MANITOBA MUSIC'S YEAR IN REVIEW: One Helluva Year of Music in Manitoba

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Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Fred Penner at the Western Canadian Music Awards, October 2014 (Photo: Travis Ross / Courtesy of BreakOut West)

The JUNOS. BreakOut West. Manitoba Live. Polaris. Calling 2014 the Year of Music in Manitoba is almost an understatement...  

Winnipeg was the capital of Canadian music as excitement amped up for The 2014 JUNO Awards, which recognized homegrown acts with 13 nominations. The massive event took over Winnipeg in March for a week of fun including packing local venues for JUNOfest, a glittery invite-only gala, and the big ticket televised spectacle at the MTS Centre. Winnipeg also hosted many lead-up events and "Random Acts of JUNO" everywhere from transit buses to shopping malls and frozen skating trails to indie coffee shops, proving that here in Winnipeg, we really do speak music.

The JUNOS wasn't the only major music event to converge on Winnipeg. The 12th annual BreakOut West rolled into Winnipeg in October with a two-night music festival, industry conference, the Western Canadian Music Awards (WCMA), where local artists and industry landed 44 nominated and won an unprecedented 17 awards

Local artists and music entrepreneurs earned quite a few accolades this year, with over 100 nominations and 33 awards. Aboriginal rock outfit Indian City and roots singer/songwriter Del Barber led the locals with eight and six award nominations, respectively. Indian City picked up honours at the Indian Summer Music Awards and Aboriginal Peoples Choice Music Awards while Barber was a double winner at the WCMA. 

This year was perhaps more appropriately the year of live music. Between the JUNOS, BreakOut West, Manitoba's numerous acclaimed music festivals, and busy music venues, there were over 6,800 live music events on stages throughout the province in 2014. And music fans could find them all in the new free concert-finding app, Manitoba Live. Powered by Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries and developed by Manitoba Music with local firm Visual Lizard along with Guppy Graphic Design, the app took Manitoba Music's existing online listings to the next level, offering music fans comprehensive and reliable info on concerts.  

Many Manitoba acts spent a good portion of 2014 on the road, touring and performing career-building showcases as far away as Australia, the U.K., Germany, Greece, Spain, France, Bulgaria, and beyond. Expanding into new markets and continuing to build important contacts has been an essential focus for many acts looking to make a career out of playing music. Throughout the year, over 40 different Manitoba acts made their way into new countries and connected with key industry people by performing over 70 showcases at 33 different events around the world. Here are just a very few that made international headlines this year...

Groundbreaking Nunavut-born, Brandon-based Inuk throat singer Tanya Tagaq won not only the prestigious Polaris Music Prize, but also the souls and minds of fans and critics, and pretty much the whole internet. After inking a management deal with Six Shooter in 2013, Tagaq released the much-lauded Animism and promptly landed in major media, picked up a Canadian Folk Music Award for "pushing the boundaries", and played to astounded audiences in sold out concert halls across North America, and more.  

Royal Canoe continued to be everywhere in 2014. Continuing to tour its debut full length album, Today We’re Believers (released on Nevado Records in Canada and Roll Call Records in the U.S.), the indie electro pop act played rooms and fests all over Canada and U.S., including spots at Bonnaroo and Osheaga, and several U.S. dates with indie darlings Bombay Bicycle Club. The band also garnered a JUNO Award nomination for Alternative Album of the Year and an overseas nod from the AIM Independent Music Awards for its video for "Birthday" and racked up some big media mentions from the likes of NME, Rolling Stone, Noisey, The Globe and Mail, Much Music, MTV, and more. 

Another one of the year's biggest stories was country blues outfit The Bros. Landreth. The band signed on to the Paquin Artist Agency roster, hit stages across Canada and the U.S. in support of its critically-acclaimed debut Let It Lie, including coveted showcase spots at Nashville's Americana Music Festival and JUNOfest, struck a deal with U.S. label Slate Creek Records, landed in the likes of Billboard and Washington Times, picked up numerous award nods and won a Canadian Folk Music Award for best new act, and launched a video on CMT.  

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Meanwhile, Manitoba Music continued its focus on presenting successful market development showcases and networking events in major music markets in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Germany, and Australia, including International Folk Alliance, The Great Escape, SXSW, NXNE, M for Montreal, Folk Music Ontario, the Americana Music Festival, BigSound, Reeperbahn Festival, as well as an inaugural industry showcase in Minneapolis. These events have helped Manitoba artists and music companies connect with influential international industry names, build important business relationships, and reach new markets.

Manitoba Music launched career development events for the Western Canadian Francophone music industry via the new Francophone Music Program, including Rame à la rencontre de l’industrie de la musique francophone in Winnipeg during Festival du Voyageur and again in Montreal, and Le camp de la musique francophone de l’Ouest canadien. 

This year, Manitoba Music celebrated the 10th anniversary of one of its most acclaimed initiatives, the Aboriginal Music Program (AMP). The Pyramid Cabaret played host to an all-out bash and special open mic, featuring the talents of C-Weed, along with appearances by Eagle & Hawk, Joe Maxim Band, Ali Fontaine, Winnipeg Boyz, Rhonda Head, and many more. AMP also kept things busy with the seventh edition of the Aboriginal Music Performers Camp; the Aboriginal Music Mentors Program; and the launch of a new live performance video series, AMP Sessions, featuring performances by Leonard Sumner, Rescued by Dragonflyz, Cassidy Mann, and 2014 JUNO nominee Desiree Dorion.

Speaking of videos... Manitoba Music's other video project, the Loft Sessions returned this year, featuring live performances from eight buzzworthy local bands. Filmed in the brick and hardwood splendour of 100-year-old Exchange District heritage buildings, director Chris Gaudry and his team, which included award-winning sound engineer Cam Loeppky, shot a diverse set of videos with Del Barber, Curtis Nowosad, Indicator Indicator, Yes We Mystic, Sweet Alibi, Erin Propp, The Crooked Brothers, and Slow Leaves, attracting thousands of YouTube views along the way. 

Here at home, Manitoba Music also continued its focus on audience development and partnerships with community organizations with several events throughout the year, including: the monthly Open Mic at the Folk Exchange with the Winnipeg Folk Festival; monthly Manitoba Music Night with the Osborne Village Inn; all three stages at Manitoba Live on Canada Day at The Forks; and the chilly success of the second Manitoba Music On Ice, a partnership with The Forks and nine local festivals and music presenters putting local artists in the warming huts along the world's longest river trail on Louis Riel Day Weekend; a new summer lunch hour series in partnership with the Exchange District Biz, Manitoba Music Live at The Cube; Prairie Barge Festival, a Year of Music celebration of music, art, and culture from Manitoba and Saskatchewan at The Forks, in partnership with Creative Saskatchewan and the Winnipeg Arts Council; and more. 

To continue to facilitate artistic and business growth of the local music scene, Manitoba Music presented 25 workshops and panels on a wide variety of topics, as well as mentor sessions with local industry pros and songwriters in residence. This year also saw the launch of our inaugural winter industry conference, January Music Meeting, which brought together music industry pros from across Canada for three days of intensive panels, networking, and one-on-one meetings. Manitoba Music hit the road for training events in Brandon, including workshops during the Manitoba Arts Network's annual Manitoba Showcase. continued to be a top destination for music fans in 2014. Over 155,400 unique visitors, a 36 per cent increase from the previous year, headed to the site for comprehensive live music listings, music news, streaming radio, free downloads, and hundreds of artist and industry profiles, racking up over 747,300 pageviews. 

In June, we lost one of our greatest supporters, Kevin Walters, who served many years on Manitoba Music's board of directors, most recently as our president. A true and passionate champion of Manitoba's music community, Kevin was one of the primary masterminds behind bringing the JUNOS to Winnipeg and celebrating 2014 as the Year of Music, and so so much more. His loss has been felt keenly and deeply, and we continue to honour his memory with proceeds from the annual Manitoba Music Rocks Charity Bonspiel now going to the Kevin Walters Memorial Fund. 

At the end of December, we bid farewell to executive director Sara Stasiuk, who will become Six Shooter Records' new Winnipeg-based director of operations after 13 years with Manitoba Music. We will kick off what is sure to be a busy and exciting 2015 with our esteemed program manager, Sean McManus, stepping into his new role as Manitoba Music's executive director.  

We would like to thank our amazing, innovative, creative, and talented members; the generous support of the Government of Canada, Province of Manitoba, FACTOR through the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Department of Canadian Heritage (Canada Music Fund) and of Canada's Private Radio Broadcasters, the Roadmap for Canada’s Official Languages 2013-2018: Education, Immigration, Communities, Manitoba Film & Music, Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, The Jim Pattison Broadcast Group, Canada Council for the Arts, The SOCAN Foundation, and The Forks; and our many community and industry partners for an incredible (and beautifully exhausting) year.

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