Hey, Manitoba country artists -- where have you been?

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This article was published 10/11/2015 (2175 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey, Manitoba country artists -- where have you been?

It's been 13 years since Manitoba's country musicians got together for a proper celebration of what they've brought to the province's cultural scene.

Kendra Kay, 18, is up for five Manitoba Country Music Awards at tonight's ceremony.

IAN MCCAUSLAND PHOTO

Kendra Kay, 18, is up for five Manitoba Country Music Awards at tonight's ceremony.

The awards drought ends tonight when the Manitoba Country Music Association hands out awards in 14 categories at the Park Theatre.

While the association and event organizers have been working for months to make the evening a reality, they've also received some otherworldly help, says Keith Macpherson of the duo Keith and Renée, one of the performers at tonight's gala.

Macpherson says their former manager, Kevin Walters, who died in 2014, is still pulling some strings in the Winnipeg music scene.

"He had this vision in the final years of his life about how cool it would be to see the country music scene in Manitoba grow and expand," says Macpherson, who, along with Renée Lamoureux, has earned four MCMA nominations.

"So I remember even five years ago, sitting down with him and saying, 'Man it's so daunting to get this happening.' I wouldn't be surprised if it was Kevin up there in heaven, doing his part, pushing all the buttons and making all the right connections happen to make this all possible."

But Manitoba artists have been making things happen on Earth as well. Portage la Prairie's Doc Walker are perennial Juno and Canadian Country Music Award winners. Besides the four nominations they've received, the group will be given the Impact Award from the MCMA at the ceremony.

"It's an award recognizing an artist, group or duo within Manitoba that really has had a big impact on the business in Manitoba," says singer-songwriter Chris Ising, who is also on the MCMA's board of directors. "With Doc Walker, they're always proud to say where they're from and where their roots are. And they broadcast that not just in Canada, but in the U.S. as well."

Another Manitoba group to grab some attention is Winnipeg country-rockers Bros. Landreth, who won the 2015 Juno for top roots or traditional record for Let it Lie and have earned three MCMA nominations.

"The Bros. Landreth, those guys, I'm so proud of them. Joey Landreth has really stepped into his own as a singer and songwriter," Macpherson says.

A resurgence in the province's country music scene helped build the momentum for the awards, said Ising.

"In the last three or four years in Manitoba we've seen a real increase in the number of bands playing and putting out material, from Leanne Pearson and David James and Petric," Ising says, mentioning three other artists with multiple nominations.

Ising, whose LP Serenity has earned airplay and awards from radio stations in Nashville that focus on independent artists, has five nominations, including two for song of the year.

The MCMA accepted nominations from both industry representatives and fans who registered on their website. That is likely the reason several generations of artists will be represented tonight, from mainstays such as Ray St. Germain to 18-year-old newcomer Kendra Kay.

It's been a banner year for Kay, who hails from the small town of Elkhorn. She has garnered five MCMA nominations, including single of the year for Some Things Go Together Like That.

She's also released an EP in 2015, Broken, and performed at Dauphin's Countryfest -- a big deal for any country artist, let alone one from western Manitoba -- for the first time.

"I've been there as a spectator and as a fan. To turn around the next year and be part of it was awesome," says Kay, adding she has a spot at the festival in 2016.

Events like the MCMA awards give Kay a chance to enjoy the fruits of her musical labour, she says. She's made songwriting and recording trips to Nashville and was busy performing and networking when the Canadian Country Music Awards were in Halifax in September.

"I didn't realize when I first started how much of a business the music industry is," she says. "You really have to work super-hard to take one step forward and two steps back sometimes.

"It's been awesome, though. I can't complain."

alan.small@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @AlanDSmall

Alan Small

Alan Small
Reporter

Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.

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