For nine-year-old Jo-Hannah Atchison, the 2023 Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) Awards on Saturday night will be her first big concert.
The Atchisons traveled to Hamilton from their home in Brantford, Ont., a day before the awards so Jo-Hannah could sing at The Big Country Breakfast, a showcase of musicians at Stonewalls Restaurant on Friday.
“She can stop a crowd with just the first note and we are incredibly proud of her,” Jo-Hannah’s mother Samantha told CBC Hamilton.
For Jo-Hannah, who is blind, music “is her soul, it’s her joy,” Samantha added.
The family was among the many country music fans, artists and industry members who descended on Hamilton this week, marking the seventh time the city has hosted the awards. Several days of workshops, artist exhibitions and networking events took place before the big show at the FirstOntario Center on Saturday night.
Lindsay Hyslop of Canadian independent label Anthem Records said awards weekend is a great opportunity to celebrate local musicians who have made it big this year.
For example, Hamilton-born country star Josh Ross is nominated for six awards, including breakthrough artist, male artist of the year and music video of the year. Another southern Ontario group, brother duo The Reklaws from North Dumfries, near Cambridge, Ont., is also nominated for a long list of awards.
“For them to be able to come back and celebrate their great years here is incredible,” he said.
Canadian artists say connection in Nashville, Tennessee, still helps
The Canadian country music industry is small, singer-songwriter Alli Walker told CBC Hamilton at a breakfast co-hosted by Spotify Canada and the CCMAs on Friday.
The event was linked to Spotify’s EQUAL Global Music program, which is “designed to address gender disparity in the music industry.”
Being a woman and a Canadian artist can present some barriers to success, Walker said.
Walker is originally from Prince Edward Island but lived in Hamilton for six years. His music has a unique East Coast feel: it includes the bagpipes, an instrument he played at the Antigonish Highland Games in Nova Scotia for years.
But she says she’s about to make the big move to Nashville, Tennessee, to help her break into the American music scene.
Fellow country music artist Sacha, from Warkworth, Ont., said it’s important to celebrate Canadian country music. She said she had to break into the American country scene to get noticed at home.
“Nashville is definitely a good launching pad,” he said.
Sacha, a Black woman in country music, said she has had to face unique barriers in her career.
“I think that’s part of the reason it’s taken so long.” [to find success]but I have always wanted to persevere,” he said.
Spotify presented a statistic from a study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that showed that of 100 songs streamed through the app, only 25 of those songs were sung by women.
Walker said the CCMAs are an opportunity for artists to share their experience with others in the industry.
“You can network, have conversations and realize that everyone is going through the same thing,” he said.