September 13, 2017
The vibrant prairie city of Saskatoon was transformed into a music fan’s mecca during the PotashCorp Country Music Week.
The annual event, which culminated in the Canadian Country Music Association Awards Show, was held Sept. 7 to 10, bringing Saskatoon to life over the four days, as country music’s biggest stars played sold-out shows, intimate lounge concerts and hosted songwriters’ workshops.
The event offered fans the chance to see their favourite stars up close and personal, while giving those in the industry unique opportunities to network, celebrate each other, and showcase their newest work.
The National Music Centre (NMC) was in the thick of the action all week.
CCMA DISCOVERY SHOWCASE
The week kicked off on Sept. 7 with the CCMA Discovery Showcase. The national initiative educates and supports artists starting out in their country music careers. The selected finalists were in Toronto earlier this year for Music Discovery Week, where they learned all about the business of making music. Each finalist was paired with an established Canadian country artist mentor, and then performed at the Discovery Showcase.
At the glamourous event on Sept. 9, Saskatchewan’s Kalsey Kulyk won the CCMA Discovery Award. Her advice for other young up-and-coming artists?
“I would tell them to never give up and always believe in themselves. Fight, fight, fight until you get there because if you put the work in, it will be greatly given back.”
CCMA Discovery Award winner Kalsey Kulyk devised her personal motto “Sing and be heard” when she was diagnosed with cancer at 17. Photo credit Grant W. Martin Photography.
CCMA SONGWRITERS’ SERIES
The Songwriters’ Series is always a fan highlight during Country Music Week. Three sessions were held this year, featuring 24 new and established artists who showcased how original songs are made and told the stories behind the words.
Washboard Union, Vancouver’s dynamic trio who took home the Roots Group of the Year award later in the week, were featured in the Songwriters’ Series on Sept. 7.
The group’s Aaron Grain talked to NMC about how important the series has become as it gives fans a chance to witness what goes into a song before production.
“Production can take it many different ways, but to hear that song with just an instrument and a voice—that’s how that song was written and that’s what you get to hear.”
Washboard Union shared the stage with two young artists (Livy Jeanne and Beamer Wigley), and seasoned veteran Kenny Hess.
“We got to hear two very beautiful songs by two very different generations. I tell you, man, country is in some fine hands,” said Grain.
Kenny Hess, Washboard Union, Beamer Wigley and Livy Jeanne at the CCMA Songwriters’ Series on Sept. 7. Photo credit Grant W. Martin Photography.
CCMA AWARDS SHOW SET REVEAL
Media members were treated to the CCMA Awards Show set reveal on Sept. 8 at SaskTel Centre, where CCMA-nominated artist Tim Hicks rehearsed his performance that was broadcast on CBC during the awards show on Sept. 10.
Awards show producer Joel Stewart talked about what goes into creating the set each year (it took about a week to build and six months to design), along with the 14 performances, held on four stages named after iconic performers Paul Brandt, Anne Murray, Stompin’ Tom Connors, and Hank Snow. The set’s highlight was the circus big top tent built for Dean Brody and Shevy Price’s performance of “Beautiful Freakshow.”
Dean Brody and Shevy Price performed their single “Beautiful Freakshow” under a circus big top at the CCMA Awards Show on Sept. 10. Photo credit Grant W. Martin Photography.
CCMA LEGENDS SHOW: A TRIBUTE TO YESTERDAY AND TODAY
The CCMA Legends Show was held Sept. 8 and paid tribute to Canadian country hits of yesterday and today in an event reminiscent of the Grand Ole Opry. Canada’s most revered artists, including Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame inductees, performed onstage with rising stars in the industry.
Saskatchewan’s Hunter Brothers, and their perfectly synced harmonies, opened to a sold-out crowd. Paul Brandt ran out to join them and the crowd erupted in applause. That applause became deafening when he yelled, “Here we go Saskatoon!”
Once he left the stage, Ty Hunter asked: “Did that just happen? Did we just sing with Paul Brandt on the Legends Stage? We grew up listening to him on the combine!”
Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame’s 2017 inductee Paul Brandt took the stage with Saskatchewan’s Hunter Brothers at the CCMA Legends Show on Sept. 8 in Saskatoon. Photo credit Grant W. Martin Photography.
The Legends Show featured a number of Saskatchewan artists, alongside greats like Lisa Brokop, who was later joined on stage by Female Artist of the Year-nominated Madeline Merlo.
Madeline Merlo and Lisa Brokop perform at the CCMA Legends Show on Sept. 8 at Saskatoon’s TCU Place. Photo credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.
Mallory Johnson said she was “honoured” to sing on the Legends stage alongside people she admires in the industry. Johnson won the 2017 CCMA Spotlight Performance Contest. The fan-voted contest winner secured a performance spot during the Legends Show as part of her award package.
The 2017 CCMA Spotlight Performance Contest winner Mallory Johnson performing at the Legends Show on Sept. 8 in Saskatoon. Photo credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.
CCMA GALA DINNER & AWARDS
The CCMA Gala Dinner & Awards was held Sept. 9. A range of awards were presented, along with Paul Brandt’s induction into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
Matty McKay won Guitar Player of the Year. He began playing when he was eight and now guesses he owns 17 guitars. “But as far as my girlfriend knows, (I own) five!,” he said.
McKay, who plays in Brett Kissel’s band, is riding a wave of popularity. The band just came off of doing shows with Brad Paisley and opened for Garth Brooks in Calgary the night before.
“We’ve been busy, but it’s been worth it. I’m out on the road with my best friends getting to play music. I’m a very lucky man,” said McKay.
The musically gifted Denis Dufresne, who won Specialty Instrument Player of the Year (Banjo) plays seven instruments, five of which he’s confident to play live or on an album: fiddle, mandolin, banjo, guitar and piano. How does he keep it all straight?
“If you’re positive, if you’re happy, if you’re upbeat on the road, everything is simple,” said the Calgarian.
Shae Dupuy was the only female and the only independent nominated in the Interactive Artist category. While she didn’t win, getting the nomination was an unexpected surprise.
“I didn’t think at 21 I’d be a CCMA-nominated artist. That’s such a big thing for me. The nomination itself is a blessing, and I’m really excited about it and humbled by it,” said the artist, who wrote her first EP, Homewrecker, at 16. (Her second EP, Brave, was released last year.)
She made the move to Nashville this summer to focus on her writing and put out new music. She works extremely hard at connecting with people on social media.
“That’s where my bread and butter is—I’m an independent artist so getting out there, and making those connections, building that fan base, building that audience is such a big part of my career that I need to spend a lot of time on the social media aspect,” she said.
Brett Kissel won the Interactive Artist award. After his win in the same category last year, he brought it along to the show where 50,000 fans got the chance to hold it.
“That’s exactly what the award is for,” he said.
Kissel brought a young girl named Olivia and her family with him to the Gala Dinner & Awards. One of her wishes was to meet him; they were able to experience the show together and she held his award.
Brett Kissel, Olivia and her family celebrate his win in the Interactive Artist category on Sept. 9 at the CCMA Gala Dinner & Awards. Photo credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.
Dallas Smith was overjoyed when his Side Effects was named as the Top Selling Canadian Album of the Year.
“I was happy with the success of it. Radio has really been behind it. And the fans who bought the record—you can’t fake that stuff,” he said. “You can’t make anybody buy a record. To me, that means I motivated a lot of people to purchase my music, which is a great, great feeling. I’m glad my music is reaching that many people.” Dallas Smith wins the Top Selling Canadian Album of the Year. Photo credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.
Washboard Union took home the win in the Roots category for the second year and said winning the award alongside contemporaries they admire is overwhelming.
The group has played more than ever this summer, to a number of new audiences.
“For you as an artist, to be able to see fans singing your lyrics back that you wrote in some dirty kitchen in Nashville with dishes in the sink—it’s the most incredible feeling in the world,” said Chris Duncombe.
Washboard Union won Roots Artist of the Year for the second time. Photo credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.
Dean Brody’s anthem to the classic Canadian hoedown, “Bush Party,” was given the Top Selling Canadian Single of the Year award. When the song was coming out, Brody’s U.S. producer hadn’t heard the term “bush party” before. Brody did a Facebook poll, and sure enough, Canadian fans from coast to coast, were familiar with a bush party.
“It means a lot to have a song like this resonate across the country where there’s so many different towns and areas. To have a song that wraps up what it’s like to have a party in Canada, in the bush, is pretty cool,” said Brody.
Dean Brody’s “Bush Party” won the Top Selling Canadian Single of the Year award. Photo credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.
The evening’s most memorable moment came when Paul Brandt gave his induction speech into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
During an emotional speech, which at times saw Brandt (and many others in the room) moved to tears, he talked about his love for his wife Lizzie and how her love and support have made him a better man. His “most trusted friend on Earth” happily boarded a tour bus with “11 smelly guys” a month after they got married. The two, who are celebrating 20 years of marriage, have been inseparable ever since; Lizzie tours with the band and sings on all the albums.
Brandt also thanked God for helping him discover his gift for music in church many years ago.
“It all started for me with that moment in church. Jesus, thank you for all of these gifts, including the people in this room. I’m so thankful to be here with them tonight. Thanks for this journey and I can’t wait to see what you’ll let me do next,” he said.
Paul Brandt was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame on Sept. 9 in Saskatoon. Photo credit: Grant W. Martin Photography.
As he finished, everyone in the room sprang to their feet, the applause providing a beautiful backdrop for Brandt’s appreciative, ear-to-ear grin.
— Jenn Sharp
Jenn Sharp is a freelance journalist. Find her on Twitter.