The 1st Annual Midwest CMA Awards: A Community Comes Together

By Andrew Ellis, Editor-in-Chief

​It had all been building up to this. We talked about it in the meetings that lead to the launch of the Midwest Country Music Association, and had toted has one of the major benefits of becoming a member. Sunday, February 17th it became a reality. It was a celebration unlike the Midwest scene had ever seen.

The craziness started as the red carpet was about to begin and you could see the guests beginning to arrive. And they all came dressed to impress in their own way. There were plenty of cowboy hats, bolo ties, tuxedos, dresses, gowns, and styles that rivaled those you see on the red carpet at the ACM’s or CMA’s.

The red carpet itself was is own kind of craziness, which is expected for the first year. It was a mix of following the detailed schedule of having each nominee walk the red carpet at a certain time, and pulling other nominees aside for quick interviews when someone else was running late. At one point if you looked down the carpet as nominees, members, and fans were making their way you could see that it looked like legit red carpet. People were stopping for photos and interviews. The energy was electric.

The interviews with each nominee were pretty short: How does it feel to be nominated? What can we expect from you this year? What do you like most about being a Midwest CMA member? The answer to that last question had a lot to do with finally finding a community, or a family, of likeminded people.

As the final nominees made their way down the red carpet it was almost time for the show to start. Announcer Shayne Michaels politely urged everyone to find their seats, and the lights dimmed soon after.

He announced the co-hosts, founding board Paul Thomas and executive producer of the awards show Jamey Worley. Only Jamey made it to the stage, and when Thomas didn’t show up they launched into their first bit where PT had gone to the Edina Entertainment Center instead of the Medina Entertainment Center. She was talking to him on her cell phone, (his part was re-recorded) and the bit got a great laugh from the audience. It ended with PT running on stage to embrace Jamey.

A Celebration of Country Music’s Many Influences

After a short welcome message they let the night kick into high, electrified gear with the Devon Worley Band performing their song “Black River Magic,” a little bit of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” and then ending with their own “Broken Record.” They received a nice touch of fiddle from Hitchville’s Ben Goeb and Shalo Lee Band’s Bettina Villamill.

That began a night that while it was labeled as an awards show, was really a celebration of the country music community in the Midwest as a whole. There were 12 different music segments featuring more than 30 different musicians from the organization, and they were mixed in between the 16 awards that were to be handed out.

Hitchville was the second music segment featuring a string section that added a nice touch their ballad. As lead singers Heidi and Matt both sang you were reminded of why they’re one of the most popular country acts in the region.

The next segment featured the first a few tributes to the women who have given so much to the history of country music. Fan favorites the Farmer’s Daughters took the stage with The Jensen Sisters and Sailor Jerri to sing of their favorite country classics while also sharing some of their originals, which showed just how unique they all are.

Female domination continued with singer-songwriters Dayna Koehn, Sarah Morris, and Vicky Emerson all playing parts of their originals songs. Each was able to showcase their unique sounds with Koehn’s signature voice filling the room, and Morris and Emerson’s calmer but confident vocals highlight how lyrically strong their songs are.

After another award it was time for a tribute to Southern rock – the Plott Hounds’ specialty. And helped that their lead singer Noah Alexander is from Atlanta, which added nice touch of authenticity to the segment. He was joined by up-and-coming artist Anderson Daniels and Up South’s Mike Villalva who each took turns on lead vocals.

Then it was time for blues and gospel to be given the spotlight. Chaunte Shayne started it off with an energetic take on one of her originals, and it led naturally into a powerful rendition of Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High on that Mountain” featuring the Shalo Lee Band, Hitchville’s Matt Kneefe, and a gospel choir.

The next tribute to the women of country music hit the stage in the form of Girls Night Out, a tribute band who specializes in giving women in country music spotlight. The main singers were Erica Hanson, who got to perform a little of her own song, and Jennifer Urbach. After that Duluth’s Whiskey Trail hit the stage for an acoustic performance of their original “Nashville.”

After two awards, it was time for a salute to the outlaws. The ones who decided to go against the Nashville grain and do their own thing. A concept many members are following in their own way. Leading the tribute was JT & the Gunslingers with some help from a very animated Mitch Gordon and Jake G. from the Hell Country Truckers.

Following two more awards was a solo number by up-and-comer Erin Grand performing her song “Dangerous.” She also joined Jake Nelson and Mark Stone for the following segment devoted to country’s pop influences that included Nelson’s own “Bad News” and an unexpected rendition of Blake Shelton’s “Boys Round Here.”

The music segment included a lot of guitars and they all turned it up one final time. The Devon Worley Band, JT, Shalo Lee, Noah and Catfish from The Plott Hounds, and Todd Owen. There was also the surprise of some saxophone by Zoot, a guy the Devon Worley Band had let sit in with them the previous night. No one was complaining.

And the Award Goes to…

The categories the first year round were tough, with each nominee equally as deserving as the next. The Jason Paulson Band took home the Americana Artist of the Year, with Paulson’s band accepting since he’s was in the hospital. Jake Nelson took home both Video of the Year and Song of the Year for “You’re Not Alone.” It was bittersweet as the friend he wrote that song for lost his battle with depression that previous Tuesday.

Anderson Daniels took home the New Artist of the Year Award, and Zac Norton took home Songwriter of the Year. The Maverick Award also went to Zak Norton who ended up giving it to Paul Thomas for starting this whole organization in the first place. The Tribute Act of the Year went to the Thrillbillies, and The Plott Hounds took home Album of the Year for their Lost Summer EP and also later one took home Band of the Year, too.

Then it was time for the awards for those who don’t get the recognition they deserve. Studio Engineer of the Year went to Todd Fitzgerald, Live Sound Engineer of the Year went to Tom Pickard, and Chris Walden took home Concert Photographer of the Year.

The Legacy Award was presented by founding board member Paul Thomas and went to Neil Freeman of Total Country BOB FM. This was very fitting for the first year as BOB FM has been steadfast in their support of local country artists, and have given many members their first spins on the radio.

Erin Grand ended up taking home Female Vocalist of the Year, and Chris Kroeze ended up taking Male Vocalist of the Year. He also capped the night off by taking home Entertainer of the Year as well.

The Beginning of a Movement

In the end this was more than an awards show. It was a celebration of the country music scene in the Midwest, and a confirmation what the Midwest CMA has set out to do since the beginning – supporting and building a community of artists, fans, and businesses.

The ingredients are all there. This night proved that. Now it’s time to foster that community like farmers tend to their crops. Texas, Bakersfield, and many more places have already left their mark on country music. Fly over states no more. The Midwest is on deck.

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