Canadian Country Music Week hits Halifax

Gord Bamford performs at Friday’s CCMA Legends Show: A Tribute to Yesterday and Today at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium, the free, daylong FanFest at Cunard Centre and Sunday’s awards show. 

STEPHEN COOKE ARTS REPORTER

Prepare to get countrified.

For the next four days, Halifax will be the Nashville of the North as Country Music Week returns to Nova Scotia for the first time since 1982.

Once the official kickoff event takes place at noon Thursday in downtown’s Grand Parade, the wagon wheels won’t stop rolling until the Canadian Country Music Awards are handed out Sunday night at Scotiabank Centre, although it’s a safe bet some will still be celebrating when the sun comes up Monday morning.

Hundreds of musicians and songwriters with either a hatful of hope or major chart success will be kept hopping through the showcases, Friday night’s CCMA Legends Show and Coors Banquet Kitchen Party, Saturday’s Irving Oil FanFest performances and meet-and-greet and Sunday’s John Deere Green Carpet before the awards gala, which also airs live on CBC-TV.

SEE ALSO: Schedule of events

If anyone’s excited about the week to come, it’s Alberta’s Gord Bamford, who shares the top nominee spot with Nova Scotia’s Dean Brody (more on him later this week) and took home male artist and single of the year — for When Your Lips Are So Close — at last year’s event in Edmonton.

Besides performing on Sunday’s awards show with acts like Brody, Johnny Reid, Kira Isabella and Florida Georgia Line, Bamford also performs at Friday’s CCMA Legends Show: A Tribute to Yesterday and Today at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium and the free, daylong FanFest at Cunard Centre.

When he’s not onstage, Bamford will be spending most of his waking hours networking among industry, fans and fellow musicians.

“I always look forward to checking out the new talent that’s coming up,” says Bamford, who recently relocated to Nashville. “I remember the first Country Music Week I went to was in Ottawa, and I was just going there to get into the business, try and meet people and be around it all.

“So I look forward to seeing the talent that’s coming in, trying to do exactly what I did way back then, spend some time talking to them and hopefully it will help them become something like what I’ve been able to do. It’s always good for me to be able to do that, and see what kind of talent I’m going to be competing with out there this year.”

When Bamford thinks back to his first big break, he names Pictou County country star George Canyon as being one of the first major performers to give him a hand up by taking him out on his first major tour. He’s painfully aware of the fact it only takes a few seconds to leave a lasting impression on someone, whether it’s a fan or a young performer coming up through the ranks, and he wants to make sure that it’s the right one.

“It’s important for me to take the time, meet as many people as I can, and be nice about it,” he says. “The only way I got to be where I’m at today is because people took the time to meet me and explain the business to me, and I’ve been able to learn.

“If I can be a teacher of some sort to some of these kids that are coming up along the way, that’d be great.”

Fellow Albertan Brett Kissel is following a path similar to Bamford’s, including moving to Nashville to further his career south of the border as well as expand his songwriting capabilities. He must be doing something right: he’s got four nominations heading into this weekend’s awards, including male artist, single, video and interactive artist of the year.

With his brand-new single Airwaves as his sixth consecutive top 10 hit — and his Airwaves Tour bringing him back to Halifax on Oct. 16, at Casino Nova Scotia — Kissel heads into Country Music Week with a full head of steam.

“It’s my favourite time of year, it’s like Christmas for country singers,” says the 3-2-1 hitmaker. “The reason why is because we get a chance to visit with our country music family, guys and girls we don’t get a chance to see throughout the entire year. We know that once a year we get the opportunity to get together, have a few drinks, solve the problems of the world, perform together and rekindle those friendships.

“That’s between artists, between radio and the artists, and radio to radio, it’s an incredible convention for everyone involved, from the beginners to the legends. That’s why I’m always excited about it, no matter what city it’s in.”

Any artist you talk to says they’re excited about heading to the Maritimes for Country Music Week and the CCMA Awards, but Kissel has especially fond memories of his last visit, when he played to a packed Scotiabank Centre and made a major impact opening for Brad Paisley last November.

For him, it’ll be a novelty to spend more than one day in the city, but then again, it’s a novelty for Kissel to spend more than a day in any city.

“I’ve slept in so many airports this year, either slumped over in a chair or laying flat on the concrete floor, that if I get a hotel bed or a bus bed, I’m over the moon. All I need is a couple of hours’ sleep and then I’m ready to party again,” he says enthusiastically.

“It’s a recipe for likely the most fun we can have, historically, in our organization. There’s no party like an East Coast party, and if you ask me how I’m feeling about it, I’m excited. I’m counting down the days!”

Competing with Kissel in the single of the year category, Cheap Wine and Cigarettes purveyor Jess Moskaluke knows all about the buzz generated — in every sense of the word — by Country Music Week. Especially considering she was named 2014’s female artist of the year her first time out and has three nominations this year (her album Light Up the Night also scored a pair of 2015 Juno Award nods).

“It was madness; crazy, crazy, crazy busy,” says the Saskatchewan singer of her 2014 win in Edmonton. “There were multiple events that I was singing or presenting at or attending every day, and tons of interviews.

“After the awards, I woke up to 160 text messages the next day, mostly from radio people, bloggers or newspaper people, and it made for a pretty crazy followup week as well,” adds Moskaluke, who also learned during last year’s CCMA that Cheap Wine and Cigarettes made her the first female Canadian artist to have a single go gold since Shania Twain.

“They held a gold record party to celebrate, and Tom Cochrane was there, and he actually presented me with my gold record, so that was a pretty surreal night for so many different reasons.”

RODEO RUNDOWN

 

THURSDAY

 

Noon: Launch event, Grand Parade

1:30 p.m.: Songwriters’ Series with Chad Brownlee, Doll Sisters, Jessica Mitchell, Zac Wrixon

2:45 p.m.: Leah Daniels, Bruce Guthro, RyLee Madison, Meredith Shaw; Casino Nova Scotia

9 p.m.: Discovery Showcase with host Beverley Mahood, the Lovelocks, Meaghan Blanchard, Raquel Cole; World Trade & Convention Centre Grand Ballroom

 

FRIDAY

 

4 p.m.: Songwriters’ Series with Bobby Wills, Jeff Copland, Tenille, TwoShine Country

5:15 p.m.: Trinity Bradshaw, Andrea England, Lisa McCallum, Donnovan Woods; Casino Nova Scotia

7:30 p.m.: CCMA Legends Show, with Beverley Mahood, Gord Bamford, Tim Chaisson, Patricia Conroy, Good Brothers, Joan Kennedy, Charlie Major, Jess Moskaluke; Rebecca Cohn Auditorium

9 p.m.: Coors Banquet Kitchen Party with Tim Hicks, Chad Brownlee, Autumn Hill, Wes Mack, Steven Lee Olsen and Jason Benoit; Cunard Centre

 

SATURDAY

 

11 a.m.: Irving Oil Fanfest with Autumn Hill, Gord Bamford, Paul Brandt, Dean Brody, Chad Brownlee, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Jess Moskaluke; Cunard Centre

1:30 p.m.: CCMA Songwriters’ Series with the Heartbroken, Tim Chaisson, Patricia Conroy, Andrew Hyatt

2:45 p.m.: Sykamore, Aaron Pritchett, J.J. Shiplett, Dan Swinimer; Casino Nova Scotia

10:30 p.m.: CCMA All-Star Band Awards with Wendell Ferguson, Madeline Merlo, the Lovelocks, Leah Daniels, Tristan Horncastle; Casino Nova Scotia

SUNDAY

2 p.m.: Songwriters Series with Paul Brandt, Phil O'Donnell, Johnny Reid, Craig Wiseman; Casino Nova Scotia

5:30 p.m.: John Deere Green Carpet pre-CCMA Awards Show, Argyle Street alongside Grand Parade

7:40 p.m.: CCMA Awards Show, Scotiaank Centre