Music News Digest, Dec. 7, 2023: Geddy Lee's Lost Demos, Crystal Shawanda's Blues Award

Billboard FYI's weekly roundup also includes news on Calgary's Sled Island Festival, CIMA in the UK and more.

Geddy Lee

Geddy Lee

Awards news

The Toronto Blues Society has announced that the recipient of the inaugural Indigenous Artist/Group of the Year is Nashville-based Crystal Shawanda. Anishinaabe from Wikwemikong Unceded Territory, Manitoulin Island, Shawanda is a Juno Award winner and multiple Maple Blues Award winner who found success in country music before crossing over to blues. Named as the winner of the Blues Booster of the Year award is Kamloops' Brant Zwicker, a long-time advocate for blues music through his syndicated radio program At The Crossroads, where he has served as the host, writer and producer since Feb. 2003. At The Crossroads is heard on 112 FM transmitters or streaming platforms in Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Belgium.


The Maple Blues Awards gala takes place on Feb. 12, at The Phoenix Concert Theatre in Toronto (410 Sherbourne Street). Tickets here.

- The winners of the 2023 Johanna Metcalf Performing Arts Prizes are Keith Barker, Suba Sankaran, Natasha Powell, John Kameel Farah and Roydon Tse, a group featuring Ontario music and theatre luminaries. The Metcalf Foundation awarded them $25K each, plus $10K for their selected proteges.

Festivals news

- New York experimental hardcore trio Show Me The Body has been announced as guest curator for the 2024 edition of Calgary's Sled Island Music & Arts Festival, running June 19-23. Passes go on sale Dec. 8.

-The 10th anniversary edition of Le Phoque OFF, Quebec City’s alternative music fest, is set to run Feb. 9-17. Over 100 artists will showcase, and the first batch of performers has been announced. Notable acts include TEKE::TEKE, Get The Shot, Kinkead, Étienne Dufresne, Jeanne Côté, Solipsisme, Ce qui nous traverse and Ulysse Ruel Orchestra. More info here.

Industry news

- The Canadian Independent Music Association (CIMA) is returning to UK Americana Music Week in 2024, with the four-day conference, awards show and music festival in Hackney, London, set for late Jan. The event features live Americana music from the United States, Austria, Spain, Canada, Denmark, the United Kingdom and more. At MOTH Club (Old Trades Hall, Valette St, London), CIMA hosts two full nights (Jan. 23 and 24) of Canada House showcases, in partnership with in partnership with Alberta Music, Music BC, Manitoba Music, MusicOntario, ECMA, Music PEI, MusicNL, Music NB and Music Nova Scotia. Notable performers include Quote The Raven, Irish Mythen, Kellie Loder, Villages, The Redhill Valleys, Aysanabee, Kyle McKearney, and Amanda Rheaume. Companies interested in attending can contact


- To help celebrate Popguru Sound & Vision's 25th anniversary, the label is hosting a Songwriters Circle with various artists from the roster at The Rivoli in Toronto on Dec. 16. The strong lineup features Will Whitwham and Victoria Carr of The Wilderness of Manitoba, Shaina Silver-Baird of Ghost Caravan, Alex Exists, and Keegan Beach of Lastli. Tickets here.

Artists News

- Last Friday, Hamilton rock 'n roll heroes Junkhouse played a sold-out hometown show at Bridgeworks. The Tom Wilson-fronted band has reunited for a few select gigs to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its gold-selling debut album, Strays, and the setlist was heavily weighted to those songs. This was no pedestrian exercise in nostalgia, though, for a beefed-up seven piece Junkhouse reinvented the material in stirring fashion.


Wilson was in full boisterous form, and he entertained with typically colourful stories, including one starring Bruce Springsteen's chest. He was ably abetted by a killer band comprising original bandmates Ray Farrugia and Russ Wilson, alongside Jesse O'Brien, Thompson Wilson, and guitarists Aaron Goldstein and Champagne James Robertson. Hearing two of Canada's best axemen trade riffs was a treat, as were fine versions of the anthemic "Shine" and the moving "Lean On Your Peers," dedicated to fallen comrades Frankie Venom and Gord Lewis. A superb show.


- Rush lead vocalist/bassist Geddy Lee is certainly grabbing media attention these days. His recently published biography My Effin’ Life has notched rave reviews, and his speaking tour has been selling out. Lee has now announced a new docuseries, GEDDY LEE ASKS: ARE BASS PLAYERS HUMAN TOO?, streaming exclusively on Paramount+ in North America, and now airing internationally. It features Lee chatting with such other noted bass players as Les Claypool, Krist Novoselic, Robert Trujillo and Melissa Auf Der Maur. On top of that, he has just shared The Lost Demos, two previously unreleased solo songs. The tracks, “Gone” and “I Am…You Are,” were first recorded for his 2000 solo debut, My Favorite Headache, and producer/engineer David Bottrill helped unearth and properly mix and master them. Streaming links here.

- Folk combo Vishtèn Connexions (Emmanuelle LeBlanc and Pascal Miousse) have joined forces with Rowen Gallant and Jesse Périard of Ten Strings & A Goat Skin on a new single, "Expansion," the title cut from an upcoming album. An accompanying video came out on Dec. 1.

- Award-winning Ottawa jazz vocalist Kellylee Evans performs a mix of holiday classics and original songs in a concert at Hugh's Room in Toronto on Dec. 20. Tickets here.

Winter Song Advent Calendar - Day 3 - Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas

- One of the most popular blues bands on the Toronto club circuit, Raoul and The Big Time head to Hamilton on Dec. 10 for an afternoon show at The Casbah. Opening are Matty Simpson & Justine Fischer. Recommended. Tickets at the door..

- Last week saw the triumphant return of folk singer/songwriter Ray Materick to his former hometown of Hamilton. Now based on Vancouver Island, the rootsy troubadour sold out The Westdale Theatre, thanks to the diligent work of his bandmate (and former Grant Avenue Studio owner) Bob Doidge. The show marked a reunion of Materick’s mid-70s band, billed here as Midnight Matinee, and the setlist focused upon the three albums from that era that came out on prestigious US label Asylum. Materick was in fine voice and wit, and his accompanists helped his eloquent material shine. Providing backing vocals was Caroline Wiles, who also excelled in an opening set. Toronto music biz luminaries in the audience included Gary Muth and Slaight Music’s Jim Campbell (both big boosters of Materick’s career back then) and veteran promoter Elliott Lefko. No surprise to see such notable musicians as Lily Sazz, Jack Pedlar and Scott Bradshaw there as well.


The Beaches performing at Billboard Canada's Women in Music Launch on June 5, 2024
Marc Thususka Photography

The Beaches performing at Billboard Canada's Women in Music Launch on June 5, 2024


The Beaches, Charlotte Cardin, Allison Russell Make the 2024 Polaris Music Prize Long List

The 40-album long list for the Polaris Prize, which awards $50,000 to the best Canadian record of the year features up-and-comers like punk group NOBRO and producer Bambii, plus rapper TOBi, and legends like Quebec group Karkwa and previous Heritage Prize winner Beverly Glenn-Copeland.

Some of the country's biggest breakthrough artists are in contention for the prestigious Polaris Music Prize.

The 40-album long list was revealed today (June 11) at Sonic Boom record store in downtown Toronto. It features some of the buzziest names in Canadian music, from The Beaches — who were recently awarded Billboard Canada Women in Music's inaugural Group of the Year award — to Grammy-winner Allison Russell, to Canadian Hot 100 charting acts like Charlotte Cardin and Talk, to underground mainstays like Cindy Lee, who had an organic breakthrough this year with Diamond Jubilee.

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