As with Buckle & Boots 2021, which welcomed Tebey and Alyssa Bonagura, this year’s British Country Music Festival allowed two American acts to slip through the net in a token gesture to the true home of country music.
Juna N Joey, a ‘modern day Carpenters crossed with Dan + Shay’, were over from Florida for their fist of what will become many visits to the UK. They will spend a few weeks bringing their poppy sound to Caffe Nero spots and I was won over by their charm. Playing to backing instrumentals with guitars in hand (and Mom on Facetime!), the siblings went through their own catalogue and some well-chosen covers.
I spoke to the kids a few days before they arrived in Blackpool, while they took in the sights of Salisbury. Juna was foolish because she hadn’t packed any warm clothes for the end of the British summer, while Joey said: ‘Your accents are amazing!
‘Our genre is country-pop,’ Joey told me, and they’ve picked some fine songs to interpret. They opened with Lovin On You, the Luke Combs tune, before playing the Combs-written pair of Beautiful Crazy and Old Love Song, which Zac Brown Band will have on their next album. Old Love Song sounded cute when played by two kids born after the year 2000, while Watermelon Sugar, with its four solid chords, showcased Joey’s great vocals.
As for the originals, some of which will emerge on a four-track EP, I love Till Your Heart Breaks best. New single Something Good To Miss sounded addictive and cute, and has gained US radio play. ‘We filmed a TikTok video reacting to hearing our song on the radio for a first time,’ Juna said.
A woman in the crowd swayed next to her partner in a frilly shirt while another woman who was wearing two cowboy hats was jigging away. Twinnie’s fans will enjoy their music as they support her on six dates this month across the UK, which will be their first international dates. More ought to follow, perhaps around Greenwich in March 2022.
Candi Carpenter will have gained hundreds of new fans with her Sunday afternoon slot, which was preceded by a half-hour soundcheck to ensure her voice and guitar could best be heard in the Ballroom, the ‘prettiest room I’ve played in’.
A teenage yodeller, Candi spent about 45 seconds showing off her pipes before reverting to the type of show UK fans have seen from the likes of Eric Paslay and Morgan Evans, the type that happens in Nashville every night of the week. One woman, one guitar, a thousand pairs of eyes on her and her effortless showmanship.
In a very male-dominated country sphere, because that’s what makes money and money yells in Music City, Candi has to be canny. Independence suits her, especially after a nasty stint when she was burned by the music industry and a marriage which didn’t work.
As for the music, Candi played the title track of recent EP When The Asteroid Comes as well as a tune from her Americana duo Church of Roswell. She closed her set with a cover of Little Sparrow by Dolly Parton, who ‘smells like a candle store’ and who remains the guiding force for female country singers. Indeed, Dolly has given Candi her blessing and called her a star.
There were two shocking moments in a set full of Candi’s dark past. On Exorcist, she sang ‘I need more than a therapist’ while Skinny was about her teenage years struggling with food, ‘literally trying to disappear’. Plenty of people took up the option after the set to get a hug from Candi, but perhaps it ought to be the other way round. Even her cover of Creep by Radiohead, which included a set of notes that Thom Yorke could never hit, laid bare her emotions.
At least she could be self-effacing, as when she introduced Serial Killer as one ‘written with my boyfriend’, who was filming her set in the crowd. Candi introduced one new song by saying how ‘scared’ she was to play it, because it went against conservative religious ideals. The lyric ‘Sold my soul to Carl Sagan’, referencing the scientist whose work is a rational deconstruction of religion, is worth the price of admission. American country’s loss is Americana’s gain. I wonder if other US acts will use the UK as a place they can work through their issues and anti-American feelings, since it’s not blasphemous to criticise religion here.
Rather than country music, it was very Lilith Fair. Is it unfair to group the likes of Brandi Carlile, with whom Candi recorded the recent EP, and Maren Morris in an all-female set of acts which, as in the 1990s, operate outside the mainstream?
I’d love to hear some more stories about being Little Jimmy Dickens’ housekeeper, which she shared in an online concert earlier this year, and about precisely which candles Dolly smells like. I am positive that Candi will make more pilgrimages to the UK in 2022 and, like Ashley McBryde before her, we will lap up her music one fan at a time.
If you’re quick you can find tickets to her UK shows on September 7 and 11 here.