Canadian Country Music Week 2016: London, Ontario Calling

September 14, 2016

Canadian Country Music Week (CCMW)—celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2016—kicked off last week in London, Ontario, a first-time host city of the event. The annual country music conference, festival and awards show took over the streets of London for four days with local and out-of-town fans and guitar-laden musicians hitting the town en masse for a myriad of events, including a sweltering outdoor Jack Daniels Kick Off Party.

Indeed, marks of the event were everywhere with city buses wrapped in Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) banners, and welcome posters hung in business windows all around the core.

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Cold Creek County performing at Jack Daniels Kick Off Party (above) with crowds jamming into the Covent Garden Market Square (below). Credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.

The Canadian country music industry punches well above its weight in terms of the number of artists it produces and their impact internationally, and the CCMA has been instrumental in fostering those artists and building the industry since its formation in 1976. But what’s truly fuelled country’s popularity is its document of real people and real stories—the kind of songs anyone with a pulse can hear reflected in their own lives after the first listen.

The programming and events ran the gamut from intimate showcases to seminars on how Canadians connect and consume country music, all designed to help artists and their teams up their game on and off stage. And there were plenty of opportunities to get an inside look at how they do that, particularly during the CCMA Songwriters’ Series, featuring stripped-down performances and conversations with the likes of Doc Walker, Patricia Conroy, Deric Ruttan and Hey Romeo.

Songwriters_840pxHey Romeo’s Darren Gusnowsky (left) and Rob Shapiro (right) perform during the  CCMA Songwriters’ Series. Credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.

At FanFest (where a healthy lineup of people looking to meet and take photos with Tim Hicks had assembled by the time I arrived at 11:15 a.m.), and outside of the Budweiser Gardens during the Canadian Country Music Association Awards (CCMAs) show, the care and attention performers lavished on fans made it obvious just how much the audience means to country acts.

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Tim Hicks took a moment to take photos—in-person and in cut-out head form—with a few fans during FanFest. Credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.

That said, it’s the live performances that stood out all week. It doesn’t matter what flavour of country you prefer. Whether you’re a country fan or not, the excitement generated on stage was undeniable. While the Awards show was impressive, it was in the bars and at the parties where some of the most compelling moments happened. Case in point: Gord Bamford’s fiery mash up of The Charlie Daniels Band’s “Devil Went Down to Georgia” and the Pink Floyd classic, “Another Brick in the Wall Part 3” at ole’s after-party on Sunday night.

Not your parents’ country, maybe, but for those looking for old school country with a new school twist there was no place better to be than the CCMA Legends Show at Centennial Hall, where long-established artists, including Canadian Country Music Hall of Famers Donna and LeRoy Anderson (who’ve played the venue many times over their lengthy careers), performed alone and in tandem with relative newcomer, 2016 CCMA Songwriter of the Year nominee Bobby Wills.

Legends_840pxCountry legends Donna and LeRoy Anderson with newcomer Bobby Wills during the CCMA Legends Show. Credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.

The level of access, mutual encouragement and engagement between fans, artists and industry folks during CCMW is truly unique in the entertainment industry. Social media has made it easier for people to feel closer to the artists they love, but long before the Internet country musicians were all about engaging their audiences up close and personally. That’s the greatest impact CCMW and the CCMAs have on attendees and the host town—an affirmation of the fact that country artists, industry, and fans alike are in this together.

— Kevin Young

Kevin Young is a Toronto-based musician, songwriter and freelance writer.

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