It seems like just yesterday we were counting down from 2016 to 2017, it’s amazing how time flies when you’re having fun. 2017 also known as Canada 150 came with its share of highlights from the JUNOs to the Grey Cup and plenty of amazing milestones in between. Here’s a look back at the year that was and the year, we predict, lies ahead in 2018.

Every year a slew of emerging artists start a year with the dream that it will be there year to breakthrough. Below are the artists that we feel had an extraordinary 2017. When I first started writing this I had intended to make it all genre encompassing, turns out I was busier than expected over the holidays and just didn’t have the time I needed to sit down and dig as deep as I had originally wanted. For this year I’ll keep it simple, but if you’re reading this and are a huge rock, pop, or whatever fan and want to join the team as a writer get in touch!

Canadian Country Music…The Ladies

2017 was a strong year for the ladies of country music both in Canada and in the United States. A number of strong female artists started their ascent this year and past stars returned to the limelight to remind us not to count them out just yet.

Jess Moskaluke accepts her JUNO Award for Country Artist of the Year photo Dave DiUbaldo

Our pick for Female Artist of the Year for 2017 has to be Jess Moskaluke. Although Moskaluke had been recognized within the country music community with three straight Female Artist of the year nods at the Canadian Country Music Awards (2014, 2015 & 2016) her JUNO win in the spring, for her album Kiss Me Quietwas recognition by the Canadian music community as an artist worth writing home about.

Moskaluke released her latest album, Past the Past, in November and both of it’s singles, released to date, have cracked the top 20 on the Canadian Country Chart. Moskaluke is showing no signs of slowing down but it looks like she’ll have a challenger in our 2017 Breakthrough Country Artist for 2018.

Meghan Patrick performs at Trackside Music Festival photo by Kayla Winkworth

Another female country artist had a big year in 2017, Meghan Patrick. We’re naming her our Breakthrough Female Country Artist of 2017. Only a year after the release of her debut album, Grace and Grit, Patrick exploded into the Country Music Association of Ontario Awards and Canadian Country Music Association Awards with a combined total of 10 nominations out of which she took home hardware for 6 of them including Female Artist of the Year at both the Ontario and National level.

With her follow up album (click on the title to purchase), Country Music Made Me Do It, we fully expect that she’ll see continued success and would not be one bit surprised if she were to land a JUNO nomination in February. Patrick is currently touring with the James Barker Band as part of their Game On Tour which kicked off last night in Halifax, take our word for it when we tell you that the Game On Tour is a must for all country fans.

Shania Twain performs during the 2017 Grey Cup Halftime Show in Ottawa – Photo: Renée Doiron

Our pick for Canadian Female Country Album of the Year has to go to, the reigning Queen of Canadian Country Music, Shania Twain. After contracting lyme disease a few years ago we all feared we may never get new music from Twain again. But she battled back against the disease and rose up releasing, Now, her first album in 15 years and one of the most anticipated albums in her career.

Twain will be taking on the world in 2018 with her “Shania Now Tour

Canadian Female Country Artist – Ones to Watch in 2018

Sandi Skye performs at the Lasso in Pembroke photo Rob Blanchette

The force is strong amongst the women in Canadian country music. Much like the men this category has been dominated by the likes of Kira Isabella, Madeline Merlo, Jess Moskaluke to name just a few. Once in a while we get a taste for something new, here are a few artists we think could rise in 2018.

  • Tareya – the other half of my favourite Canadian country duo, Autumn Hill, Tareya Green has gone solo. She released her debut single, “Summer Wheels” in the late spring of 2017. Although this track is notably country something tells us Tareya won’t let genre to define her which puts her at the top of the list for us. Details are still scarce about when we’ll see her debut solo album arrive but we wouldn’t be surprised if it arrives before the summer festival season, nor would we be surprised if her name turns up as part of festival lineups in 2018.
  • Sykamore – she’s already performed on stage at Boots and Hearts, had a record, “Petal“, featured on TV’s “Heartland” all leading up to the biggest development in her career, a worldwide publishing contract with Home Team Publishing after founder Rhett Akins (along with artist/son Thomas Rhett and manager Virginia Davis) discovered her music via Twitter. With a new album, Self + Medicine, is set to be released January 5, 2018, we have no doubt Sykamore will have a bit year ahead. You can purchase the single, “Better Half”, here.
  • Augusta Ray – this is a name that’s been tossed around a fair bit throughout 2017. Having performed with some pretty big names including The Road Hammers, Montgomery Gentry, CAM, Big and Rich and set to kick off 2018 Kickin’ It With Kissel as she performs with Brett Kissel in Thunder Bay on February 2.
  • Kelsi Mayne – an alumnus of the Boots and Hearts Emerging Artist showcase Mayne has been honing her musical craft for years but it was 2017 where we got our first taste an original Kelsi Mayne track with the release of “Still Not Over You“.
  • Jessica Mitchell – how can any watch list be complete without the wonderful Jessica Mitchell. She’s only one of the most amazing women in the industry and wears her heart on her sleeve and in her music. Her songs a relevant and relatable. Could 2018 be her year?
  • Sandi Skye – Sandi’s name may not be well known too far out of Ottawa’s city limits but we think it’s just a matter of time before that changes. Sandi has played a integral part in a number of our events over the past few years. With new music coming this year we think it’s time that the rest of Canada starts to tune in and listen.

International Female Country Artist – Ones to Watch

Carly Pearce at Budweiser Stage Photo: Kayla Winkworth

2017 was a big year for the tomatoes, aka the women of country music, in the USA. A number of names made their mark. Here’s a list of a few we think will continue their rise in 2018. Everyone knows Nashville’s leading ladies so we want to shine the spotlight on a few up and comers.

  • Ashley McBride – if you haven’t heard the song “Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” do yourself a favour and check it out. We have no idea where Dahlonega is but there’s just something about this song that makes us turn it up and want to sing along. It’s a brilliant song with a powerful message that tells listeners that there’s still hope when all hope seems lost. Her follow-up single “Tired of Being Happy” is equally tune-in worthy. I expect 2018 will be a big year for Ashley and you’ll be hearing more of her on Canadian country radio.
  • Kelleigh Bannen – When we first heard her single “Church Clothes” we got this feeling, a feeling that we were listening to something special. It’s a heartbreaking song about a love that has turned cold but it’s beautifully written.
  • Carly Pearce – Canada is just starting their love affair with Carly Pearce. We can thank SiriusXM The Highway for introducing her to us late in 2016, Pearce has had an incredible year in 2017; She signed with Scott Borchetta’s Big Machine Records and her debut single “Every Little Thing” hit Number 1 on the US and Canadian Country Airplay charts. Here’s hoping we both see and hear more from Carly in 2018.

Canadian Country Music…The Men

As 2017 came to an end there were glimmers of hope that some new cowboys would join the band of brothers in Canadian country music. For the last few years the Canadian Country Music scene was dominated by the likes of Tim Hicks, Dean Brody, Brett Kissel, Gord Bamford and Dallas Smith to name just a few could change be coming as 2018 dawns? Some new faces emerged into the limelight in 2017 and we could see some big breakthroughs in 2018.

Dallas Smith performs at TD Place in Ottawa. Photo: Renée Doiron

It was tough to pick our Male Country Artist of the Year for 2017. Several artists had extremely notable success this year but one artist, Dallas Smith, has seen 3 singles hit the top 10 (two of which hit #1) adding to his three top 10 singles from his latest album,Side Effects, in 2015 & 2016. Add to that a JUNO nomination for Side Effects and 4 CCMA Nominations, 2 of which he took home hardware for, and a hugely successful “Side Effects Tour” with guests Lauren Alaina, The Cadillac Three, Andrew Hyatt and Shawn Austin.

I’d say that’s grounds enough to give this title to Dallas Smith for 2017.


Canadian Male Country Artist – Ones to Watch in 2018

Danny Sylvestre performs at the Lasso in Pembroke photo Rob Blanchette

We didn’t see any major breakthroughs by the emerging male artists in 2017 but there are a few we’d like to add to our list of ones to watch in 2018. These artists were just starting to see some traction as 2017 came to an end.

  • Shawn Austin – signed to Dallas Smith’s Steelhead Music, Austin has had quite the fall joining Dallas on his Side Effects Tour across Canada and really gaining momentum thanks, in part, to his hot debut single “Paradise Found“. If he can keep up that momentum into 2018 it will be a big year for him without a doubt.
  • Petric – another Steelhead Music alum, Petric continued to work quietly in the background in 2017. With a new EP, 18 Ends, just released in November and a world class team at Steelhead in their corner 2018 could see big things for these Manitoba brothers.
  • Dan Davidson – another rocker turned country. Davidson first broke out onto the Canadian country music scene in 2016 when his debut single “Found” rocketed up the charts making him the #1 indie artist in Canada. 2017 saw him add an EP, Songs for Georgiaand a slew of nominations including Rising Star and Songwriter of the Year at the Canadian Country Music Awards. What will 2018 bring for Dan Davidson? We won’t have to wait long Davidson hits the road with Brett Kissel on Jan 13 as part of the “We Were That Song Tour” and they’re heading across Canada so don’t miss it!
  • Wes Mack – our buddy Wes Mack has been focusing on his acting career since we last connected with him a few years ago but 2018 will see him return to music with a new single “House on Fire” expected on January 12.
  • Danny Sylvestre – Danny is another Ottawa regional addition to our watch list. We’ve been lucky enough to catch Danny several times over the past year and with new music expected in 2018 we truly believe he has every chance at making some waves in the Canadian country music industry.


Brett Kissel @ We Day Ottawa 2017 (Canadian Tire Centre) Photo by Els Durnford (@elsdurnford)

Few of the Canadian male artists release new music in 2017, but one of the albums that was released in the past 12 months really stands out to me in particular.

Brett Kissel was one of the first Canadian country artists that I got to know. We met just before his major label debut was released and I’ve watched him grow as a person and as an artist over those past 4 or 5 years.

We Were That Song is an album that truly reflects his coming of age as a person, a parent, a husband and an artist. It’s for this reason that Brett Kissel’s We Were That Song is my pick for Canadian Male Country Album of the Year for 2017. Be sure to catch Brett starting on January 13 as he travels coast to coast across Canada with his “We Were That Song Tour” along with our one to watch Dan Davidson.

International Male Country Artist – Ones to Watch

  • Adam Doleac – Mississippi native Doleac had a big year in 2017. He had a hit single “Whiskey’s Fine” and joined our Canadian boys High Valley and Ashley McBride on the Highway Finds Tour. If Doleac continues with the momentum he closed out 2017 with in 2018 he’s going to have a big year. All I can say is look out Blake and Luke there’s some new guys on the block and they’re ready to make some noise!
  • Drew Baldridge – Another SiriusXM The Highway’s Highway Find. We were introduced to Baldridge with his single “Rebound” which features singer/songwriter Emily Weisband. This was followed by Drew’s performance as part of the spring Highway Finds Tour and then the release of his latest single “Guns & Roses” this fall. It’s impossible not to get hooked on Drew’s sound and style and we can’t wait to see what he’s got in store for 2018. Oh and you can’t miss his trademark live mashup of “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” and “I Like Big Butts“.
  • Morgan Evans – Downunder’s gift to country music also known as the husband of Kelsea Ballerini (the duo wed this past December in Mexico). Evans had a big year in 2017, aside from marrying Ballerini, he released two big singles “Kiss Somebody” and the more recent “I Do“, which was written about his marriage. There’s little doubt that 2018 will be big for Evans, he’s already signed on with Chris Young’s Losing Sleep Tour as well as Cole Swindel’s Down Home Tour this month. We won’t be surprised if we see Evans pop up at a summer festival somewhere in Canada in 2018 either, we can hope anyway.

Canadian Country Music…The Groups

The most contested category in Canadian Country Music is without a doubt the groups. Everyone from The Road Hammers to The River Town Saints released new music in 2017 and all of it was noteworthy. A few new groups have arrived on the scene and could make a big splash in 2018.

Ches Anthony of Cold Creek County performs at the Ole party during JUNOfest in Ottawa photo Dave DiUbaldo

The biggest news of 2017 was from Cold Creek County who, just before the JUNO Awards, announced they had parted ways with their lead singer Brandon Scott. Scott’s replacement, Ches Anthony, was introduced at JUNOfest and in the months that followed there was no question Anthony was a perfect match for the group both vocally and in personality. No doubt it was a risky move to make such a major switch up so close to the biggest event in Canadian Music but it looks like it paid off, the lead out single, and title track, of their 2017 EP Homemade became their highest charting single since 2015’s “Our Town“. We’ve got to give Cold Creek County the title of Canadian Country Music Group of the Year.

James Barker Band performs at Festival Country de Lotbinière photo by Ron Pettitt

Back in 2015, two years after his band was founded, Lindsay, Ontario’s, James Barker and a few of his friends entered the Boots and Hearts Emerging Artist Showcase. Over the months that followed their submission the James Barker Band would make it to the final 8 and then ultimately win the showcase winning an all-inclusive trip to Nashville, Tennessee and the opportunity to open for Thomas Rhett on the Boots and Hearts main stage in front of 40,000 of country music’s biggest fans.

They spent the rest of 2015 and all of 2016 writing and recording and then in April 2017 it was Game OnTheir debut label EP has spawned 4 top 10 singles, two of which (“Lawn Chair Lazy” and “Chills“) were certified Gold by Music Canada. The group went on to garner 9 combined CCMA and CMAO nominations taking home hardware for the CMAO Fan’s Choice Award. We;re calling the James Barker Band our Canadian Country Music Breakthrough Group of the Year.

The James Barker Band is kicking off 2018 with their Game On Tour which also features our Canadian Country Music Breakthrough Female of the Year, Meghan Patrick.

River Town Saints perform at the Crazy Horse Outdoor Parking Lot Party in Kanata / photo: Renée Doiron

Ottawa Valley natives, The River Town Saints, made their festival debut on our own stage at Capital Country Fest in 2015. Since then these guys have been busy touring, starting families and touring some more. In between they’ve been hard at work perfecting their craft and in June of 2017 they released their debut album…aptly titled The River Town Saints.

2017 also saw RTS take home their first ever CMAO Award for video of the year for “Cherry Bomb” which featured another Boots and Hearts Emerging Artist Showcase alum Kelsey Maine as the cherry bomb. This album was so much fun it’s an easy choice for Canadian Country Music Group Album of the Year. If these guys keep up the momentum into 2018 it could very well be their breakthrough year. If you haven’t already you can purchase the album on iTunes here.

Canadian Country Groups – Ones to Watch in 2018

The Washboard Union at Grey Cup Festival (TD Place Arena) Photo by Els Durnford (@elsdurnford)

The list of Canadian country groups that are on the verge of breaking through is honestly enough for a stand alone post but we’ve narrowed it down to the ones we feel have the best chance of success in 2018.

  • Washboard Union – This western Canada sextet has seen massive success since the release of their Warner Music Canada debut EP My Bones. They are 15X country music award winners most recently taking home the hardware for Roots Artist of the year at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards for the second straight year. The group returned to Nashville in December to complete work on their sophomore album which has already spawned a top 10 single “Shine“. With the album due in April of 2018 there’s little doubt that 2018 will be a bit year for the Washboard Union.
  • Chris Buck Band – Chris Buck Band is a name that’s been known to many of us in the Canadian country music industry for a few years now but may not have reached household status, yet, across the country. With a new album, Chris Buck Band, in 2017 and a strategic top 20 single, “That’s When You Know“, featuring Canadian Country starlett Kira Isabella they might just have the momentum to breakout in 2018.
  • Leaving Thomas – Annika Odegard and Bryton Udy aka Leaving Thomas joined up with Mike Denney MDM Recordings in November 2016. 2017 saw the, Calgary based, duo travel across Canada playing festivals and radio gigs and connecting with fans. Late in December their single “Blame it on the Neon” was featured on SiriusXM The Highway’s On The Horizon which is a fantastic indicator that their music is reaching all the right places. Add all of this to the forthcoming release of their debut, self-titled, EP due on January 26 and we’d say that 2018 is already looking to be a big year for this duo.
  • Nice Horse – Our favourite group of cowgirls from Alberta. We had so much fun with Nice Horse at Boots and Hearts this summer these girls have everything going for them. A hot debut album, There Goes the Neighbourhood, was released in 2017, they had showcase performances at the CCMAs, JUNOfest, Big Valley Jamboree, opened for the Kentucky Headhunters and then in November they were named finalists in Alberta’s Project Wild winning $75,000 towards the development of their career in music. Now I don’t know much about horses but something tells me that $75,000 can get some really nice gear for these horses. So if you haven’t already we suggest you “Pony Up” with Nice Horse for 2018, we’ve got a feeling it’s going to be a wild ride!
  • Adelaide – Although little is known about Adelaide as we write this but what we do know is that this is the follow up project for our friend Mike Robbins (formerly of Autumn Hill). Joined by Randie Van Gorp and Andrew Mackay Adelaide is in studio as we speak working on their debut which we expect sometime in early 2018. We are such fans of Mike that we just know Adelaide is a band you’ll want to keep your eye on…stay tuned!
  • Abby and Beamer – Both of these artists have been on our ones to watch before…only they were solo artists. 2017 saw romance bloom with these two emerging talents. Abby from Kingston, Ontario and Beamer from Vancouver, BC…you’d think distance would make it difficult for romance to bloom but music closed that distance and has delivered a new duo. Their debut single “What If They’re Wrong” was released in October, 2017 and they’ve got the powerhouse team at Invictus Entertainment backing them…2018 could be a big year for them.
  • The Lovelocks – Canada’s answer to the Dixie Chicks, the Lovelocks (comprised of Ali Raney and Zoë Sparrow), had a busy year in 2017 writing, touring and recording and it all came down to the release of their single “Staycation” in September. Fortunately for them we have a feeling they won’t be taking a staycation in 2018 as they’ll be too busy touring and playing gigs at venues and festivals across Canada.
  • Buck Twenty – Two years after the release of their debut EP Buck Twenty released a brand new single in 2017 and it could very well be their breakout single. “Here’s To The Nights” is a smooth, well put together country song that every country fan will fall in love with at first listen. What will 2018 have in store for Buck Twenty? Well they’ll be opening for Brett Kissel, again, on his upcoming ‘We Were That Song’ tour stop in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario on February 25 so that’s a decent start.

International Country Group – Ones to Watch

Midland © Eric Fefferman

Another big year for the groups in country music outside of our home and native land. It was a big year for Florida Georgia Line, Dan + Shay and Little Big Town. We saw the return of Lady Antebellum and Sugarland and the rise of some new names. These are the acts that we think made the biggest splash in 2017 and will go on to have a big year in 2018.

  • Midland – The list could honestly start and stop with Midland. When it comes to country music these guys are, by far, our favourite newcomers to the scene. With a new album, On The Rocks, and a slew of festival dates in 2017 Midland can easily be called the breakthrough band of the year. Without a doubt they’re riding that wave into 2018 and something tells us those side stage festival gigs from 2017 will turn into main stage slots by the time the summer of 2018 rolls around.
  • LANco – This Nashville based group were responsible for the song that will be heard at weddings for years to come in 2017. “Greatest Love Story” was an early favourite in our household and with their debut album, Hallelujah Nights, due later this month we fully expect 2018 to be full of promise. LANco has already been confirmed for August’s Trackside Music Festival in London, ON so here’s hoping we see them a few more times on the road in the great white north in 2018.
  • Delta Rae – This North Carolina, based, group will have a “long and happy life” in 2018 if the new year continues the way 2017 went out. The year saw the release of two EPs for the group under Big Machine’s imprint The Valory Music Company: Long and Happy Life and The Blackbird Sessions. Late in the year they released a new single “No Peace No Quiet” which, if all goes the way we think it may, could be foreshadowing for what their 2018 will be like.
  • Hadley Park – Named after their kids Hadley and Parker we were introduced to this duo through their, not so serious, single “Another Bottle of Wine“. After we got to know this, Nashville based, duo we got to know a very serious side and that is their unwavering battle towards finding a cure for childhood cancer. Their family has been touched by this disease not just once or twice but three times in the last several years. 2017 saw the duo spend 13 weeks on SiriusXM The Highway’s On The Horizon, a weekend program which features music from artists that are up and coming. It also saw their song, “Things I’ve Learned“, get featured on an episode of Netflix’s The Ranch. We wish nothing but the best for Morgan and Courtney in 2018 but more so wish Morgan’s nephew Noah a full and speedy recovery, like his brother Kaleb we believe he can prevail against this horrible disease. If you are able to and would like to help Noah’s family please visit the GoFundMe page and make a donation so they can pay the medical bills for his treatment.


Looking back on 2017 and it’s amazing to see what we accomplished. Just one year ago I was faced with a decision, rebuild and move forward or walk away. I chose to move forward and boy am I glad I did. From amazing new festivals in new cities to reconnecting with old friends at our regular festivals. From being part of national media at the JUNO Awards and the Grey Cup to being part of a select few approved to cover the incredible Guns N’ Roses show at TD Place. Special thanks to everyone who has ever played a part in making Sound Check Entertainment what it is today. Here’s to 2018, bigger and better!