CCMA awards show brings music fans, artists, industry to Hamilton for all things country

The annual Canadian Country Music Association awards are being hosted at Hamilton's First Ontario Centre Saturday night. The star-studded event brings together Canadian country music stars and up-and-comers.

Hamilton-born singer Josh Ross is nominated for seven Canadian Country Music Association awards

A slide with the shape of a guitar sits in a city park.
With Hamilton hosting the awards on Saturday night, the city has country music fever. (Eva Salinas/CBC)

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 travelled to Hamilton from their home in Brantford, Ont., a day before the awards so Jo-Hannah could yodel at The Big Country Breakfast, a musician showcase at Stonewalls Restaurant Friday.

"She can stop a crowd just with 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. 

A family outside a country music event.
Saturday will be Jo-Hannah Atchison's first 'big concert,' her mother Samantha said. The family came from Brantford, Ont., for the awards. (Cara Nickerson/CBC)

The family was among the many country music fans, performers and industry members who descended upon Hamilton this week, marking the seventh time the city has hosted the awards. Several days of workshops, artist showcases and networking events have taken place in the lead up to the big show at FirstOntario Centre on Saturday night.

Lindsay Hyslop, with Canadian independent label Anthem Records, said the awards weekend is a great opportunity to celebrate local musicians who have made it big this year. 

For instance, 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-sister 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 massive years here is amazing," she said.

Two women in a restaurant.
Lindsay Hyslop, right, works with Anthem Records and says Canadian country music artists are on the rise. (Cara Nickerson/CBC)

Canadian artists say a Nashville, Tenn., connection 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 Friday.

The event was tied to Spotify's EQUAL Global Music Program, which is "designed to address the gender disparity in the music industry."

Being a woman and a Canadian artist can present some barriers to making it big, Walker said. 

Walker is originally from Prince Edward Island but lived in Hamilton for six years. Her music has a unique touch of the East Coast — she's included the bagpipes, an instrument she played at the Antigonish Highland Games in Nova Scotia for years. 

But she says she's about to make the big move to Nashville, Tenn., 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," she said. 

A woman in a sparkly pink dress stares out the window at the cars below.
Country artist Sacha is in Hamilton this weekend for the awards, where she'll be performing. (Eva Salinas/CBC)

For Sacha, a Black woman in country music, she said she has had to face unique barriers in her career. 

"I think that's part of the reason why it's taken so long [to find success], but I've always been keen to persevere," she said. 

Spotify presented a statistic from a study from the University of Southern California's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that showed that out 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 get to network, have conversations, realize everyone's going through the same thing," she said. 

A group of people stand dressed up, some wearing cowboy hats.
People in Hamilton for the Canadian Country Music Association awards gather in the Sheraton Hotel lobby on Friday. (Eva Salinas/CBC)


Cara Nickerson is a journalist with the CBC's Ontario local news stations, primarily CBC Hamilton. She previously worked with Hamilton Community News. Cara has a special interest in stories that focus on social issues and community. Cara can be reached at cara.nickerson@cbc.ca.