Dean Brody came out on top at the Canadian Country Music awards in Saskatoon Sunday, taking home the honours of best male artist and album of the year.
It was the second year in a row the Smithers, B.C.-born singer won the CCMA for best album – last year he won for Trail in Life, this year for Dirt. Brody, now a Nova Scotia resident, thanked his wife and his band as he accepted the male artist award, recalling how his wife, Iris, missed being in the audience for last year's win.
“She was back east cleaning the house we had to move into when we came from Nashville because I lost a record deal. I just want to thank you for sticking with me. I love you, thank you,” said Brody, who went on to record Dirt in Canada.
As he accepted the best album trophy, he spoke about how tough it had been to make that album and thanked fans for embracing it.
The rest of the hardware was distributed among a who’s who of Canadian country music’s biggest stars, including Johnny Reid who took Fans’ Choice, Carolyn Dawn Johnson who is best female artist and Hey Romeo who claimed best group for the second year in a row.
High energy performances
It was an evening of high-energy performances, with 11,000 fans packing Saskatoon’s Grand Garden arena to enjoy the show.
Stars such as Paul Brandt, Dean Brody, Dallas Smith and Victoria Banks walked the green carpet and shook hands with fans ahead of the celebrations. Brandt, who has been attending CCMA galas for 20 years, told CBC the show keeps getting bigger and better, with more fans attending and a higher profile.
“One of things that gives Canada country its great strength is it’s so diverse. There’s people from the east coast and from Ontario and then there’s the new cowboy sound," he said.
That diversity was on display throughout the gala. Brandt performed his I’ll Fly Away, Smith performed Somebody Somewhere and Brody opened the show with his hit song "Canadian Girls" before going on to win his first award.
“Canadian Girls is a song about our greatest national treasure, our women,” he told CBC Live on the green carpet.
Reid is Fan's Choice for 4th year
It was the fourth year running that Reid took the fan-voted Fans’ Choice Award.
“This has been a wonderful year. I have had an opportunity to cross this beautiful country and sing for so many people,” the Scottish-born Nova Scotia-based singer said after accepting his trophy.
“Too many people to thank, but Saskatoon you have always had a special place in my heart. Thank you very much for this honour.”
The always humble singer has been riding high on the popularity of his album Fire It Up and reflected on his success in Canada.
“I’m living proof to all the children that you can come to Canada and work hard and make something of yourself as an immigrant,” he said.
Johnson thanked Reid for including her on his Canadian tour this year, as she accepted her female artist of the year award from special guest Taylor Swift.
It was the fifth time the Grande Prairie, Alta., singer, who's been performing since the 1990s, has won the honour.
"I'm feeling very joyful right now and the kind of joyful that makes you want to cry. But, anyway, it doesn't get old. I'll say that," she said.
Special guest Taylor Swift
Swift did not perform, but was in Saskatoon to be presented with the New Generation Award which recognizes her influence as a young artist.
After an introduction by Bryan Adams that praised her ability to connect with fans via social media, Swift rose from the audience and touched the hands of fans on her way up to the stage
"I’m so happy to be in Saskatoon right now I can’t even tell you," she said.
"To country radio in Canada and the country music fans in Canada, you guys are the ones who choose to play my songs. You guys are the ones who choose to buy the albums and sell out the concerts and you’re the ones who make me so at home, I can’t wait to come back and see you every single time."
Adams said Swift had "inspired a new generation of fans to discover country music and to stand up and make a difference."
Rising Star Kira Isabella
Young Canadian talent was also on display. Ottawa singer Kira Isabella, just 19, won the Rising Star Award, marking her as one to watch in future years.
Pembroke, Ont.'s Jason Blaine won song of the year for his They Don't Make 'Em That Way Anymore, which celebrates old-fashioned values with lyrics like "He still combs his hair like Elvis, Pays cash for everything and he'll only drive a Chevy..”
In his acceptance speech he gave a shout-out to his grandfather, who inspired the song and watched from the audience.
Whitby, Ont.'s The Stellas were overlooked in the Rising Star category, but took the best video honour for In This House.
Swift wasn’t the only American country star gracing the stage. Up and coming singer Eric Church performed his hit Springsteen and Jason Aldean was on stage with Take a Little Ride.
Miranda Lambert and her new group Pistol Annies were a hotly anticipated act and wowed the crowd on the green carpet before performing as part of the ceremony. Lambert said she already knows many of the Canadian stars who also spend time in Nashville and the CCMAs are a chance to get to know a wider range of Canadian singers and celebrate their love of music together.
“Music, it’s my passion, it’s my hobby, it’s just what I love to do. It drives it all,” she said.