Manitoba Wins Big in 2004

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2004 was a fantastic year for the Manitoba music industry, marking a record number of awards and honours for homegrown talent and some impressive new deals for local artists. As Manitoba gets ready to ring in the new year and gears up to host the 2005 JUNO Awards, it's time to look back on some of the great stories of this past year.

2004 began with the announcement of local roots quartet Nathan being signed to Nettwerk, the label that launched Sarah McLachlan's career. Nathan followed the announcement with the release of its critically-acclaimed sophomore album Jimson Weed and has toured throughout the year, including an impressive showing at the famed SXSW conference in Texas.

In February, The Weakerthans, Burnt, Eagle & Hawk, and Doc Walker were nominated for honours at the 2004 JUNO Awards. While none took home trophies at the April gala, the nominations helped to bolster even greater confidence in Manitoba audiences that Winnipeg was ready to host the 2005 ceremony.

In March, four local acts headed south to Austin, Texas for SXSW, the largest music conference in North America. Nathan, The Wailin' Jennys, House of Doc, and The Duhks packed up and performed for international audiences and industry professionals at the annual Canadian BBQ, co-presented by NXNE.

The ambitious plan to build a new entertainment complex in the historic Exchange District was announce in April. Temporary called 319 Elgin, after its address, the complex is the brainchild of local producer/artist manager Chris Burke-Gaffney of CBG Artist Development (Chantal Kreviazuk, McMaster & James) and local producer Brandon Friesen of Studio 11/Arbor Records, who hope to house several local labels, studios, and music-related businesses when the construction is completed.

In May, six Manitoba artists were nominated for Vibe Awards, which honour the best in Canadian Christian and sacred music, including Grammy nominee Fresh I.E., Steve Bell, Walle Larsson, Starfield, Threadline, and Liza May.

Canada's largest music conference, North By Northeast, welcomed 16 Manitoba acts to its showcase stages, wowing audiences and industry insiders alike in June. The Waking Eyes, Mood Ruff, Novillero, Driver, Easily Amused, The Barrymores, Burnthe8track, Moses Mayes, The Afterbeat, Tele, Greg MacPherson, das macht SHOW!, X-Engine-X, Eric Corne & The Erratics, and Quinzy all performed at various stages at the annual conference and chowed down on polish sausage and perogies at the annual Manitoba BBQ, put on by MARIA and Manitoba Film & Sound.

The venerable Winnipeg Folk Festival celebrated 31 years of people and music in July and bid a fond farewell to beloved artistic director Rick Fenton. Fenton, who went on to win Talent Buyer of the Year at the 2004 Western Canadian Music Awards, was recently named producer of JunoFest, the two-day celebration that surrounds the annual JUNO Awards.

August was a busy month for award nominations. Country stars Doc Walker were nominated for five major Canadian Country Music Awards, being named Group of the Year at the September gala. Manitoba netted 33 nominated at the 2nd annual Western Canadian Music Awards, including nods for The Harlots, Easily Amused, Kimberley Dawn, Foster Martin Band, Doc Walker, Pipi Skid, Steve & Sarah Bell, Fresh I.E., Jaylene Johnson, Big Dave McLean, Shaden Garett & The Stratospheres, The Wailin' Jennys, Jeff Staflund, Valjean, Kraink, Leo Dufault, Eagle & Hawk, Burnt, LuLu & The TomCat, Tracy Dahl, Marilyn Lerner, Glenn Buhr, and The Weakerthans.

September started off with an impressive win by the former "Martin" in the Foster Martin Band. Singer/songwriter Ray Martin was one of the top winners of the Nashville Song Search, which won him a flight to the home of country music, and mentoring sessions with top songwriters, as well as a performance at the famed Bluebird Cafe. Later in the month, local Aboriginal label Arbor Records inked a lucrative distribution deal with EMI Music Canada. Under the new partnership EMI will be responsible for all pressing, distribution and marketing of Arbor’s catalogue. Meanwhile, Doc Walker brought home the CCMA for Group of the Year and Aboriginal rockers Eagle & Hawk took home an award for Best Rock Album at the Indian Summer Music Awards in Wisconsin. At the end of the month, Manitoba artists headed to Calgary for the WCMAs.

In October, those same artists returned home with a few more trophies, capturing nine awards. Homegrown industry professionals also scored big, with four awards. Big winners included an upset for country quintet Doc Walker, which was named Entertainer of the Year over heavyweights Sarah McLachlan, Nickelback, Nelly Furtado, and Michael Bublé. Doc Walker also took home a “Wheatie” – as the trophy is affectionately called - for Outstanding Country Recording for the band’s latest effort, Everyone Aboard. Other winners included The Weakerthans, The Wailin' Jennys, Big Dave McLean, LuLu & The TomCat, Robert Turner, Marilyn Lerner. Also in October, 15 artists headed east to showcase at the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals, and Jazz Fest head Chris Frayer was named Director of Music Programming for the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

In November, six local acts showcased at NewMusicWest, including Novillero, Paper Moon, The Harlots, Projektor, Slangblossom, and The Waking Eyes. Endearing Records and Arbor Records also held their own independent showcases. Mid-month, the MTS Centre opened its doors in time to host a press conference for the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) to announce that it would induct The Tragically Hip into the Hall of Fame at the 2005 JUNOS in Winnipeg while Rick Fenton was named producer of the 2005 JunoFest. An incredible delegation of 36 artists, headed by MARIA's Aboriginal Music Coordinator Errol Ranville, headed to Toronto for the 11th annual Canadian Aboriginal Festival, performing at several showcases and bringing home nine trophies at the Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards, including special honours for Ranville, Sunshine Records' Ness Michaels, and newcomers Burnt. Other winners included Eagle & Hawk, Danny Schur, Rez Official, and Clint Dutiaume. Manitoba artist had been nominated for a record 17 CAMAs.

2004 was also the year of many high profile releases from Burnthe8track, The Waking Eyes, Tin Foil Phoenix, The Wailin' Jennys, Nathan, Telepathic Butterflies, and Projektor. Several local acts signed deals with major labels and distributors, bringing the Manitoba recording industry to the forefront of the Canadian music scene.

In the coming year, Manitoba has some impressive events to look forward to, including the 2005 JUNO Awards in April.

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