Tenille Townes scooped up five trophies at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards in Calgary Sept. 11, however, newcomer Hailey Benedict’s excitement outshone the veteran's as she nabbed her first piece of CCMA hardware as Best Interactive Artist of the Year.
“My first reaction was one of shock. My team was at my table and they had to tell me to go up. It wasn’t registering in my brain,” said the St. Albert-based singer-songwriter. “I was going through all sorts of emotions. I was speechless because it was so incredible. I am over the moon.”
The Best Interactive Artist of the Year Award recognizes an artist’s fan engagement and hard work in promoting their music and brand. Benedict single-handedly attracted more than 220,000 followers on TikTok, making her one of the most followed Canadian country artists on the platform.
“With the pandemic I couldn’t go out to perform at concerts and festivals. TikTok was the only way I could connect with people and I’m grateful to all those people,” she said.
Her 2021 single Wanted You To became a runaway hit after its release and reached No. 25 on the Mediabase Country Chart. It became the highest-charting independent female CANCON single of the year. For women, who find it more difficult than men to break into country, and for an independent artist without a music label providing support, it was a massive success.
“The success of Wanted You To had a huge impact on people finding me. It provided recognition and helped in building streams.”
Although winning the CCMA Award has yet to translate into difference-making dollars, mingling with other singer-songwriters and industry personalities was a big plus.
“I got to meet a lot of artists and talk to them, and I had a lot of independent artists reach out to me and [say] you don’t need to have a big ream to make it. I’ve given people hope. This can be a daunting industry.”
More importantly, the CCMA acknowledgment proves she’s on the right track.
“I still have a lot to learn and grow and find the right path. But I know I will with good mentors like Dan Davidson.”
Benedict, who traveled to Nashville this year writing songs and cutting demos for a new single, will also perform at Calgary’s Stampede City Sessions (SCS) on Nov. 19. SCS is a live music broadcast series that features local to international recording artists performing at the Webber Academy Performing Arts Centre. The film series is later broadcast on KSPS PBS.
“I’ll be performing with Aaron Goodvin and I’m looking forward to it.”
Bill Borgwardt was also acknowledged for his photographic contributions to the country music industry. The Sturgeon County resident celebrated a career milestone at Calgary’s National Music Centre standing next to an exhibit dedicated to his cameras and memorabilia.
“To be able to have them recognize me like that is pretty good. I’m honoured they had it up for when the CCMA Awards were there and the whole country music [industry] was there,” he said.
Borgwardt has photographed country music events throughout Alberta for more than 25 years. He has covered thousands of events — saloon-based CD release parties, concerts, festivals, award ceremonies — nothing was too big or too small.
His collection counted more than 100,000 photos of Canadian country artists. Knowing of this vast storehouse of images, the National Music Centre would often contact him to use artist photos.
Wondering what to do with the stockpile, Borgwardt approached the National Music Centre to see if they would accept it.
“That way they’re there for all to use in the future. Rather than sending me an email every time they want a photo of Brett Kissel or Aaron Goodvin, it’s much easier to put the images on a hard drive and give it to them,” Borgwardt said.
Throughout his decade-plus career, he developed a knack for catching singers at their best.
“I want my pictures to have a happy dynamic look that connects with the audience. I don’t do stuff with a microphone stuck in their mouth. I catch the moment when the audience claps and there is a special look on the artist’s face. It’s a happy look. I always try to anticipate what they’ll do. But you have to be very patient.”
A significant sampling of his photos is available at acma.smugmug.com.