first introduced to one of the most talented home-grown Americana artists in the UK, Robert Vincent (winner of Best Album at the UK Americana Awards 2018).
There are radio programmes like Chris Country, and Bauer recently debuted the UK’s first national country radio station (Country Hits Radio). New festivals like Black Deer, The Long Road and Nashville Meets London, along with SummerTyne Americana Festival, Ramblin’ Roots and River Town have all been huge supports to these artists. And I look forward to seeing more country/Americana/folk artists crossover to other mainstream festivals as the demand is there.
Hopefully, one day country artists will just be considered ‘artists’
It’s great to see that people are taking the music and the artists more seriously, and the fan base is quite diverse. Artists are not only on country music radio and album charts.
But who decides what ‘country music’ is? As is the recent story with rapper Lil Nas X whose song Old Town Road was removed from Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart because “it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current form.” He is currently on course for a Top 5 with said single in the UK Official Charts.
Women in country have set a huge standard as well and brought a lot more attention to international audiences, including Grammy award-winning acts like Kacey Musgraves and Brandi Carlile (most nominated female artist at this year’s awards). Ward Thomas set a precedent in the UK as the first UK country act to have a number-one album in the Official Music Charts.
UK acts like The Shires and Wandering Hearts, alongside US acts like Striking Matches, Sarah Darling and Kelsea Ballerini, are all setting the tone and bringing young audiences on board. It is critically important to help these artists develop and grow and allow more for emerging acts such as Jarrod Dickenson, Kyle Daniel, Megan O’Neill, Laura Oakes etc.
It’s human nature to want to tick a box and list an influence or genre but just as the hope one day is that there isn’t a focus on age or sex, hopefully one day country artists will just be considered ‘artists’.
Former WME partner Beckham launches management firm
The former co-partner at WME Nashville, Rob Beckham, has joined forces with Nashville-based manager Bill Simmons to launch the Artist Management Group (AMG).
The management firm counts Brad Paisley and Chris Young as its first clients. The pair follow Simmons from Fitzgerald-Hartley Company, at which Simmons was a partner.
Nashville management firm the Fitzgerald-Hartley Company announced it was shuttering on Monday (6 May), after 42 years. The announcement was made shortly before Beckham and Simmons made the AMG launch public.
Co-founders Larry Fitzgerald and Mark Hartley will continue to work in artist management, with Fitzgerald focusing solely on longtime client Vince Gill.
Managers responsible for Fitzgerald-Hartley Company acts including Olivia Newton-John, Kellie Pickler, Eric Paslay and Randy Houser will reveal plans in due course.
Co-head of the WME Nashville office until October last year, Beckham’s departure prompted much speculation throughout the Nashville music industry and wider country music scene.
The management firm counts Brad Paisley and Chris Young as its first clients
WME Nashville is now run by co-heads Joey Lee, Jay Williams, Greg Oswald and Scott Clayton, who joined from rival Creative Artists Agency in November 2017.
Previously representing new AMG client Paisley, Beckham’s other past clients include Brett Eldredge, Rascal Flatts, Blake Shelton and Chase Bryant.
Beckham has been named talent agent of the year by the Country Music Association and the TJ Martell ambassador of the year. He has also served as president of the CMA’s board of directors.
Although Nashville remains the heartland of country music, the genre has enjoyed a global revitalisation over the past few years. Artists including Kacey Musgraves, Florida Georgia Line and Midland and festivals such as AEG’s Country to Country have aided the popularity of country music among a younger, more international crowd.
The country music panel at this year’s International Live Music Conference discussed the diversity of country music fans, its growth across Australian, European and even Asian touring markets and the high levels of engagement between fans and artists.
C2C announces 2020 return after record year
Following its best-ever year in 2019, Country to Country (C2C) will return for its eighth outing next March, the festival’s UK and Ireland promoters have announced.
C2C 2019, headlined by country music superstars Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum and Chris Stapleton, took place from Friday 8 to Sunday 10 March. It welcomed 80,000 fans across three venues – the O2 in London, the SSE Hydro in Glasgow and 3Arena in Dublin – in what SJM Concerts’ Chris York, whose company co-promotes the event with AEG, calls its “busiest year yet”.
The festival also expanded to Germany, holding its first German event at AEG’s new Verti Music Hall in Berlin on 3 March, and the Netherlands, with the first C2C Amsterdam, co-promoted with Greenhouse Talent, taking place at AFAS Live (6,000-cap.) the following night.
C2C 2019 welcomed 80,000 fans in London, Glasgow and Dublin
C2C Australia, which has a different line-up, is staged on 28 and 29 September in Sydney and Brisbane, respectively.
The flagship C2C 2020 will take place on 13, 14 and 15 March, returning to London, Glasgow and Dublin, according to AEG and SJM, with earlybird tickets available from this Friday (15 March).
Read IQ’s recent feature on how Country to Country – along with the tireless support of the Country Music Association, radio DJs, local promoters and others – helped country music conquer the world here.
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.
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.
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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.
Paradigm acquires Nashville’s Dale Morris & Associates
Paradigm Talent Agency has acquired Dale Morris & Associates, the touring arm of Nashville country music powerhouse Morris Higham Management.
As part of the deal, Dale Morris agents Mike Betterton and Nate Ritches become part of Paradigm’s Nashville team, bringing country music superstars including Kenny Chesney (the only country act in Billboard’s top-ten touring acts of the past 25 years), Old Dominion and Walker County to the agency.
In addition to the touring business, a “strategic alliance” between Paradigm and Morris Higham Management (MHM) sees the two partner to “create unique and compelling opportunities for MHM management clients”, expanding the management company’s global reach.
LA-headquartered Paradigm has similar strategic partnerships with Independent Talent Group and X-ray Touring in the UK, as well as formerly with the Windish Agency and AM Only in the US, which have both since rebranded as Paradigm.
The agency’s Nashville roster already includes the likes of Kacey Musgraves, Sturgill Simpson, Brent Cobb, the Mavericks, Ben Folds and the Lumineers.
“Dale Morris and Clint Higham’s beliefs and values perfectly align with our art and artist philosophy at Paradigm”
“In today’s world, where global reach is needed and music delivery changes daily, having the strongest team possible is critical to continue growing,” says Morris Higham co-head Clint Higham. “We have always thought outside the box, taking Kenny to stadiums and building Old Dominion without a record deal. To me, this affords us a much bigger box to think outside, and that’s everything Dale Morris & Associates was built on.”
“I have always believed you put the artist and the fans first,” says Dale Morris & Associates founder Dale Morris. “When you make that the priority, stay connected to the business and keep it your focus, you can do things people say are impossible. We’ve always got in the trenches, bringing the acts to the people, and we’ve built careers that last for generations.”
“Dale Morris and Clint Higham’s beliefs and values perfectly align with our art and artist philosophy at Paradigm,” adds Paradigm chairman and CEO Sam Gores. “They are unique, independent pioneers who share our unwavering focus on the artists we represent and the art they create.
“Our cultures complement one another perfectly. We both have a fierce commitment to our artists, and we will be utilising the combined strengths and resources from both companies to push this partnership into new territory.”
It’s a plaid, plaid world
Country music is one of the fastest growing genres of music in the UK. Yup – you read that correctly. If you don’t believe me, you clearly weren’t at the O2 back in March when 80,000 fans descended on the venue to see Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Kacey Musgraves and a whole host of country stars from here and the US perform. (Cowboy hats included but not compulsory.)
Gone is the line-dancing, and the cheesy references to Billy Ray Cyrus’s ‘Achy Breaky Heart’, and even the term country and western. Country music is taking back the reins – and this time it’s cool.
Hot Nashville newcomers Midland recently had a four-page spread in Vogue. Florida Georgia Line’s collaboration with Bebe Rexha has been played on mainstream radio. Hundreds of thousands of people are tuning in to TV show Nashville. And Chris Stapleton regularly pops up alongside best friend Justin Timberlake whenever he can.
I’ve been a fan of country since I was a kid. Whilst my friends were listening to Take That and the Spice Girls, I was secretly hoarding Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash albums. Now my fellow fans are coming out of the country closet to embrace the genre. Why the shift?
BA wouldn’t have just launched the first direct flight in decades if Nashville hadn’t put Music City firmly on the map for UK fans
Well, streaming has definitely helped. Spotify, Deezer, etc., have introduced people to all kinds of music they would not have previously come across. Then there’s the lifestyle: BA wouldn’t have just launched the first direct Nashville flight in decades if Nashville hadn’t put Music City firmly on the map for UK fans. Most importantly, though, live music has played a significant role in growing the genre’s popularity.
The more bands that come over from Nashville to play here, the more the American labels realise there’s a significant, very hungry audience in the UK. And so they return, with more artists and bigger venues. And the momentum builds. Smaller venues are hosting their own country nights; pubs have open mic evenings; and “three chords and the truth” singers are taking the spotlight. UK country singers are going from strength to strength, with artists such as the Shires, Catherine McGrath and the Wandering Hearts proving you don’t need to come from Tennessee to claim country music as your own.
So what does this mean for the future? More music, gigs, emerging artists, great songs and probably a few more cowboy hats. The future is most definitely country…