However you describe “folk” music — the ultimate musical F-word — the annual Canadian Folk Music Awards are proof enough that the variety of music that flies under the banner is far wider than many music industry professionals understand.
The awards, presented last night at Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre, went to artists as diverse as guitar genius Kevin Breit, Aboriginal blues-influenced group Digging Roots, Newfoundland balladeer Matthew Byrne, singer-songwriter Amelia Curran, and the raucous Toronto-based band, the Lemon Bucket Orkestra.
Having the awards — and a full programme of showcases and panel sessions — in Edmonton made a lot of sense. Alberta’s radio network, CKUA, is a heavy supporter of a wide variety of roots music, and two of Canada’s largest (and best) folk festivals are held each year in Calgary and Edmonton.
If the folk world tends to be a community that sees itself as being outside the larger Canadian music industry, its influence on the wider music scene is obvious and important.
Pre-awards events included panels on copyright and revenue streams (attended by more than 70 people, mostly festival directors and artists), the minutiae of festival organization, and the “cultural landscape” the folk music world inhabits.
Summer folk festivals — largely run by nonprofit organizations and staffed by volunteers — are held across the country (there are more than 25 in Ontario alone), and dozens of mainstream artists launched their careers in small clubs and pubs, at house concerts, and at festivals. The largest ones — in Edmonton and Winnipeg — draw close to 40,000 people each year. Smaller ones have loyal audiences and regularly sell out.
Panels discussed how to cope with the growing competition from major pop festivals which are proliferating in major centres. Another topic: how to handle disparate audiences at folk events — dancers who pirouette like semi-stationary helicopters and block the view of “tarpies” who race to find front-of-stage spots to put down tarpaulins from which to see the show.
Showcases put the spotlight on artists from across the country, from Nunavut’s Jerry Cans (who earned additional applause when the leaders’ two-year-old baby wandered on stage and clapped her hands over her ears at the band’s volume) to Toronto singer-songwriters Oh Susanna and Jory Nash. There was heavy applause for Alberta’s Lizzy Hoyt and Helen Austin (almost unknown outside the province) and the Young Novelists, a six piece band from Ontario.
Sunday’s live CKUA show — the long running Folk Routes programme hosted by Tom Coxworth — featured a number of awards nominees and played to a packed house in a 250-seat pub. Remarkably, the show was at 10 in the morning, a time at which the performers and most audience members would normally be asleep, or at best facing their first cup of coffee.
The awards ceremony itself, in the Citadel Theatre, was hosted by veteran folk artist Connie Kaldor, and Benoit Bourque, leader of Quebec’s best traditional band, La Bottine Souriante.
As chief organizer Grit Laskin had pointed out earlier in the day, the show’s emphasis was on the music — perhaps in part because many of the winners were not present to accept their awards.
That said, the national reach of the awards was self-evident. Nineteen award categories were presented at the gala, and artists from Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island won 17 awards this year, with artists from Newfoundland and Ontario receiving the most honours, each taking home five awards. Quebec artists followed, with three awards. Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia were recipients of two awards each. Western Canadian artists from Alberta and British Columbia artists collected one award each — surprising given how strong the “folk” market is in those provinces.
Following in the tradition of artists such as Joni Mitchell, women were, as always, a force at the awards. Newfoundland's Amelia Curran took home Contemporary Singer and English Songwriter of the Year for her album They Promised You Mercy. PEI's Catherine MacLellan won Contemporary Album and Solo Artist of the Year for her album The Raven's Sun. Edmonton local and five time CFMA nominee Rebecca Lappa brought home the Young Performer of the Year award for her album Tattered Rose.
Ontario's Kiran Ahluwalia was awarded World Solo Artist of the Year for the mesmerizing Sanata: Stillness, and Ontario fiddler Adrianna Ciccone won Instrumental Solo Artist of the Year for her album The Back of Winter.
The New/Emerging Artist of the Year went to Ontario's The Young Novelists (featuring husband-and-wife singers Graydon James and Laura Spink), for their album Made us Strangers. The raucous Lemon Bucket Orkestra took home the award for World Group of the Year for their new world-klezmer CD Moorka.
Ontario's renowned guitarist Kevin Breit won the Pushing the Boundaries award for his album Ernesto & Delilah. Producer of the Year honours went to Nova Scotia's Daniel Ledwell for his work on Jenn Grant’s album Compostela.
The three-day event has plenty of room to grow, and bringing it to Toronto next year will continue to raise the profile of folk music in Canada — The 2016 awards will take place December 1-3, with the awards gala at the Isabel Bader Theatre.
CANADIAN FOLK MUSIC AWARD WINNERS
Traditional Album of the Year
Matthew Byrne - Hearts & Heroes
Contemporary Album of the Year
Catherine MacLellan - The Raven's Sun
Children's Album of the Year
The Swinging Belles - More Sheep, Less Sleep
Traditional Singer of the Year
Michael Jerome Browne - Sliding Delta
Contemporary Singer of the Year
Amelia Curran - They Promised You Mercy
Instrumental Solo Artist of the Year
Adrianna Ciccone - The Back of Winter
Instrumental Group of the Year
Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy - ONE
Vocal Group of the Year
Fortunate Ones - The Bliss
Ensemble of the Year
Big Little Lions - A Little Frayed, A Little Torn
Solo Artist of the Year
Catherine MacLellan - The Raven's Sun
English Songwriter of the Year
Amelia Curran for "They Promised You Mercy"
French Songwriter of the Year
Louis-Jean Cormier for Les grandes artères
Aboriginal Songwriter(s) of the Year
Raven Kanatakta and ShoShona Kish (Digging Roots) - For The Light
World Solo Artist of the Year
Kiran Ahluwalia - Sanata: Stillness
World Group of the Year
Lemon Bucket Orkestra - Moorka
New/Emerging Artist of the Year
The Young Novelists - Made us Strangers
Producer of the Year
Daniel Ledwell for/pour Compostela (Jenn Grant)
The Oliver Schroer Pushing The Boundaries Award
Kevin Breit - Ernesto and Delilah
Young Performer of the Year
Rebecca Lappa - Tattered Rose
- Main picture above: The Young Novelists