Aaron Allen a Fanshawe Alum warms up the crowd for the kickoff concert for the CCMAs in London, Ont. on Thursday September 8, 2016. Mike Hensen/The London Free Press/Postmedia Network
CCMA’s Country Music Week kicks off leading to Sunday’s awards show at The Bud
By James Reaney, The London Free Press
The biggest party in Canadian country music kicked off all over downtown London on Thursday night.
The CCMA’s Country Music Week 2016 had its official kick-off at the Jack Daniel’s branded affair on the outdoor Fanshawe College and Downtown London stage on Talbot Street.
“We got 20 minutes to get you fired up,” the James Barker Band shouted — and followed up with hot country on a lovely cool night.
Thursday’s opening act, Saskatchewan’s Amy Nelson, a CCMA Spotlight Performance Contest winner earlier this year, used her opening spot to vow she was ready to party with the fans.
“Let’s keep this party going,” said Jason Petric, lead singer of PETRIC, third act to play under the night sky.
Yes, there was a theme developing.
Niagara Falls star Tim Hicks was to hit the stage later as Thursday’s headliner. Also to perform were Meghan Patrick, JoJo Mason, Cold Creek County and Aaron Pritchett.
Country Music Week continues Friday, Saturday and Sunday at venues around London. It’s a mix of CCMA official events, many ticketed, industry showcases and public shows, many of them free.
There were quieter moments Thursday — because there were partygoers on different blocks.
Like any good party, you’d find guests in the most unexpected places. Why, there was Jason Benoit working his way along the tiny alley that leads to Richmond Street from the parking lots off Queens Avenue.
Benoit was bound for Country Music Week’s opening reception, a grand schmoozefest at Rum Runners in the London Music Hall complex with hundreds of industry professionals and performers meeting and greeting. Benoit may need some different back alleys for his Friday gig on Talbot Street at the free Bamford Bash.
Meanwhile, industry pro turned performer Scotty Kipfer, a former Londoner now of Clarksburg, was toting a banjo down Dundas Street to make sure Thursday’s kick-off house band member Derek Caven of Stratford was ready for the show.
“Country music in Canada is a pretty special community. It’s always special to get together as a group and hang out,” said Kipfer, who has a production company. He has a record of his own soon to be released and a showcase performer as the country event continues.
Kipfer’s previous gig in London had him on an Alan Jackson tour in 2011 at what was then the John Labatt Centre. Now it’s Budweiser Gardens where the star-studded CCMA Awards show goes Sunday night
Back in the day, Kipfer was around U.S. country royalty — and ailing.
“I had blown out my voice … we went from the Labatt Centre to the Shoppers Drug Mart where I got some cough drops and things,” he said with a laugh.
Now, Kipfer and so many others are back — ready to party, country-style, again.
IF YOU GO
What: A selected guide to what's on Friday at Country Music Week 2016 events. Prices plus applicable charges. Visit ccma.org.
CCMA events (ticketed): Songwriters' series, 5 p.m., Jamie Warren; 6:15 p.m., Genevieve Fisher, Wolf Performance Hall, 251 Dundas St. $25 each event. Legends concert, 8 p.m. Marie Bottrell, Michelle Wright, Jessica Mitchell, Murray McLauchlan. Centennial Hall, 550 Wellington St. $49.
Music Rescues: 1:30 p.m. Performers support animal rescue at "adopt-a-thon." Adoptable animals on site thanks via the London Humane Society and Toronto’s TEAM Dog Rescue. Sykamore, The Dungarees, JoJo Mason, Endless Summer, Dani Strong, Kelly Prescott, Johnson Crook, Aaron Goodvin, The Lovelocks, The Abrams, Keith & Renee, Karli June. Free. Delta London Armouries hotel ballroom, 325 Dundas St. (at Waterloo).
Down at Blakes: Julia Haggarty, 5 p.m.; Johnson Crook, 6 p.m.; Shelly Rastin, 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Tanya Marie Harris, 9 p.m.; Stan Fountain, 10 p.m.; Kelsi Mayne, 11 p.m. Free Blakes, Hilton DoubleTree, 300 King St.
Bamford Bash: Gord Bamford, Kira Isabella, JoJo Mason, Jason Benoit, Jesse Mast, Chris Buck Band and Lindsay Ell. 19-and-up. Fanshawe College and Downtown London stage (Talbot Street at Covent Garden Market). Free
Invictus/Big Star Records: Doors at 9:30 p.m. Brett Kissel, George Canyon, Jason Benoit, Aaron Pritchett, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Beamber Wigley. Free. London Music Hall, 185 Queens Ave.
Julia Haggarty and friends: 10 p.m. London singer and songwriter has organized and is hosting a "traditional, Nashville-style Songwriters Round." Haggarty, Elyse Saunders, Ryan Bradley, Nancy Laberge, TJ King, Elliott Redeker, Daryl Scott. Free. Tasting Room, 483 Richmond St.
Country Music Week: Murray McLauchlan surprised, humbled by country Hall of Fame induction
By Joe Belanger, The London Free Pres
He’s as laid back as the songs he writes and just as interesting.
Don’t be surprised if Murray McLauchlan’s got a few stories to tell when he performs Friday at the CCMA’s Legends show at Centennial Hall, or when he’s inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame at the CCMA’s Awards Gala and Dinner Saturday.
It’s an honour McLauchlan admits, that he didn’t see coming.
“I’m quite happy,” said McLauchlan in a telephone interview.
“It’s very nice and I’m very honoured, but I never thought they thought of me as one of their own. Certainly some of my songs crossed over (Farmer’s Song, Down by the Henry Moore and Whispering Rain) were successful on country radio, but I thought I was better known as a pop and rock artist.”
McLauchlan is a legend in the Canadian music industry who arrived in 1971 with the album Song From The Street. He is a prolific songwriter who put out an album every year until 1985, mostly with True North records, and has continued to produce new albums every couple of years.
His next solo album, Love Can’t Tell Time, is expected next spring. But he’s also a member of the band Lunch at Allen’s, which includes legends Marc Jordan, Ian Thomas and Cindy Church, which has played in London on several occasions. They have a new album coming out this fall.
McLauchlan has received many honours over the years, not the least of which is becoming a member of the Order of Canada in 1993. He’s also won 10 Juno Awards with 13 other nominations.
Today, the singer-songwriter plays about 60 concerts a year, mostly as a member of Lunch at Allen’s, spending the rest of his time writing songs or poetry, or working around his lake-front home.
His record output slowed under the massive changes that have overtaken the music industry and “turned the old model on its head.” Where record companies once vied for play on radio stations, “people today just pick and choose what they want to hear.”
“But the really important stuff hasn’t changed,” said McLauchlan.
“That’s the relationship between the performer on stage and the people listening to the music. If you can’t get on stage and make people feel something, you really should be in another line of work.”
When McLauchlan takes the stage at the Legends show, he’ll be accompanied by the band Doc Walker for a cover of Blue Rodeo’s Till I Am Myself Again.
He’ll also play a couple of his own tunes, including the classic Whispering Rain.
McLauchlan is proud to share his delight at the fact his song, Honky Red from 1975’s Only the Silence Remains, is a fan favourite of the band Widespread Panic, which has a cult-like following of fans similar to Phish and Grateful Dead.
“I guess Honky Red is a concert favourite and it’s interesting for me to hear 20,000 people in their audience stand up and scream out the words to the song,” said McLauchlan.
Asked for his favourite song to play on stage, McLauchlan was stumped.
“That’s a tough one because your songs are sort of like your children and you can’t say this one is the favourite,” he said. “But I will say it’s some of my best work that’s really touched people that I enjoy playing, like Child’s Song and Whispering Rain.”
IF YOU GO
What: The CCMA’s Legends Show, featuring performances by Murray McLauchlan, Doc Walker, The Abrams, Donna and Roy Anderson, Marie Bottrell, Johnny Burke, George Canyon, Jessica Mitchell, Small Town Pistols, The Western Swing Authority, The Wilkinsons, Bobby Wills and Michelle Wright.
Where: Centennial Hall, 550 Wellington St.
When: 8 p.m.