Originally Published on Centretown News online.
Folk music fans filled the Bronson Centre on Nov. 29 to celebrate the country’s best performers in the genre. The 10th annual Canadian Folk Music Awards showcased traditional and innovative Canadian folk musicians.
The Centretown venue was packed to the rafters in a ceremony that was live streamed and broadcast across Canada.
Gerri Trimble, program officer for the music section of the Canada Council for the Arts, has watched the development of the diverse community and says how unique the Canadian folk music scene really is.
“It’s a huge field,” she says. “I think (folk is) a broad word, which is of course is blessing. It’s the greatness of it, the bounty of the whole thing.”
The Canada Council supports musicians financially to help them broaden their reach and develop their craft and was a sponsor of this year’s CFMAs.
“Little grants here and there, whether it’s a travel grant or a grant to compose music, make a difference and it makes a contribution to the vitality of the folk scene,” says Trimble.
In recent years, the Canadian folk music scene has expanded, with new festivals appearing every year.
“I think it wandered in the wilderness for a while,” says Ottawa-born David Newland, Canadian folk musician and poet.
Newland was working behind the scenes at this year’s awards, running the live stream and interviewing winners.
“There has always been a weird dance between folk music and technology,” he says. “People didn’t know what to do.”
In 2009, Newland co-founded Roots Music Canada, a multimedia blog following Canadian folk musicians. It’s an example of how technology is enabling modern artists to share their music more effectively than ever.
Various online platforms give musicians the means to control their own careers. They can record and produce independently, sharing and spreading their work online, he says.
The ability for musicians to control their own career and be their own label is a serious help for emerging folk artists, but not the only option.
True North Records, Canada’s oldest independent record label, has championed folk music since 1969. The Juno Award-winning label works with industry greats Bruce Cockburn and Gordon Lightfoot and newcomers such as East Coast artist Matt Andersen and Winnipeg’s Del Barber.
“All of us came up for the awards,” says David MacMillan, marketing director at True North. “We were the ones making all the noise.”
True North Records had 15 artist nominations at this year’s CFMAs. Group The High Bar Gang won vocal group of the year, while Matt Anderson took home contemporary singer of the year.
The company helps bring Canadian folk music to national and international audiences. Though the industry can be difficult to break into, MacMillan doesn’t think this should discourage artists from trying.
“From booking gigs to a car breaking down on you, there’s a million kinds of challenges,“ he says. “If you can get out there and promote it, then play it.”
Lynn Miles, an Ottawa-based musician, is signed to True North Records. A performer at the show this year, Miles enjoys the awards for the community aspect.
“Everybody’s always on the road, so when you cross paths with people, its always fun to talk and just laugh about how ridiculous it all is,” she says.
Miles’ career has spanned 40 years and about a dozen albums.
“Because of things like these awards and CBC and other radio stations that actually play our music, (the industry is) supported a little bit more now,” she says.
But she’s full of advice for young Canadian folk musicians hoping for a big break.
“I always say follow your heart, follow the art — the money will either arrive or it won’t,” she says.
Beyond that, her message is one of dental wisdom.
“If you’re a musician, you don’t have a dental plan,” Miles says, “so start flossing now.”