BreakOut West is a celebration of Western Canadian music, complete with an awards show, live concerts all over town, and various music industry-type events for musicians and labels and whatnot.
If you haven’t heard of it, that’s not too surprising. They’ve been doing this since 2003, but there was really no hype for this at all here this year. Even my local music-loving friends didn’t know much about what was going on. Mika said she only read about this on the CBC, and then, only after the events had taken place. It’s a real shame. It wasn’t what I’d call a star-studded lineup if you’re looking for national or international names, but there was tons of great local talent. And with a $20 wristband getting you into over 10 venues across the city, it was a ridiculous value. “You didn’t even have to make much use of it to get your money’s worth,” he said, foreshadowingly.
THURSDAY: The Junos and Prairie Music Week and all that good stuff have come to town before, and I’ve always skipped the awards shows. They cost extra, and even if you like a performer on the show, you’re only getting one song. Not really worth it. But you know how sometimes on Facebook, you’ll see a thing that says “like and share this status to win”? Sometimes that actually works. And that’s the story of how I won free tickets to the Western Canadian Music Awards.
I stayed late at work on Thursday, walking over to the casino to meet Mika shortly before the show was to start. We ran into Brian in the lobby, who introduced us to his wife; I had met her before, but to be fair, it was probably 15 years ago.
Also in the lobby was a table where one could buy the new Colin James CD, Blue Highways, the day before its official release. The CD was also your ticket into the afterparty, where you could meet him and get it signed. And, you know, you could congratulate him on his induction into the Western Canadian Music Hall of Fame, which was the centrepiece of the awards show. We did none of these things.
Our free tickets were general admission. The nice casino lady told us to find any table we wanted and sit there, so we parked ourselves on some really uncomfortable chairs front and centre. She then came back and apologized for misleading us; general admission meant you could stand around the front of the stage, though she suggested we could stay at the table if we wanted and just move if someone with tickets showed up. At this point it appeared that maybe they hadn’t sold too many tickets for this shindig. Anyway, standing around by the stage would have given us a really good view, but we are old, and I wasn’t sure how into the show I’d be and didn’t know how much I felt like feigning enthusiasm should that be required, so we snuck up to the balcony. It was less than half full, so we found some open (and much nicer) seats and enjoyed the show from up there with drinks.
Normally, the awards show closes out the festival on Sunday night. However, the decision was made this year to switch things up and use it to kick off the event instead. Also, they removed some awards from the show to make room for more musical performances. The other awards were handed out at various venues on the Friday and Saturday nights. I am all in favour of more music and fewer speeches, so I was fine with this.
Also, I gotta say, having a program is real handy when you’re trying to remember what happened.
The show started about 10 minutes late, which is a tardiness record for a casino show. It opened with two songs from Michael Bernard Fitzgerald, who was the guy I was most looking forward to seeing over the weekend. This was a delightful development, because if the show sucked, it meant I was free to go because I’d seen what I came for. Spoiler: it didn’t suck! There were some kinda dodgy moments and technical issues, though. Anyway, MBF played One Love and This Isn’t It and they were good.
The MC was country singer Brett Kissel, who I gather is becoming somewhat of a big deal. You may remember that I saw him in Calgary a few years ago, opening for Loretta Lynn. He seems more confident now and handled his hosting duties really well, doing his best to get the crowd amped up while handling a few production snafus with a quick wit. But I have a quick tip for him: jokes at the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ expense don’t work here, even when they totally have it coming after a trainwreck of a season. Too many people will just never find them funny.
The next three performances were by David Morin, William Prince, and Justin Lacroix, all of whom offered some variation of guy-with-guitar, and all of whom were good. Morin was on the bluesy side, Prince was more of a country/roots artist, and Lacroix’s song was faster paced, closer to rock. I liked all these guys.
Rosie and the Riveters, from Saskatoon, got two songs at around the halfway point of the show. This is a four-piece from Saskatoon who play 40s/50s-inspired girl-group pop – think the Andrews Sisters. Or maybe there are a million better comparisons if you know more things about things? There’s a starting point for you, anyway, enough to let you know if this sounds like something you might enjoy or not. I liked them fine, but am not sure if I’d want a full set of them. Maybe?
After some more awards, we had performances from Lexi Strate and Diyet. Strate was pop while Diyet was more on the folk side, and also she apparently only made it into town about 20 minutes before she was scheduled to play.
I’ve been skipping past the awards as we go along here, because you can look them up if you really care, and to be honest, it’s hard to believe the awards are a big deal if nobody shows up to accept them. They gave out 9 awards on this show; of those, five winners were no-shows and one was represented by their publicist. Kissel wound up accepting a lot of awards on behalf of others. But hey, let’s celebrate the folks who did make the trip: William Prince got Aboriginal Artist of the Year, Jocelyne Baribeau won Francophone Artist of the Year, and the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg got the Community Excellence Award. Some guy who never gave his name accepted that award; I can only assume that the WECC assumed human form and made the drive from Winnipeg. That means I… I’ve been inside him, you guys.
Kissel was up for an award of his own, Breakout Artist of the Year, and he was also responsible for introducing the award and announcing the winner. “Let’s be real here, this is going to be awkward either way,” he said, getting the biggest laugh of the night, before announcing the Bros. Landreth as the winners.
He followed this up with a three-song performance, where he deftly handled several malfunctioning microphones, including singing a capella with a bandmate’s mic at one point, while also managing to pose for a mid-song selfie with fans in the audience. His style is modern country radio that I’m not particularly into, but at this point in the evening, the energy was welcome. He also played his new song, I Didn’t Fall in Love with Your Hair, for which he’s donating all proceeds to cancer charities. It’s… very earnest. But if it’s raising some money for a good cause and people like it, good on him.
Finally, the headline performance was by this year’s Hall of Fame inductee, Colin James. Jay Semko of the Northern Pikes introduced a video that chronicled James’ career, before the man himself took the stage for a short speech followed by four songs. Two were from the new album, and the others (i.e., the ones you might know) were Just Came Back and Why’d You Lie.
Here’s the thing about Colin James. Being from Regina, James is treated like a huge star here. And while he had some big hits and he’s really talented, I think if you live here, it’s hard not to feel a bit of Colin James fatigue. That tends to happen whenever anyone from here achieves any kind of success. Having said that, if you can ignore that and just watch his performance, the dude is incredibly good. Which you already know, but still. It’s easy to forget just how talented he is.
The Hall of Fame itself is a nice honour, though I looked at the list of inductees and the lack of the Guess Who, kd lang, Ian Tyson, Joni Mitchell, and others does make it feel a bit like a Hall of Whoever We Could Get to Show Up This Year. Which is not to say that these folks aren’t deserving in their own right, just that there are some glaring omissions. Anyway, you likely don’t care, but it took a lot of clicking to dig this up, so here it is for your reference.
2016: Colin James
2013: Jann Arden
2012: The Northern Pikes
2009: Loreena McKennitt
2008: Spirit of the West; Senator Tommy Banks
2007: Buffy Sainte-Marie; Queen City Kids
2004: The Stampeders
2003: Kenny Shields & Streetheart
With that, the show wrapped up and we headed home. Awards shows have never appealed to me, but this was a surprisingly fun evening. There was a range of artists and they kept the show moving at a decent pace. It would have been better with a larger and more engaged crowd, but what can you do?
FRIDAY: Um haha so yeah speaking of a not-very-engaged crowd, it was a long week at work so I just stayed home. Not the best use of my all-access wristband, but it was only $20, so I figured I could head out on Saturday, see a show or two, and that would be enough to make it worthwhile.
SATURDAY: So that’s exactly what I did. I got to the Owl at the University of Regina a bit before 9:00. My plan was to see the Dirty Catfish Brass Band in the multipurpose room, but the Owl has tasty beverages and I’ve been there before and thus am familiar with the place, so I bought myself a Magners and hung around for Belle Plaine, a local singer I’d heard a lot about but never had the chance to see. Inspired by traditional music, she did a set of originals that showed off her voice and her songwriting skills. She also covered Wayfaring Stranger, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, and Tom Waits’ Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis, and those three picks probably say more than I can about what type of music she plays. I enjoyed this at the time, and the more I think about it, the more I liked it. Would go again.
Next up was, once again, Michael Bernard Fitzgerald. I hadn’t seen him play in a long while, and while I would have been up for more than a 45-minute set, what we got was real good. He focused almost exclusively on songs from his new album; if you wanted anything older, all you got was Follow and I Will, though he also played his new Justin Bieber cover, What Do You Mean. I haven’t spent enough time with the new album, so it was really good to get a chance to hear these songs live for the first (or, with the awards show, second) time. With some musicians, I listen to the album to make me enjoy the live show more, but with MBF, it seems to work in reverse; hearing the songs live makes me appreciate the album better.
With that, I was done for the evening. Like I said, not the best use of the wristband, but I’d pay more than $20 just to see MBF with Belle Plaine opening, so I made my money back. On the way out, I picked up a copy of Fitzgerald’s new album on vinyl (signed but still in the shrinkwrap). Good thing I raided Mika’s purse before I left the house. I also ran into Brian, who introduced me to his wife; I had met her before, but to be fair, it was probably two days ago.
SUNDAY: The website said there were events all weekend long, but the schedule didn’t actually list anything for Sunday. I love ending these things on complete anticlimaxes, so bye.
• Sarah Slean with the Regina Symphony Orchestra (October 22)
• Bush w/The Dead Deads (October 27)
• Donovan Woods w/Joey Landreth (November 2)
• Steve Earle & The Dukes (November 3)
• Bif Naked w/Jordan Alexander (November 8)
• Duotang (December 2)