It figures that face-offs would be involved as Country Music Week tunes up for four days in hockey-mad London, Ont.
Home to the Memorial Cup champion London Knights, London is welcoming Canadian country music stars and fans at noon on Thursday with a quick game of ball hockey outside Budweiser Gardens featuring local OHL players against performers such as JoJo Mason and Aaron Pritchett with play-by-play by Chad Brownlee and Jessica Mitchell.
The week is packed with free and paid-admission events at various venues in London. Ball hockey aside, first day highlights include the free, 19-plus, Jack Daniels Country Music Week Kick-off Party at Covent Garden Square beginning at 8 p.m. and the paid-admission CCMA Discovery Showcase happening at the same time at the London Music Hall on Dundas Street.
Hosted by hometown star Beverley Mahood, the Discovery Showcase features six competing, rising star finalists.
At the other end of the spectrum is the CCMA Legends Show at Centennial Hall on Friday night, featuring performers such as George Canyon, Murray McLauchan and The Wilkinsons, the father, daughter and son trio that won CCMA Song of the Year in 1999 for "26 Cents," which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard country chart in the United States and was No. 1 in Canada.
“Tyler and I are really excited,” Amanda Wilkinson said. “It’s been years since we’ve performed with dad (Steve). I’m 34 years old and it’s weird to be considered an icon … I think I’ll be reverting to a 16-year-old.”
The Wilkinson kids, Amanda and Tyler, have rebooted their music careers as Small Town Pistols and will be also be performing as a duo at the Legends Show.
When not onstage themselves, artists like Amanda Wilkinson will be renewing industry acquaintances, meeting fans and checking out what Amanda describes as an incredible number of talented young Canadian country artists.
“It’s the best time for sharing,” she said of Country Music Week. “Throughout the year we’re like touring ghost ships passing each other.”
It’s all a buildup to Sunday night when the 2016 CCMA Awards are handed out at Budweiser Gardens. Broadcast live by CBC beginning at 8 p.m., the awards feature performances from Gord Bamford, Terri Clark, Dean Brody, Johnny Reid and Brett Kissel with Carolyn Dawn Johnson, among other stars. (A complete list of nominees can be found at ccma.org.)
Winners might be known before the Sunday show, at least a nearby sandwich shop hopes so. Wich is Wich hopes to predict the Fans Choice Award winner with a sandwich menu that honours the nominees. There’s the Dean Brody Bush Party BBQ, Brett Kissel Missile, Dallas Smith Side Effect Sampler, Johnny Reid Tartan Army Taster, and Yoan Merci Smoked Meat awaiting peckish and opinionated fans.
-- Wayne Newton is a freelance journalist in London, Ont.