Country Music of Ontario Host 1st Open Mic in Toronto

Cover April 29, 2011

By Sandy Graham

CMOA PHOTO Gallery here: cmao-open-mic-pics

In 1976, during an RPM Magazine function, The Academy of Country Music Entertainment was founded which would include the founding of Country Music Week. The very first awards for Canada were called the RPM Big Country Awards, and by 1982 the Association inaugurated its very own Canadian Country Music Awards. By 1986-1987, the Association’s name was officially changed to the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA).

With a successful business model to follow, it was a natural progression that there would be an Association that would now develop and nurture the growing number of country music artists that are situated in Ontario.  The Country Music Association of Ontario (CMAO) is an undertaking by a number of energetic individuals in the country music industry in Ontario. The goal of the Country Music Association of Ontario is to foster and support the growth and development of Country Music in Ontario, as well as its artists - singers - songwriters - musicians - bands – to promote the same to Canada and the World. When we speak of country music, we speak of its subs as well, such as folk, alternative, bluegrass, roots and Canadiana. 

With a yearly membership fee of a mere $ 35.00 (plus applicable taxes), members are invited to participate in various events, such as the one held on April 16 in Tillsonburg, Ontario, presented by Country 107 & My Bar & Grill. For a small fee of $ 10.00 (which included lunch), and established panelists from the industry were on hand to give advice and guidance on ‘Getting Started – Getting Noticed’ in the music business. 

On April 23 another event was held in the form of a Seminar on “Planning a Career in the Music Business” & an Open Mic all done in the cozy atmosphere of a local pub in Scarborough, Ontario called the Victoria & Albert II. Attendees started the experience off with a welcoming lecture from Heather Ostertag (Heather Ostertag and Associates) former President & CEO of FACTOR, who walked them through the paces, ending up with an audience Q&A. Artists had pre-signed to perform and what transpired was an incredible array of talent and wonderful songwriters.

The age demographic of performers went from 13 year old Naomi Bristow to ‘senior teenager’ Betty Maye. The four hours of performances went so quickly, not one person left their seats to leave early. Highlights were too many to mention here, but there were some moments that stood out as memorable; 13 year old Naomi Bristow (The Yodelin’ Cowgirl) blew everybody away with her sweet smile and magnetic talent. Percy Kinney had everyone smiling with his ‘X’s & O’s’ song, Joe Hash with his hilarious ‘Women’s Guide To Weight Loss’ (the suggestion of dumping the man in parallel with how much weight that means you can lose instantaneously) and then Hash took us to the soulful sad song of ‘3 Hours in Atlanta’. Fifteen year old future superstar, Maddy Rodriguez, sang a self-penned great tune titled ‘Tahiti’, explaining how her close girlfriends invented this escape route from teenage stress by making up a goal to go to Tahiti every time it got to be too much for them. Rodriguez also sang a mournful song of ‘All The Wasted Time’, written from a young girl’s point of view with an absent father who never showed up for birthdays, dates with his daughter, or anything else of significance in her life. (Definitely not her own Dad, who sat in the audience beaming at his daughter, and singing along word for word to her tunes).  David McLachlan brought us back to the gospel with ‘Good To Be Back Home’ and ‘Bless This House’, while Paul Francis brought the true patriot side of Canada to the event with ‘Winter Time in Canada’ and ‘Family Day’. Don St. Martin kept it country by with his great tune ‘You’re What The Angels Remind Me Of’; Betty Maye performed a song for the first time ‘Ask My Heart’ with accompaniment by Gaye Hike whose self-penned ‘Saskatchewan Sky’ stated ‘you’re somebody else’s heartache now’ which not to be confused with a love song was about a daughter moving out West with her new love, and her Mom missing her. Catalina, brother and sister duo of Rebekka and Colby (recently signed to Sun Records in Nashville) performed their new single (to be released to radio May 2) ‘Here We Go Again’, while Drew Ditmore with Brandon Scott gave us a unique rendition of James Taylor’s ‘Fire & Rain’, mentioning it was one his parent’s favourite songs. Ditmore then bared his soul, as all good country singers do, by performing ‘Goodbye My Friend’, a tune written about his close friend who drowned last year, leaving behind a young family and a legacy of friendship.  

Board members of the CMAO also got up and showed their stuff; Laura Ranier gave us a sample of the great tunes she writes while in Nashville, writing and co-writing with industry professionals; but still showing the newcomers what is like to get up and bare your soul with just vocals and guitar. Ranier did a wonderful job showing them it is all in the song, as well as her confident stage presence; deciding to go on stage and perform as a last minute initiative. Another board member, Peter Linseman, showed his country side with the catchy ditty of ‘Two Step Too’. Linseman is a seasoned musician, writer and also runs a company called Music Mentor Productions and thus has established himself as a versatile producer and trusted manager. 

Heather Ostertag & Bruce GoodHeather Ostertag & Bruce GoodThe whole event was hosted by none other than Bruce Good (of The Good Brothers) who was  indefatigable, doing stage set-up for each performer, coaching side stage prior to performance, and giving kind encouraging words for each and every one of them, stating “this is not about judging anyone, this is about performing, and showing our songs.” The Good Brothers were a mainstay in the Canadian industry throughout the ‘70’s, with their own blend of country, rock and bluegrass; taking songs like ‘Fox On the Run’ and making it their own, while doing renditions of classics like Jay and the Americans ‘Come A Little Bit Closer’ and making it country. With 8 Junos to their names, numerous Country Awards and an induction into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame in 2004, Bruce Good was the perfect talent to show the next round of hopefuls what success they could have in Canada and beyond. 

It can be said music is the very soul of this country, and reflects the true identity of Canada. As the country talent evolves to embrace new styles, reflecting new versions of our Canadian identity, it is important to recognize our heritage and thank the ones who came before us who were responsible for creating the path. It is events like this one that could be seeing the  future Shania, another Doc Walker or the new Jason McCoy. These events give these singer/songwriters a chance to break into the market. You never know who could be in the audience, and these performers sang like they were at the ACC. 

Cashbox Canada encourages you to support Associations like the CMAO. Join them as a member or a supporter to continue to show the world how talented our Canadian country performers are and how much we have to offer the world of music.