Behind the scenes at the Canadian Country Music Awards in Calgary

The city hosted the CCMAs for the 10th time this past weekend

By Leanne Murray | September 13, 2022 |5:00 am

Tenille Townes was the big winner of the CCMAs, taking home five awards.

Photo: Leanne Murray

Some Sundays are uneventful as the weekend comes to an end and another Monday looms.

But this past Sunday was anything but boring for me. I had the opportunity to be on the red carpet and backstage at the Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMAs) at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Leanne Murray on the CCMA red carpet.

This was the 10th time Calgary has hosted the CCMAs — more than any other Canadian city.

I spoke with Mayor Jyoti Gondek, who credited Calgary’s giving community as a big reason events like the CCMAs succeed in the city.

A beautiful thing

“We are an amazing host city because of the people that volunteer,” Gondek said, adding it only took about 15 minutes for 200 people to sign up to help with the awards.

“That’s just who we are so we just need to carry on with that.”

Sacha showing off her stunning outfit on the red carpet. She won SiriusXM’s Top of the Country and a CCMA for Top Selling Canadian Single of the Year.

Gondek added she is pleased to see how the country music industry has grown and evolved.

“I’m particularly interested in how we are practising reconciliation by including more Indigenous performers in this area,” she says. 

Gondek also commented on collaborations that draw new fans into the world of country music.

“Any time you can get a whole bunch of people together that are fans of a genre, it is a beautiful thing.”

Starstruck fan girl

98 Degrees with Brett Kissel (second from the left).

One of the most exciting recent collaborations, at least for me (a ’90s girl through and through), is Alberta’s Brett Kissel teaming up with 98 Degrees.

They performed the song “Ain’t The Same” during the awards show and were the first people I had the pleasure of chatting with on the red carpet.

Admittedly, I was pretty starstruck as I listened to Nick Lachey talk about the band’s time in Calgary.

“It’s been beautiful. The city’s gorgeous, the people have been great, we’ve had some great meals and just walking around downtown… all things that we’ve experienced this weekend have been fantastic. It’s a beautiful city. I don’t think we’ve ever spent this much time in Calgary, so we all really, really enjoyed it,” Lachey said.

98 Degrees shared a memory from the last time they were in Calgary more than 20 years ago.

I asked them about the last time they were in Calgary, which was in March of 1999 when the 98° Heat It Up Tour made a stop at the MacEwan Hall Ballroom.

“When we first got off the bus, we went to a bar called Cowboys and we were stunned about how many beautiful women were in this place. It was just a cool experience for us, we were really embraced by the town… and we’re happy to be back,” said group member Jeff Timmons.

Love for the Stampede

I recommended they try to come back to experience the Calgary Stampede.

“We’ve heard it’s a good party to be at,” Timmons laughed.

Robyn Ottolini spoke about her love of the Calgary Stampede.

Singer-songwriter Robyn Ottolini, who hails from Uxbridge, Ont., said the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth is her favourite part about Calgary.

“I played it once, right when they were kind of starting to open up things again, and what a blast. Y’all party, I love to see it,” she said.

The star of the night

Tenille Townes shows off one of five CCMAs she took home.

The red carpet was so fun and exciting to be a part of. There was a lot of love and positivity and so many smiles — none bigger than that of Tenille Townes, who ended up being the star of the night.

Not only did Townes co-host the show, but she also took home an armful of awards: Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year, Single of the Year, Female Artist of the Year, and Songwriter of the Year.

On the red carpet before the show, Townes said she was a bit nervous but mostly excited and honoured to be a part of the event.

Tenille Townes on the red carpet.

The Grande Prairie native said she was happy to be home in Alberta and spoke about her love of Calgary.

“Calgary’s awesome, I love the community spirit that I feel every time I’ve come here. We were just here for Stampede, we were here in December for our first headlining tour and any time we come through here, Calgary always knows how to bring it, so it’s so good to be back,” Townes said.

Two-time winner

Dallas Smith won two CCMAs.

Another big winner of the evening was Dallas Smith, who took home the awards for Male Artist of the Year and Fans’ Choice.

In my red carpet interview with Smith, he talked about his connection to Calgary — a city he’s played hundreds of times over his 22-year career.

“I’ve made a lot of memories here. I found out I was going to have my first girl when we were here playing on tour, so it has a lot of meaning to me for sure. I hate the hockey team but it’s all good,” Smith laughed.

Dallas Smith spoke about his connection to Calgary on the red carpet.

He added that Calgary, and the Prairies in general, have been one of his most loyal fanbases.

“The crowds never disappoint,” Smith said.

The beautiful Rockies

A common theme when I asked what people loved most about Calgary was, unsurprisingly, the proximity to the Rocky Mountains.

“I love Calgary. You can see the mountains from here,” said JJ Hunter of Saskatchewan’s Hunter Brothers.

“We’re from the Prairies so some of our favourite memories as a family growing up were the ski trips that we got to do every winter.”

The Hunter Brothers on the red carpet.

Hunter added that they have family connections, including uncles and cousins who call the city home, and also gave a nod to Calgary’s country music scene.

“Just the culture here with the Stampede and that whole country culture is something that resonates with us and we love the city.”

Don Amero is originally from Winnipeg and agreed with Hunter about Calgary’s views.

“The landscape and the skyline of Calgary is incredible. And I think the architecture down here is pretty incredible. I’ve been here so many times, [but] I’ve never really taken it in the way I did this weekend. Beautiful place you all got here,” he said.

Hometown girl

Leanne sharing a laugh with Lindsay Ell.

Lindsay Ell grew up in NW Calgary but has been living in Nashville for the past decade. She told me about some of the things she misses most about her hometown.

“Getting to wake up every morning and seeing the mountains outside your kitchen window is something that you take for granted until it’s not there anymore. The land around the city is just so beautiful and so one-of-a-kind. I always miss the mountains.”

Ell added that she misses her family and friends, the food, and her favourite ice cream shops — Made by Marcus and Village Ice Cream.

She said Calgary is a fitting host for the CCMAs.

The mecca of country music

Lindsay Ell said she loved performing for her hometown crowd.

“I think Calgary is like the country music mecca of this whole entire country. From the Stampede and just all of the venues around this town, country music was born here, I truly believe, so it just feels right that the awards are here.”

Ell said it felt so good to be in her hometown and to perform at the awards ceremony in front of her family and friends.

Calgary band Nice Horse — which won Video of the Year — joined Ell on stage for her performance, as did local drag queen and Canada’s Drag Race Season 3 contestant Kaos.

Drag queen Kaos joined Lindsay Ell for her performance.

During a backstage Q&A session, Ell said it was important that her performance had inclusive representation.

It was such an honour to be able to hang out backstage at the CCMAs and experience my first red carpet. I hope it won’t be my last!

Gord Bamford being interviewed on the red carpet.

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Leanne Murray

Leanne is a Calgary Citizen reporter.

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