The Canadian Country Music Association presented its 34th annual week of events (9/9-9/12), culminating in its nationally televised Awards show on Mon., Sept. 12. (Click here for awards winners.) This year’s location was Hamilton, Ontario, about a one hour drive south from Toronto. The organization’s passionate membership—artists and industry—gathered to celebrate their musical triumphs, network profusely, discover some new sounds, and oh yeah, do some dedicated partying.
“This is the first of four award ceremonies during this week,” said Don Green, the CCMA’s new Executive Director at Saturday morning’s Industry Award brunch. “We’ve upgraded the staging, sound and lights this year and hope you enjoy the difference.” In fact, the staging rivaled a TV Award show set with detailed lighting and sound. Green announced that CCMA has over 1600 members and about 47% of them participated in the award voting this year.
The brunch was hosted by Canadian stars Tara Oram and Aaron Pritchett and presented about 15 industry awards to labels, managers, retailers, radio and more. Awards were punctuated with musical performances. Standouts included Jason Blaine and husband/wife duo Pear. Pear elicited a standing ovation after using dueling fiddles to create an avante garde musical mash-up of The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.”
Later that afternoon many of the country artists performed at FanFest on the Jackson Square rooftop plaza for Hamilton’s country fans. The city used the opportunity to schedule two additional events—a Supercrawl and Locke Street Festival. As a result, over 40,000 people came downtown to enjoy the activities, music and beautiful sunshine-packed afternoon.
The four-day gathering was busting with seminars, guitar pulls and showcases. Nashville songplugger Sherrill Blackman and Ole’s Chad Richardson helmed one titled, “Song Spotting: Tips & Tricks for Placement & Plugging.”
“Hitsville” was another of the many panel offerings for attendees. Created and staffed by Ole Music, this hardcore, reality-TV-ready game show invited songwriters to submit a song. Based upon repeated listens, the judges would decide if it should reach first, second or third base and finally home plate where a publishing contract awaited. Nashville-based Gilles Godard and Arthur Buenahora anchored the third base judging and ole CEO Robert Ott and President Michael McCarty waited at home plate to make the call—“safe” or “out.”
Saturday evening featured parties and various showcases, but one of the highlights for this writer turned out to be a last minute pairing with Premiere Networks VP Promotions and Integrated Marketing Rick Murray, AristoMedia Chairman Jeff Walker and After Midnight’s Blair Garner. We settled in at a local neighborhood Lebanese eatery. Despite the uneven service, the food was tasty and the conversation downright hot. Discussions covered social networking, industry sales solutions, radio airplay, music discovery and how to solve a variety of industry problems. (Too bad I didn’t have a tape recorder handy for that session…)
Sunday morning featured a warm Canadian style breakfast (bacon, scrambled eggs, toast, sausage) for all the delegates, followed by a 2 1/2 hr. roundtable merry-go-round. Panelist groups rotated among the 10 delegate-packed circles every 15 minutes. Among those helping out were Ralph Murphy, Larry Wayne Clark, your Humble Scribe, Victoria Banks and Jeff Walker.
Sunday’s big event was the Gala Awards Dinner (see winners here). Canadian superstar Johnny Reid was honored with the Humanitarian Award. A moving video montage showed some of the artist’s charitable activities. Reid, who was present with new manager Jim Morey, said, “It’s been an enriching experience to work with so many organizations over the years. The word ‘humanitarian’ is a complex word. We hear it all the time. But it’s not just the big concept, it’s also the small things we all do to help others one day at a time. I’m so grateful to be able to do music every day, but I realize that without the love and support of those around me and my fans I’d never find myself here tonight. So I’d like to dedicate this to everyone that offers a ‘wee bit of love to those that need it the most…”
The awards list also included Hall of Fame inductions for Michelle Wright and Bill Langstroth. Longtime Wright manager Brian Ferriman inducted Michelle. “I first heard Michelle 26 years ago at Gladstone Tavern here in Hamilton,” said Ferriman, also a Hall of Fame member.
Performances of note included The Band Perry, a Michelle Wright tribute with Terri Clark, Victoria Banks and Katie Love Hess, and a spellbinding new song from Carolyn Dawn Johnson. Backstage CDJ and I reminisced about getting stranded in Calagary ten years ago at CCMA in the aftermath of 9/11. Together with Scott Siman and Mike Kraski we drove in a van over the border to Cut Bank, Montana where we got picked up by Tim McGraw’s jet and thankfully flown home. I remember Kraski kissing the ground in Nashville after getting off the plane. We were all so happy to get home and be with loved ones during that terrible time.
Monday morning’s big draw was the hard hitting Keynote address featuring Nashville futurist Jay Frank and his recent book, Futurehit.DNA. “You must grab the listener within 7 seconds or your chances for success drop exponentially,” Frank warned. “Don’t construct your songs as you would have 10 years ago. Every single play online starts at zero seconds.” Frank noted that country music fans now listen to multiple formats so they are all competition. “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus,” he joked. Frank also argued that all outlets need to be aggressively pursued. “Revenue streams will be greatly fragmented. Record companies are looking more like the publishing business every day. Administrators must be ready to collect small amounts from many sources to be in the new record biz.” Frank also advised new artists, “Radio has abdicated the responsibility of breaking songs to the Internet. Therefore, artists should build a story elsewhere before going to radio.”
Other Nashvillians seen and heard in Hamilton were songwriters Bob Regan and Marty Dodson who performed at the CCMA Great Guitar Pull, Byron Hill who produces hit Canadian artist Gord Bamford, SESAC’s Tim Fink, TBP manager Bob Doyle, Award show performers Luke Bryan plus Ronnie Dunn with manager Clarence Spalding, and Capitol label head Mike Dungan.
If you’ve already attended CCMA, then you know how the hospitality, passion and talent translates into a great experience. If not, next year’s CCMA event will take place in Saskatoon, Sept. 6-9, 2012. Participate! For more information visit www.ccma.org. All photos by Grant Martin except where noted.