The 8th CMC Music Awards prove the future of country music lay with a bright new generation of talent

It was Country Music’s night-of-nights on Thursday, March 15th, with the biggest local and international acts flocking to The Star on the Gold Coast to celebrate the biggest fan-voted awards in the southern hemisphere.

The 8th Annual CMC Music Awards started on the red carpet, just outside on the hotel casino grounds. There was a relaxed and laid-back feeling in the air. Although there was obvious excitement over who would take home an award, you got the sense everyone knew each other and wanted to have a good time regardless if they were nominated or not.

Walking the red carpet was songwriter Allan Caswell; family trio Jetty Road; the Sunny Cowgirls sisters; new artist nominees Imogen Clark, Rachael Fahim and Hayley Jensen; recent Golden Guitar winners female artist of the year, Aleyce Simmonds and Qantaslink New Talent of the Year, Brad Butcher; and The Block favourites Michael and Carlene Duffy.

James Blundell walked the red carpet with son, Briar. The Good Life’s Casey Barnes and wife Michelle looked the perfect pair. Tom Busby (from Busby and Marou) looked smart in his father’s vintage jacket, as did Matt Cornell in his red blazer with black lapel, alongside his Mum, Cheryl. Subversive City Bound Trains artist Paddy McHugh wore a ‘Stop Adani’ t-shirt in aid of the important coal mine movement. And Fanny Lumsden showed off her pregnancy belly in an off-the-shoulder floral dress with matching flower crown.

Stopping for a quick chat, Australian-born/Canadian-bred and winner of 24 Canadian Country Music Association awards, Gord Bamford said, “The greatest thing about country music is there are all sorts of different sounds happening. It’s really broadened the demographic of listeners.”

Newcomer Abbie Ferris, wearing a custom Racy & Lucky pale pink, lace dress, revealed she has finished work on her first single, recorded with Michael Carpenter from Love Hz Studios in Sydney. The single will be released mid-2018. She said, “I was lucky enough to come here last year. This is my second year and it’s always nerve-wracking and exciting. I’m a very young artist and I’ve looked up to all these people here. It’s an honour to walk with them on this red carpet.”

Country-rock musician Brook Chivell had extra reason to smile, celebrating his birthday on the night. With his latest music video “Hot Country Girl” a continuation of Natalie Pearson’s “Mr Wrong”, I asked about the possibility of a third collaboration. He responded, “We’ve been thinking about doing a duet. It’s easier to write songs when you’re not thinking about where you’re going with it. She’s like, ‘We need to do this and this in the video so we need to write a song that allows us to do those things.’ Whatever we decide on, we’ll make a video and that’ll be part three. At least that’s the goal anyway.”

Dan + Shay were enjoying their first trip to Australia and keen to check out the local beaches, leaving the cold and rainy weather in the US behind. The best dressed males on the carpet (at least in my humble opinion), Dan said, “You guys have cool accents to us so we feel we at least have to try and look cool!”

The ‘Tequila’ duo mentioned how excited they were to present at the awards and enjoy the night. With Shay adding, “We’ve heard stories that they like to party down here so we like to test that theory. We’ve met a lot of great artists here, so we’re excited to make some new friends and maybe have some tequila tonight ourselves.”

Another International band making their Australian debut were the Davisson Brothers Band. Keen to perform their latest single “Po’ Boyz” that weekend at the sold-out CMC Rocks in Ipswich; I spoke to lead guitarist Chris Davisson about their music and their excitement to play at the festival.

He said, “It represents a good honest living and that’s what we’re all about. Hard working people and we cater to normal everyday folks so country music captures that. I’m interested in seeing how your culture is. I’m looking forward to meeting the people and connecting with that. It’s our first visit here and we love it! It’s a very good experience for us. We’ve heard all kinds of great stories. [Partying] is what we’re known for too! I think that’s one of the big things we have in common.”

All eyes were on Darius Rucker though – lead singer of 90s rock band Hootie & the Blowfish turned country singer – who had a quick word. “I love Australia. I’ve been here a few times. The people are cool!”

After the red carpet ended, guests, celebrities and musicians were ushered into their seats. Recorded live for Foxtel’s County Music Channel (815) – the 8th CMC Music Awards had officially begun.

Country super-group The McClymonts played host on the night, all dressed in white, (replacing “Kiss Somebody”‘s Morgan Evans, host of two years previously, while on tour with The Afterlove’s James Blunt). Brooke, alongside her sisters Samantha and heavily-pregnant Mollie, praised the men on the red carpet, stating, “A lot more suits than cowboys boots [this year!]”

The night kicked off with a high-energy performance of ‘Shoot Me Straight’ from American duo, Brothers Osborne. It was the perfect song and performance to kick off what would be a great night, while giving us a taste of what American country music is all about. With up-tempo lyrics about alcohol and making bad decisions, the song featured a catchy lick and an electrifying guitar solo. Honestly, I thought it would be a hard act to follow.

American television and radio broadcaster, Storme Warren entertained the audience during the live ad breaks, before we returned live backstage to Brooke attempting a selfie with Nashville’s Old Dominion for her daughter, who mistook the band for “Da Minions”. The band later sang their catchy-AF single, “No Such Thing As A Broken Heart”,

Crowd favourite, Lee Kernaghan took to the stage to present the Rob Potts tribute, CMC New Artist of the Year award. Renamed and dedicated to the veteran concert promoter and executive who died in a tragic motorcycle accident last year, Kernaghan spoke as a touching photo montage played on screen to Alan Jackson’s “Remember When”.

“Tonight, I’m here to honour a very special friend to this room. Rob became my booking agent 25 years ago for my very first show in Wollongong. Only 11 people showed up and that included people from the record company. But Rob never stopped believing and he continued to encourage and support me throughout my career. Although he’s no longer with us, Rob’s spirit lives on and he continues to be a giant within our industry. It’s incredibly fitting that CMC has chosen this Rob Potts memorial award celebrating our finest new artists and honouring one of our all-time greats.”

Speaking to Kernaghan earlier on the red carpet he said, “He had a monumental impact on the shape of country music. What it is today, it wouldn’t be what it is today without Rob. He had an incredible vision and he dreamed big. He’s very much responsible for launching the careers of people like Keith Urban, Jessica Mauboy, Tommy Emmanuel and Morgan Evans in America. He built a bridge between Australian music and American music and the result is these incredible awards. I feel honoured to [present the award tonight]. He’s a great mate. We love him and we miss him very much.”

The award went to Tailgate Drive, whose first single ‘Bury Me In Blue Jeans’ reached the Top 10. Tailgate Drive is the merging together of well-known, local Australian country Artists, Troy Kemp (formally of McAlister Kemp fame) and Damien Baguley of the Viper Creek Band.

Although Kemp joked that they are, “The oldest new talent ever!” he went on to say, “It’s such an honour to receive the first Rob Potts award. He was an amazing man.”

The duo heads to the US later this year and plan to release more singles. Kemp’s latest single “Beach Mode” is out now off his future upcoming album. Baguley will join Adam Brand‘s Milestones tour on selective dates and continue his band commitments.

About Tailgate Drive, Kemp said, “It’s a side experiment outside of Troy Kemp and the Viper Creek band but we’ve gotten a lot of love for it. We play local around the Newcastle area where we live and we’ll get 200 people turn up every night to watch us play. It’s gone really well. Hopefully moving forward we’ll put out some new songs and if people dig it, we’ll keep giving it to them. That’s the plan!”

Nashville’s Dan + Shay thanked Rucker for the bottle of tequila they took from his dressing room, before presenting Best Group or Duo to The McClymonts. 2018 marks their third Group or Duo win (also second year running), bringing their total number of CMC wins to four. After accepting their award, Samantha joked, “We’ll be back in hosting mode after the break.”

Amber Lawrence and Travis Collins then performed their award-winning song, ‘Our Backyard’ with guitarist Mickey Pye. The seven-track EP of the same name was a side project for the two, who both have their own established solo careers.

When asked by Brooke if there were plans for future collaborations, Collins laughed, “We’ve talked about collaborating and writing ‘Our Frontyard.’” Amber added, “If you hadn’t won the Group of the Year and we had, we might have changed our minds.” Before both stating they would like to collaborate again in the future but are currently focusing on their own solo projects.

Recently engaged, Lawrence recently spent time in the US working on new music. Collins will have a new album out later this year, predicating a June release with a not-too-far-away single. The twelve track album is the first Collins has had a hand in writing each of the songs. The album was recorded in Nashville in January, alongside producer Luke Wooten, who has previously worked with Brad Paisley, Dierks Bentley and Australia’s own The Wolfe Brothers.

“There’s something wrong if you don’t think every new album is the best work you’ve done. It’s going to be really interesting to see how people take this up. Song writing-wise, we didn’t really change the approach. It’s all raw and honest. But there’s a lot of deeper grooves on this record, and I think that came from having a band of Nashville players and a limited time to do it. We really didn’t over think things. We went in and recorded a record that was the motto, “if it feels good, do it” so I’m excited about it!” Collins said on the red carpet.

Before presenting four-time Grammy Award-winning Keith Urban with the award for International Video of the Year for “The Fighter” (featuring Carrie Underwood); Warren and Brand enjoyed some on-stage name banter and spoke of Brand’s Sicilian heritage.

Later, Lawrence and Canada’s Dan Brody presented Urban with the award for iHeartRadio International Artist of the Year. Urban accepted both awards via satellite from the studio where he’s currently working on his new album.

Next, “Bad” singer Caitlyn Shadbolt and Americana-influenced singer Kirsty Lee Akers awarded Brand with Australian Video of the Year for his single “Drunk” shot at Brisbane’s Johnny Ringo’s. Brand, thanking his Brandwagon support crew, said, “I love youse all! You just don’t get up here without a humongous, amazing team behind you!”

Brooke then joked, “And just like you have suggested in the video clip [‘Drunk’], we will be doing exactly that after this evening’s events,” before Bamford and Tania Kernaghan presented the ARIA Highest Selling Australian Album of the Year award to her brother Lee. The love for him in the room was palpable.

I asked Kernaghan earlier how he felt about receiving such a prestigious award. He replied, “It truly blows me away! There’s not a day goes by that I’m not grateful for each and every person who has come out to my shows and listened to my music over that period of time. [I’m] truly grateful [and] thrilled!”

The 25th Anniversary Album sold over two million copies on the Australian charts and features duets with John Williamson, Troy Cassar-Daley, Kasey Chambers and Adam Harvey, just to name a few.

Kemp and Collins announced Highest Selling International Album of the Year to Shania Twain; before Tennessee-native Kelsea Ballerini performed her cheeky yet heartfelt single, “I Hate Love Songs”. In her mint green dress with a bedazzled-star on the torso, sparse small silver lights illuminated the darkened room.

Ballerini, who first met Evans when she co-hosted the CMC Music Awards with him in 2015, slightly changed the lyrics on the night with small nods to her Australian husband and ending with the ever-sweet, “CMC, I love you.” The pair married late last year.

Speaking to Ballerini earlier about being called Mrs Evans, she proclaimed she’s not used to it yet and is procrastinating to file the paperwork, but in her heart, she is Kelsea Evans.” She also mentioned how weird it was being back at the awards without her husband being by her side, but said she was excited nonetheless.

Missy Lancaster and Lumsden awarded Male Artist of the Year, for the second year running it went to Hard Light’s Collins. Collins was absent when his name got read, so the award was collected by wife Bec on his behalf. “I was worried because I have his pass in my bag and I thought he might have been stuck out the back!” she laughed.

The “Hometown Calling” singer arrived on stage looking shocked and stunned by his win, saying, “It’s a pretty poignant year in the fact of the tragic passing of Rob Potts. There was no other man I knew with that passion, that zest for country music and one of the greatest things he told me one time, he said, ‘Ain’t it about time country stopped being the poor cousin of rock n roll?!’. This one’s for Pottsy!”

Speaking to the humble star earlier that day, he said, “Here’s the thing about this night, any artists who that says they don’t want to win one is full of crap. What these awards mean to us and the fact that the fans vote them, they’re so special. We’re blown away if we do win but we’re not disheartened if we don’t, because I’m looking around at this carpet right now and there’s so many of my personal friends who all work equally as hard, who are equally as talented. It’s the nature of awards – a lot of people deserve them but there’s only one award. But whether it’s me getting up to accept it or me standing up on my feet to applaud for someone I’ve worked with, I’m equally as happy [and] proud to be here. This is a great night for country music.”

Adam Eckersley (who is currently touring the album he made with wife Brooke McClymont) and American artist Brett Young presented Female Artist of the Year to “Loaded” performer, Christie Lamb. Accepting the award, she gushed over Young, “I’m a little bit embarrassed because on the red carpet I was asked who my International crush was and he’s standing right there!”

On the red carpet Lamb announced, “I’m really looking forward to recording a new album. I went to Nashville last year to write all the songs. I’m been picking them down, deciding what’s going to be on the album and booking in that studio time this year.”

The Wolfe Brothers next performed their latest single “Ain’t Seen It Yet”, off their newly-released number 1 album, Country Heart. Joined on stage by former-drummer Casey Kostuik and keyboardist Liam Kennedy-Clark; the Tasmanian trio displayed a new sound with  killer vocals by lead singer, Nick Wolfe, giving the International artists a run for their money for performance of the night. Complete with overzealous dancing from a couple in the audience, they received the largest ovation of the night.

Then it was on to the big one! Australian Artist of the Year presented by Ballerini, with Brand humbly and graciously accepting the award for the seventh time, once again dedicating the win to his fan base: the Brandwagon.

I spoke to Brand earlier on the red carpet about celebrating his twentieth year in the music industry and what we can expect from his upcoming Milestones tour.

“Every show is a surprise for me because I never know what I’m going to do,” Brand joked. “The fact that it’s a momentous year for me – the fact that it’s 20 years – I think every show, something’s going to happen. I’m expecting at the end of the year to have some kind of scrapbook of all the crazy things that happened. There’s going to be lots in store!”

Joining him on tour with be bassist and right-hand man Cornell, who revealed he’s about to drop a new single of his own very soon. The tour will take him to small yet unique country pubs and towns, and places he’s never been before.

His greatest hits album of the same name, will be launched at the iconic Rooty Hill RSL in New South Wales and released July 13th, and features old, new and unreleased songs, including his first ever demo.

Speaking to former member of McAlister Kemp and one fifth of Adam Brand’s super-group the Outlaws, Drew McAlister (who helped pen Brand’s title track off his upcoming album) said, “When we sat down and wrote it, we went into the city with Mike Carr, sat down for a few hours; and, because Brandy is so concise on what he wants to say, it was a pretty easy picture to paint because it’s his life. We pieced it all together and it’s going to be great knowing what Brandy does.”

The night ended with the McClymonts, singing their 2016 single “House”, with new lyrics reflecting the winners on the night; and Rucker showed why he has enjoyed such career longevity performing “For The First Time” to a fully-standing audience.

The CMC Music Awards celebrated the diversity in country music sound and lyric of both Australian artists and International artists, with the night showcasing how country music is and has changed. It’s not what it used to be or how people still perceive it to be. It was a night full of laughs, catch-ups and celebration, with the party continuing late into the night at The Star’s Garden Kitchen & Bar.

Mallory attended the CMC Music Awards as an invited guest.
Images have been supplied by CMC Australia.