All photos except where noted: Grant W. Martin,
It was the Canadian Country Music Association’s 36th Anniversary and the organization chose Saskatoon to host its four-day celebration, Sept. 6-9, 2012. It was also CCMA Executive Director Don Green’s second year of running this event and he received high praise for the many improvements his leadership has produced. The CCMA’s General Membership Meeting was like a love fest as people stood up to salute Green’s work. Opening remarks from CCMA Board of Directors Chairman Ted Ellis, and VP Head of Programming for Corus Entertainment which includes CMT Canada and Nickelodeon Canada, showed how the organization has re-established it priorities and energized its marketing campaigns. For example, the Awards event will stay in Edmonton for the next two years (Sept. 5-8, 2013) to enable bigger and longer lasting sponsorships. They also have a multi-year TV show contract for the first time.
The Saskatoon event includes industry seminars, awards and showcases, but also hosts music events that are open to the public. This year the nationally televised CCMA Awards set records selling over 11,000 tickets to Saskatoon residents, happy to see some of their favorite Canadian artists plus U.S. stars like Taylor Swift, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Pistol Annies and Eric Church.
Thursday evening’s opening reception was held inside Saskatchewan’s Western Development Museum on what looked like a small town set from a John Wayne cowboy movie. Later that evening the New Artist Showcase began, hosted by Michelle Wright, who was also nominated for Female Vocalist this year. There were lots of interesting talents that took the stage, but the one that caught my ears with stage presence, voice and interesting original songs was Declan McGarry. McGarry is a young Brad Paisley meets Jason Aldean mashup. (He’s signed to Ron Kitchener’s RGK Entertainment.)
A number of Nashvillians made the trek to western Canada this year including After Midnite’s Blair Garner, Rick Murray, Mike Sebastian, Byron Hill, AristoMedia’s Jeff Walker and Aircheck’s Lon Helton. John Ettinger was there with clients Emerson Drive, Mike Wilson with Streamsound artist Jaida Dreyer, and Stoney River new signee Lindsay Ell with manager Steven Linn. It was an especially exciting year for Ralph Murphy who was inducted into the CCMA Hall Of Fame, but more about that later. Also making the rounds were Canadians with Nashville ties such as ole’s Giles Goddard, Denny Carr, Ron Kitchener, Ron Sakamoto, Canadian Hall of Famer Brian Ferriman, plus songwriter/artists Deric Ruttan and Victoria Banks.
Friday’s Industry Brunch and Awards (9/7) winners can be found here. Among the winners were RGK Entertainment for Management Company of the Year, and Byron Hill sharing Producer of the Year honors with artist Gord Bamford for Bamford’s release.
The afternoon’s industry panels attracted large crowds. “Tips To Get Noticed” was moderated by Rick Murray with panelists Jeff Walker, Jill Snell and this writer who was also drafted to sit on “From Rags To Hashtags” with moderator Ted Ellis and panelists Quentin Burgess and Harley Rivet. Later that afternoon Blair Garner and Lon Helton paired to instruct attendees on how to create, “The Perfect Interview.”
I took a sidetrip with Byron Hill and CCMA Board member/manager Kelly Resler that evening to see Gord Bamford in action opening for Miranda Lambert at the Brandt Center in Regina. Promoter Ron Sakamoto warmly invited us to dinner backstage in catering. It’s always fun to catch up with the affable Mr. Sakamoto who serves on the CMA Board in Nashville and has done so much for the Canadian music industry. “Sak” handles most every top name U.S. act when they head north. The show started with a mostly packed house, impressive for an opening act. Bamford is a musical traditionalist and a product of the Saskatchewan farmlands. His secret is a great bunch of songs many of which he co-wrote with his producer, Hill. Some were party anthems like “Drinkin’ Buddy” and “Farm Girl Strong,” while others had serious themes like “My Daughter’s Father.” Later in the weekend Bamford performed on the TV show and accepted the Songwriter of the Year award for a co-write with Hill and Roger Brown, “Is It Friday Yet?”
This year’s Gala Awards (See winners HERE) had a new format. Dinner was served cocktail party style and then the awards and artist performances took place in a theater setting. During the evening beloved Ralph Murphy was formally inducted into Canada’s Hall of Fame. Apparently he had been asked to keep his remarks to three minutes and he jumped on that idea saying that as a songwriter he had been writing in that time frame his whole life. “Only a dumb ass takes more than three minutes to say something,” said Murphy quoting his friend, the late Harlan Howard. Murphy received congratulatory emails from Garth Brooks, ASCAP’s Paul Williams and artist Randy Bachman among others.
One performance in particular yanked me out of my seat at the Gala Awards from Group of the Year nominated band The Heartbroken, fronted by Damhnait Doyle. Their (perhaps inappropriate) performance featured a searing lyric about spousal abuse, a battered wife and resulting miscarriage. I believe it was titled “Mad.” When Doyle and her drummer stepped on the title word in a searing high noted scream, the anguish and pain was both compelling and upsetting. It was a moment of rare musical theater and altogether unforgettable.
Later that evening we moved to a Sony Music showcase at the Tequila Night Club hosted by promo maven Warren Copnick. I witnessed a star in the making, Stoney River’s Lindsay Ell (@lindsayell). A petite blonde, Ell writes and sings, but also holsters an electric guitar which she plays with serious intent. During her set Ell ran out into the audience with a Les Paul strapped on, jumped up onto a drum case in the middle of the crowd and began thrashing the six string fretboard like a pro… and tore it up!
Sunday evening’s TV show closed the proceedings. Sitting amongst 11,000 screaming fans watching the final awards being handed out I couldn’t help but reflect on the unique spirit of the Canadian music industry. There is an innocence here and a pride that carries the music high on everyone’s shoulders. FACTOR, the Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent On Recordings provides over $14 million annually to support the Canadian Music industry and its developing artists. This has a profound effect on the strength of the independent industry, but it’s also the warm hospitality the Canadians extend to musicians and industry from other countries, like Nashville. People say it’s really cold up there, but I beg to differ, you’ll find the welcome just as warm and “Smooth as the hickory wind that blows from Memphis down to Apalachicola.”
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