Canadian Folk Awards ride the tide in Edmonton

Amelia Curran Canadian Folk Music Awards GigCity EdmontonIf you’ve listened to pop radio lately, you may have noticed a lot of ukuleles, mandolins, accordions and various odd drums in songs that sound like souped-up folk tunes. They’re taking over!

Not much of this neo-folk-indie-pop sound will be represented at the annual Canadian Folk Music Awards taking place in Edmonton this weekend, but things may be changing. All it takes is one song.

“In our case, if you look at the artists nominated, we have some 600, 700 entries and the top draw artists are the Amelia Currans and the Catherine MacLellans, who’ve won Junos in the past, and they’ve struggled. They’re off the radar,” says CFMA director Andy Frank. They make music the way it’s always been done, he adds, do it yourself, honest production, marketing, grass roots record labels. When it comes to doing what you have to do crack through the hit parade, “They don’t play that game.”

Curran (above) and MacLellan are each nominated for three awards this weekend. The B.C. duo Pharis and Jason Romero, who play on homemade banjos, lead the pack with four nominations. Three Edmonton artists are up for trophies this year: Laura Vinson, Lizzy Hoyt and Rebecca Lappa. Following a total of 14 showcases Friday and Saturday at the Northern Lights Folk Club, the awards gala will take place Sunday, Nov. 8 at the Citadel Theatre, hosted by veteran Canadian folksingers Connie Kaldor and Benoit Bourque and featuring performances from nominees.

Natalie MacMaster Canadian Folk Music Awards GigCity Edmonton

Natalie MacMaster

Look in the categories like new/emerging artist for buzz bands like Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer; or the “pushing the boundaries” award for bands like Whitehorse. Holding up the traditional side are artists like Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy. Buffy Sainte-Marie, who’s enjoying a career resurgence thanks to her 2015 Polaris Prize-winning album Power in the Blood, appears to fill both roles – contemporary and traditional. And if your favourite Canadian folk act is missing from the nominee list (see below), chances are they’ve been there at some point in the CFMA’s 11 year history. Organizers try hard to represent an accurate balance of all that’s going on. The first hurdle is to know the meaning of the word “folk” – which can almost be defined by what it’s not, Frank says.

“It’s such a broad term and that’s why we have 19 different categories,” he says. “Because it’s all over the place – which is fine with us. We have your contemporary artists putting out hit songs, and we have traditional Cape Breton fiddlers and everything in between. It’s quite prolific. But at the same time it’s not something you heard on a lot of on adult alternative stations. It’s a tough battle to get the best of our scene out beyond CBC and CKUA.”

Frank, who produces a weekly roots radio program on The Grand 92.9 FM out of Fergus, Ontario, says it’s up to the artists to submit eligible recordings. Besides not having a fans’ choice or international artist award, the CFMA doesn’t cherry pick through worthy contenders who may or may not be interested in being associated with the scene despite the presence of ukuleles, mandolins, accordions or odd drums in their music.



Frank says, “The artists ask themselves, is this something I want to be part of? Some people are still adverse to be associated with the word folk. You still have that, even though the negative stereotype of folk is long past, the Kumbaya stereotype. If you go to the Edmonton folk fest and look at those headliners, that’s the scene we’re representing.”

The success of acts like Mumford, Vance Joy or the X Ambassadors and so on isn’t some fluke. There was a similar rise of hit-making singer-songwriters during the folk boom of the 1960s and 1970s, the Elton Johns, the James Taylors, the Carly Simons, and it’s clear the public is ready for the wave to crest again, if it hasn’t already.

Says Frank, “Everything is cyclical.”

The Nominees:

Young Performer of the Year: 

Robbie Bankes – Through February Snow

Coastline – Coastline

Rebecca Lappa – Tattered Rose

Mira Meikle – MIRA

Benjamin Dakota Rogers – Strong Man’s Address to the Circus Crowd


New/Emerging Artist of the Year:

Crooked Brothers – Thank You I’m Sorry

Fortunate Ones – The Bliss

The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer – A Real Fine Mess

The River and the Road – Headlights

The Young Novelists – made us strangers


Oliver Schroer Pushing the Boundaries Award:

Kevin Breit – Ernesto and Delilah

The Jerry Cans- Aakuluk

The Shoeless – The Shoeless
Dana Sipos – Roll Up the Night Sky

Whitehorse – Leave No Bridge Unburned


English Songwriter of the Year:

Catherine Allan and Andrew James O’Brien – The Bliss (Fortunate Ones)

Jon Brooks – The Smiling and Beautiful Countryside (Jon Brooks)

Amelia Curran – They Promised You Mercy (Amelia Curran)

Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland – Leave No Bridge Unburned (Whitehorse)

Jenn Grant – Compostela (Jenn Grant)


French Songwriter of the Year:

Jocelyne Baribeau – Entre toi et moi (Jocelyne Baribeau)

Louis-Jean Cormier –  Les grandes artères (Louis-Jean Cormier)

Benoit Pinette – Panorama (Tire le Coyote)

Dany Placard – Santa Maria (Dany Placard)

Geneviève Toupin – Willows (Willows)


Aboriginal Songwriter of the Year:

Miranda Currie – Up in the Air (Miranda Currie)

The Jerry Cans – Aakuluk (The Jerry Cans)

Raven Kanatakta and ShoShona Kish – For the Light (Digging Roots)

Buffy Sainte-Marie – Power in the Blood (Buffy Sainte-Marie)

Laura Vinson and Free Spirit – Warrior (Laura Vinson and Free Spirit)

World Group of the Year:

Ayrad – Ayrad

Alex Cuba – Healer

Lemon Bucket Orkestra – Moorka

Monsoon – Mandala

Ventanas- Arrelumbre


World Solo Artist of the Year:

Kiran Ahluwalia – Sanata: Stillness

Jean-François Bélanger – Les vents orfèvres

Elage – Diame

Emmanuel Jal – The Key

Wagner Petrilli – Confissão

Traditional Album of the Year:

Matthew Byrne – Hearts & Heroes

Le Vent du Nord – Têtu

Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy – ONE

Pharis & Jason Romero – A Wanderer I’ll Stay

Jayme Stone – Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project


Traditional Singer of the Year:

Michael Jerome Browne – Sliding Delta

Matthew Byrne – Hearts & Heroes

Tamar Ilana – Arrelumbre by Ventanas

Annie Lou – Tried and True

Pharis Romero – A Wanderer I’ll Stay (Pharis and Jason Romero)


Contemporary Album of the Year:

Jon Brooks – The Smiling and Beautiful Countryside

Jenn Grant – Compostela

Catherine MacLellan – The Raven’s Sun

The Once – Departures

Gabrielle Papillon – The Tempest of Old


Contemporary Singer of the Year:

Amelia Curran – They Promised You Mercy

Peter Katz – We Are the Reckoning

Sarah MacDougall – Grand Canyon

Catherine MacLellan – The Raven’s Sun

Jory Nash – The Many Hats of Jory Nash

Instrumental Group of the Year:

Coastline – Coastline

Shane Cook and Jake Charron – Head to Head

Lemon Bucket Orkestra – Moorka

Natalie MacMaster & Donnell Leahy – ONE

Monsoon – Mandala

Instrumental Solo Artist of the Year:

Jean-François Bélanger – Les vents orfèvres

Adrianna Ciccone – The Back of Winter

Nick Hornbuckle – 12×2(+/-1)

Patti Kusturok – Milestone

Wendy MacIsaac –  Off the Floor


Vocal Group of the Year:

Fortunate Ones – The Bliss

Good Lovelies – Burn The Plan

The Lucky Sisters – So Lucky

Pharis & Jason Romero – A Wanderer I’ll Stay

The Young Novelists – made us strangers


Ensemble of the Year: 

Big Little Lions – A Little Frayed, a Little Torn

The Once – Departures

Jayme Stone – Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project

The Sweet Lowdown – Chasing the Sun

Whitehorse – Leave No Bridge Unburned 


Solo Artist of the Year:

Michael Jerome Browne – Sliding Delta

Amelia Curran – They Promised You Mercy

Lizzy Hoyt – New Lady on the Prairie

Catherine MacLellan – The Raven’s Sun

Oh Susanna – Namedropper

Children’s Album of the Year:

Ginalina – Forest Friends’ Nature Club Album

Henri Godon – La vie rêvée!

Hilary Grist – Tomorrow is a Chance to Start Over

Stella Swanson – I’m Not a Bunny

The Swinging Belles – More Sheep, Less Sleep

Producer of the Year:

Daniel Ledwell – Compostela (Jenn Grant)

Jory Nash, Chris Stringer – The Many Hats of Jory Nash (Jory Nash)

Les Cooper – Burn The Plan (Good Lovelies)

Murray Pulver, Dave Zeglinski, Steve Bell – Pilgrimage (Steve Bell)

Pharis & Jason Romero, David Travers-Smith – A Wanderer I’ll Stay (Pharis & Jason Romero)