London goes country with free events, concerts ahead of 2021 CCMA Awards

Ontario’s Forest City will feel a little bit country this weekend as local country music fans giddy-up for Country Music Week ahead of Monday’s CCMA Awards gala.

The award show from the Canadian Country Music Association will be one of the first major entertainment events to be hosted in the city since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year. London last hosted the awards in 2016.

The gala gets underway at Budweiser Gardens at 8 p.m., and will be livestreamed on the Global TV app and Prime Video, as well as being simulcast live on Country 104 in London, Country 105 in Calgary, and CISN in Edmonton.

Read more: Dallas Smith, Tenille Arts, Tim Hicks among acts to perform at 2021 CCMA Awards in London

In an interview with 980 CFPL on Friday, Cheryl Finn, general manager of Tourism London, agreed with the suggestion that this was the biggest weekend of the year so far in the city.

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“This doesn’t happen in the short term. This has been a few years of work happening through a pandemic,” Finn said.

“Just a few weeks ago, we weren’t quite sure what capacity limits were going to be, so we are thrilled to be able to welcome the industry to London this weekend.”

Cory Crossman, the city’s music industry development officer, said it was thrilling to see London’s venues getting utilized and hotel rooms being booked following a rough 19 months for the live music and hospitality industries.

“It has been challenging, a lot of pivots, a lot of twists, a lot of turns,” he said of planning the event. “We’re here and we’re really excited and recognizing it’s a very different year. It’s different than 2016, for sure.”

“It’s been a challenging time like no other. So to have an event of this calibre, of this quality come to London, it speaks to the world to the history that we have here, and the incredible talent that is in London.”

Click to play video: 'Checking-in with the hosts of the 2021 CCMA Awards' Checking-in with the hosts of the 2021 CCMA Awards
Checking-in with the hosts of the 2021 CCMA Awards – Nov 26, 2021

Several indoor and outdoor events are planned in the lead-up to Monday’s gala as part of Country Music Week, including free concerts and meet-and-greets at London Music Hall, dubbed “CCMA House.”

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One of the main events, the SiriusXM Top of the Country Finale Concert, will take place Friday night at 8 p.m. featuring performances by The Reklaws, Raquel Cole, Tyler Joe Miller, and Kelly Prescott.

Things will pick up more on Saturday, with a Fanfest from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and a CCMA House House Party starting at 6 p.m. which together will see a total of more than a dozen country music artists involved.

Several of the same performers will also take the stage on Sunday between noon and 3:40 p.m. as part of CCMA House Unplugged.

Crossman notes there is plenty of free, public-facing content that people can enjoy through the weekend, including an Indigenous artisan market on Saturday at the Covent Garden Market featuring at least 13 vendors and live performances from Eagle Flight Singers and Red Movement Dance Troupe.

“Also, Our Local Food Story is taking place on Dundas from 12 to 4 p.m. outdoors, and we have our Country Classroom Live session taking place at Market Lane with London artists performing,” he said. Both events also take place on Saturday.

“There are opportunities for people to take in some of these concerts indoors, there’s stuff outdoors that’s taking place, so we have something for everyone’s comfort level, recognizing that it is a different year and a different time,” Crossman said.

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Those looking to attend Country Music Week are required to provide proof of double-vaccination with the second dose received by Nov. 12, with the exception of outdoor events on Nov. 27 and 29, the association says.

Read more: London, Ont. named a UNESCO City of Music, becoming Canada’s first to earn designation

“We can’t overlook the fact that the reason this is happening is because London has done such a phenomenal job in regards to managing our COVID rates,” Finn said.

The region’s seven-day moving case average has only risen above 30 twice since the start of June, and for the last two months has hovered between eight and 22. As of Wednesday, the average sat at 16.4.

“That’s due to all of us and the city as a whole, as well as the Middlesex-London Health Unit and the coaching and guidance that they’ve provided for us,” Finn added.

“On the economic level, we are seeing upticks in our hotel overnight room night stays, which is certainly so important to the industry that has been just decimated over the last 18-19 months.”

Crossman described the CCMA Awards as being a key piece in the city’s economic recovery, and a key piece into “rebuilding back stronger post-COVID.”

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“This is a great piece that’s going to help us bounce back. It’s great to get industry in town, seeing our venues, working with our technicians. I can’t speak enough about the incredible people that are running our venues and festivals in town,” he said.

While London previously hosted the CCMA Awards in 2016, the city hosted the Country Music Association of Ontario Awards in 2017, 2018 and 2020.

Corus Entertainment, the parent company of Global News, is the media partner of the Canadian Country Music Association and the CCMA Awards.

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