This annual rolling revue of established and upcoming North American country artists, taking place simultaneously across three cities, always goes down well in Glasgow where there was sufficient enthusiasm on its first night to ensure a pretty healthy turnout for the early doors opening set by Texan trio Midland, who delivered a rather too polite blend of honky tonk, southern rock and three part harmony, accompanied by a dose of droll humour from frontman Mark Wystrach, who dedicated a song to “all the pretty ladies out there – and all the pretty men”.
Country to Country, Glasgow Hydro ***
The live music, compered by Deacon Blue frontman and avowed Americana fan Ricky Ross, kept flowing between the advertised acts with slots on the smaller Spotlight Stage for two offspring of country royalty. Lukas Nelson, the son of arch outlaw Willie Nelson and leader of Neil Young’s current collaborators, Promise of the Real, fought a frustratingly muffled sound for the duration of his soulful mini set. Ashley Campbell’s light, insubstantial voice was better served by the mix as she played it safe with a medley of father Glen’s greatest hits rendered on banjo, fiddle and acoustic guitar.
Like her label boss Jack White, rising Nashville singer/songwriter Margo Price loves Loretta Lynn, paying sly tribute with the title of her debut album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, and in spirit on drinking song Since You Put Me Down with its playful pedal steel backing. But her music was pleasant rather than punchy, and her soaring country voice with trad roots and pop appeal is closer in style to Linda Ronstadt or Emmylou Harris.
Harris herself was on the bill but this hugely respected country doyenne struggled throughout her set to communicate the intimate camaraderie she shares with her band in such a vast space. The solution was most certainly not to turn up the mix to a painful level, obliterating the soulful delicacy of the bluegrass fiddle or the freewheeling country canter of the band in intuitive flow.
The blaring volume persisted throughout the headline set by Little Big Town, but their glossy, airbrushed take on country music was far from subtle anyway and even their trademark four-part harmonies were wielded like a blunt instrument. An acoustic interlude of their early songs on the small stage provided some respite and when a couple of band members forgot lyrics and took a tumble out in the crowd it was a humanizing glimpse behind their glitzy curtain.