The music industry has been one of the hardest hit by pandemic restrictions. It has also been one of the most generous in supporting its members through live streamed concerts and awards shows.
Artists who rely on big concert halls or small music venues to make a living have stepped up in every city across Canada to support livestreams. Just last week, Country Music Alberta, formerly the Association of Country Music in Alberta (ACMA), spread the cheer announcing their nominees for 2020.
St. Albert’s Hailey Benedict, Dan Davidson and The Dungarees were included in the nomination list, and this post-Christmas recognition was a morale-booster at a time of unprecedented economic hardship.
When music venues closed their doors at an alarming rate in March 2020, the industry faced a seismic threat to its sustainability, let alone planning awards shows that paid tribute to excellence.
“If anything, artists have had to be more creative during the pandemic. We’ve taken live shows and put them online, and that needs to be recognized. And I’m very happy Country Music Alberta is doing the awards ceremony,” said Benedict.
“I’m really very grateful and honoured to be nominated in two categories and still be making music in such uncertain times."
She is nominated as the 2020 Horizon Female Artist of the Year and as Fan’s Choice. Benedict has the honour of being the youngest member in the award ceremony's history to win the ACMA Fan’s Choice award.
The Paul Kane High grad was originally slated to spend time in Nashville in 2020 networking and writing songs with professional songwriters. But impromptu health regulations halted the good intentions.
However, that didn’t slow her creative juices. Since March, Benedict estimates she’s written 100 songs, some with online partners. One such song is Hindsight 2020 recorded with Ryan Lindsay at Calgary’s MCC Recording Studio and posted online Dec. 31.
She describes the stripped-down acoustic ballad as a reflection of the past year’s trials and tribulations and all the things people took for granted.
“While recording, I was in one booth and Ryan was in anther booth. We couldn’t see each other and had to rely on each other by hearing each other. It was weird.”
The singer-songwriter also kept her performance skills honed as a featured singer at Country Music Alberta’s rebrand launch party as well as performing virtual shows.
Although most live gigs are cancelled, Benedict has jumped onboard Tik Tok to post a live, online show once a week. During the interactive music show, she sings songs and fields questions and requests from viewers.
“I have a huge reach of people coming from places like Ireland, Brazil and Scotland. The last time I checked, I had 15,000 people check out the live show.”
Dan Davidson, another St. Albert singer-songwriter, has kept the workflow going strong, performing, producing and recording. A popular entertainer across the country, he is nominated for Horizon Single of the Year (Church), Video of the Year (Church) and Interactive Artist of the Year.
A 10-time provincial award winner, Davidson is particularly excited as founder of the Diesel Bird Digital Music Festival, a concert event that surfaced last August. Through the festival, he raised $53,000 for Unison Benevolent Fund, a registered charity that provides financial assistance and counselling to Canadian musicians.
“It was a huge success and I’m so proud of it,” Davidson said.
He’s also produced the Road Hammers upcoming spring release, The Boys Are Back, and recorded a new song he wrote in Nashville – Blind Spot.
“It’s pop country and mid-tempo. It’s a little different from what I normally do but it will give fans a chance to see another side of what Dan Davidson can do,” he said.
In addition, he has developed a solid working relationship with Clayton Bellamy and the Congregation’s high-octane blend of gospel, R&B and riff-driven hard rock. Bellamy is recording a new rock and roll album and Davidson is co-producing it with former metal rocker Dan Weller.
“He’s had an amazing life. He’s toured with Slayer and Slipknot. It was so cool to find someone else like me that was not genre specific.”
Davidson noted that despite a shortage of live performances, he’s been fortunate to be working constantly.
“Beside songwriting and producing, I’ve been keeping up a promotion train and running my own stuff. It’s been busy.”
And lastly, The Dungarees are up for two awards: Horizon Group of the Year and Horizon Single of the Year for Don’t Make ‘Em Like They Used To, a nod to songwriter James Murdoch’s grandfather.
“We’re very excited for the nomination. Country Music Alberta is very near and dear to us,” said Kiron Jhass, the band’s St. Albert connection known for his gritty guitar sounds and smooth vocals.
“We haven’t been playing much, but we’ve taken the time to write and record. We’ve got an album worth of songs and we’re just putting the finishing touches on them right now.”
To date, the country-pop band has swept up five awards for their brand of splashy music that has garnered a great deal of attention from Australia. In previous years, the band toured down under and were planning to do so in the early part of 2020.
“But there were wildfires across Australia and we pulled the plug. Too much uncertainty.”
And for the operating room nurse, he’s right where he wants to be – at home polishing the songs he loves to sing.
The Country Music Alberta Awards will stream live on Feb. 28.