Five months ago, the members of The Once thought they had pretty much reached the height of their career. With two Canadian Folk Music awards, four MusicNL awards and an Irish tour with Juno winner Amelia Curran under their belts, Andrew Dale, Geraldine Hollett an Phil Churchill said last November they didn’t know how they could possibly go up from there.
Sunday night, they admitted their career is still on the rise.
The Once was presented with the 2011 East Coast Music Award for Group Recording of the Year at the ECMAs closing gala in Charlottetown, P.E.I.’s Confederation Centre of the Arts, beating out bands like Wintersleep, Paper Lions, Slowcoaster and Tim Chaisson and Morning Fold.
“I’m afraid there are some Tim Chaisson fans who want to beat the shit out of us right now,” Churchill joked, minutes after the band accepted the award. “We’re feeling pretty good. It’s really amazing.”
“Unexpected. I’m speechless,” added Dale. “It’s such a funny thing; when it’s the members voting, you don’t think you’re popular enough or good enough for them to vote for you, and then you win and it kind of dawns on you, ‘Holy crap, enough people in the association think we deserve this.’”
The Once also beat Corner Brook’s Sherman Downey and The Ambiguous Case for the award. Downey and his band, who showcased at a number of different venues during ECMA week in Charlottetown, had also been nominated for the Rising Star Recording of the Year award for their album “Honey for Bees,” but lost to The Stanfields for the CD Vanguard of the Young and Reckless.
Downey said the band wasn’t too disappointed, however.
“We were excited to be nominated, obviously, but we weren’t getting our hopes up too much, because it’s only recently that we’ve been working on making an impression in the Maritimes, where all the other nominees have been working so hard this year,” he said.
“The fact that The Once won for group recording is so good for Newfoundland and Labrador and all the musicians back home.”
I think I speak for all of the boys in the band when I say that we’re proud to be amongst the bands representing the province here in P.E.I.,”Downey said.
Downey and the members of the Ambiguous Case are leaving from Charlottetown on a tour of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick with fellow Newfoundland and Labrador band, Matthew Hornell and the Diamond Minds.
Local acts received roughly 20 nominations for this year’s ECMAs, and won a quarter of them: Carbonear native Duane Andrews and Nova Scotia’s Dwayne Cote won the award for Jazz Recording of the Year for the self-titled debut album; Ennis, featuring sisters Karen and Maureen Ennis, won for Roots/Traditional Album of the Year, St. John’s-based reggae band Idlers won the World Recording of the Year award for the CD “Keep Out,” and Rik Barron won the award for Children’s Recording of the Year for “Over in the Meadow.”
Barron, who spent many years living in P.E.I., got emotional when talking about how he felt winning an ECMA in Charlottetown.
“It’s like home. I cut my teeth here,” he said.
Barron, who has also released adult recordings, said he feels just as comfortable accepting an award for his work for children.
“I appreciate it the same way,” he said. “Usually the people playing on (the albums) don’t know they’re children’s albums until they hear the lyrics. It feels great.”
When it comes to the industry awards, Shelley Chase of St. John’s-based Garrison Hill Entertainment — manager for The Once — was named Manager of the Year. The industry awards were presented during a luncheon Saturday.
“Wow, I got an award for being bossy,” Chase laughed while accepting her trophy.
A number of Maritime artists were named multiple ECMA award winners: The Trews, who took home the Bell Aliant Fan’s Choice Video of the Year and the DVD of the Year awards; Chris Colepaugh and The Crew, who were presented with the Bell Aliant Fan’s Choice Entertainer of the Year award and the Rock Recording of the Year award; New Brunswick’s David Myles, who picked up the Vibe Creative Group Single of the Year and the Folk Recording of the Year award; Rose Cousins of P.E.I., who won the Female Solo Recording of the Year and the SOCAN Songwriter of the Year awards; Matt Anderson, who took home the Blues Recording of the Year and Konica Minolta Male Solo Recording of the Year awards, and Chelsea Nisbett, who won the Gospel Recording of the Year and the R&B/Soul Single of the Year awards.
“My whole body is vibrating,” Cousins said after accepting her award. “I feel like I used to watch the ECMAs on TV as a kid, and see Lennie Gallant and Bruce Guthro win them.”
There were no Newfoundland and Labrador acts nominated in some of the major awards categories, including for the male and female solo recording and Album of the Year categories. No local singer/songwriters were invited to take part in Sunday afternoon’s Socan Songwriters’ Circle, either. An ECMA spokesman explained the selection process for both the awards and showcases is juried.
The closing gala, hosted by country star George Canyon, featured a tribute to P.E.I. ’80s band Haywire, who was awarded the Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award. Band members said afterwards they are excited to be working on a new album.
The gala concert also saw Hey Rosetta! perform the title track from their new CD “Seeds,” with dozens of local musicians on stage behind them, forming a choir.
The event was streamed live online, and was filmed by CMT for the TV documentary “Birthplace of the Beat,” set to air in July.