TORONTO — Tenille Townes is making waves in Nashville, but the Alberta-raised musician says her heart will be back home this weekend for the biggest night in Canadian country music.
The 26-year-old singer-songwriter from Grande Prairie, Alta., is the leading six-time nominee at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards on Sunday where she'll also perform.
And while it certainly marks a career milestone for Townes, she'll be experiencing the thrill from south of the border, watching the pre-taped awards ceremony that was produced last month.
"It is a very strange way to celebrate those victorious moments... That collaborative spirit of everybody being in the same city, in the same room, is irreplaceable," she says of this year's COVID-19 edition of the CCMA Awards, which airs on Global TV.
But Townes doesn't waste a second before shifting towards a more optimistic perspective.
She's happy the CCMA Awards came together in a desperately tough year for the music industry, one which has seen concert tours scrapped and many performers left with few options but to wait out the virus.
"I think it's challenging us to really push for the pieces of silver lining," she said.
"I know for me, turning to music has been such an anchor of sanity and good feelings in a very uncertain time."
In that sense, the CCMA Awards could be therapeutic for many country fans looking for a celebration that highlights the perseverance of the music genre.
Townes is nominated this year in categories that include female artist, songwriter, entertainer of the year, and the fans' choice award.
Other leading contenders Dean Brody and Brett Kissel picked up five nods each. Both will vie for album, male artist, entertainer of the year, and the fans' choice award.
James Barker Band, the Reklaws and Dallas Smith hold four nominations apiece.
The hostless CCMA Awards show taped over four days in late August as organizers responded to the realities of the pandemic.
A majority of the night was filmed at the outdoor Burl's Creek Event Grounds in Oro-Medonte, Ont., near Barrie, home of the Boots & Hearts Music Festival, while other parts were recorded in Nashville.
There will be appearances by international artists Kane Brown, Sam Hunt and Tim McGraw, and performances by Canadians Don Amero, Jess Moskaluke and country singer Tebey who will duet with Quebecois pop star Marie Mai.
Most winners already know the outcome of their categories, but CCMA representatives say many of them will react on their social media platforms during the broadcast.
A number of awards that aren't televised will be handed out in a separate live event on the CCMA Instagram account on Saturday evening.
Townes, who shot her portions of the CCMA Awards stateside, has a storied history with the organization that stretches back to when she was a budding teenage artist.
The singer pulled in her first nomination nearly a decade ago when she was 17, but it wasn't until last year when she emerged the big winner, picking up four trophies, including female artist and single of the year for "Somebody's Daughter."
Since then her popularity has been on the rise, helped by the release of her first major-label album "The Lemonade Stand" under Columbia Nashville in June.
Critics praised the record as a heart-thumping pocketful of optimism, with songs like "Holding Out for the One" and "Come As You Are" considered the sorts of beer-bottle clanking anthems that would've rocked the bar in any other year. In the face of the pandemic, those songs found homes on streaming music playlists and country radio stations.
"Jersey On The Wall (I'm Just Asking)," which also appears on her album, is nominated twice at the CCMA Awards, for video of the year and songwriters of the year, a nod which Townes shares with co-writers Tina Parol and Gordie Sampson.
"It's such a wonderful feeling to have the community that I grew up inspired by really wrapping their arms around this music," Townes said of the recognition.
"The fact that the songs are being heard out there, it's such a dream."
Among the CCMA categories slated to be given out on the broadcast are entertainer of the year, where the Reklaws and Dallas Smith are nominated alongside Townes, Brody and Kissel.
Single of the year nominees are Jade Eagleson ("Count the Ways"), Smith ("Drop"), James Barker Band ("Keep It Simple"), High Valley ("Single Man") and Brody ("Whiskey in a Teacup").
Album of the year nominees include Brody's "Black Sheep," Kissel's "Now or Never," Tenille Arts for "Love, Heartbreak, & Everything Between," James Barker Band's "Singles Only" and Meghan Patrick with "Wild As Me."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published September 23, 2020.
David Friend, The Canadian Press