Country music certainly has strong historical ties to the southern parts of the U.S., but what about its Canadian origins?
In the 1920s, country music was brought to Canada via the airwaves. Fiddlers, George Wade and Don Messer made the genre popular after they started to get broadcasted over Canadian radio. Ever since, artists such as Shania Twain and Terri Clark have helped to fly the flag for Canadian country musicians, maintaining the genre’s large presence across the country.
Now, there’s a whole new crop of emerging talent hoping to make their mark. Some of these artists have remained in Canada while others have traveled to the U.S., following the winding road to Music City. They may have to trade poutine for biscuits and gravy, but the booming music industry in Nashville, TN, might be worth the change.
It’s no surprise that the deep roots of country music in Canada have raised some notable talent within the genre. Here are just a few of the up-and-coming Canadian artists contributing to the rising demand for the humble storytelling and upbeat spirits of country music.
The phrase “everything happens for a reason” couldn’t be more aligned with Robyn Ottolini’s journey into country music. A breakup with a local boy who drives an ever-so-popular truck landed Ottolini her first gold record for her single ‘F-150’.
The Warner Music Nashville signee has since ditched the breakup songs for some more witty, romantic lyrics stemming from a new and happy relationship. This honest and relatable singer/songwriter was taking Music City by storm before she even got the chance to visit as a songwriter.
Greg Rider didn’t pick up the guitar until he was 20 years old, and his lack of experience made it difficult for him to feel confident in his musical abilities. That all changed during a trip to Nashville, when a bartender pushed him out of his comfort zone and convinced him to perform a song on the stage. The Hamilton, Ont. Hailing singer is currently still residing in his hometown, but keeps Nashville at an arm’s length away.
Parker Graye almost became an artist in the pop/electronic genre, but it turned out she couldn’t be torn away from the powerful storytelling that country music is so well known for. The passionate singer/songwriter uses her music to turn the despair from the low days of life into growth for the future.
Graye is originally from Orillia, Ont., but she has resided in Vancouver, BC., for over 10 years. Growing up, she idolized some of the strongest women in country music: Dolly Parton, Ashley McBryde and Maren Morris. Now, she replicates their strength in her own work.
Growing up near Burlington, Ont., Ross was more interested in competing in sports than performing on a stage. He participated in hockey, soccer, motocross and even had dreams of competing in the CFL after playing football at Western University. Unfortunately, a few injuries forced Ross to change course in his career.
The time he spent off the field led him to picking up the guitar and finding his true passion for music. Ross’s name started to get recognized, after he performed at Canada’s largest country music festival, Boots and Hearts, in 2017. Two years later, he found himself living in Nashville and working on his debut EP, Do What You Love.
Elyse Saunders, the Peterborough, Ont. native and current Toronto resident, caught the music bug at a young age. At the end of high school, she met her mentor, Cyril Rawson. Over 10 years ago, they made the trip to Nashville together and she instantly felt at home in the vibrant city.
Currently, Saunders is preparing the release of her third album, Free. The music video for the title track off this record earned her a Mississauga Music Award for Video of the Year, as well as double-nominations with the Country Music Association of Ontario for Female Artist of the Year and the Rising Star Award.
When Cole Bradley moved to Nashville in 2016 to pursue his dreams of becoming an artist, he also had to juggle being a full-time student. After attending one year at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Bradley transferred to Belmont University in Nashville. There, he graduated with a business degree in 2020.
But before he'd even reached college, the Calgary, Canada native had already released his first record. Drawing inspiration from the artists he has always looked up to - Kenny Chesney, Garth Brooks and Tim McGraw - Bradley has continued to find the perfect balance of upbeat, party songs and romance in his music.
The name Alexander Ludwig might ring a bell, not only from his musical talents, but also from several of his on-screen roles, such as those in The Hunger Games, Vikings and Bad Boys For Life. The lifelong country music fan was raised right outside of Vancouver, BC. Between the ages of 9 and 12, Ludwig had already strummed his first guitar and penned his first song.
Whether he’s singing or acting, Ludwig is telling a story through his words and actions. Although he found it difficult to break into the country music industry, BBR Music Group/BMG took notice of his talents and officially signed a record deal with him earlier this year.
NBC’s The Voice alum Brittany Kennell grew up in Beaconsfield, Qc., with two parents who filled the house with country music. Because of her musical upbringing, Kennell began writing songs at a very young age. After graduating from the Berklee College of Music and moving to Nashville to join the community of songwriters, she realized she needed to find her own sound.
This journey led her to audition for The Voice in 2016 as the first Canadian contestant. After her time on the show ended, a called-off engagement resulted in a move back to Canada. Luckily, she found a new country music community in Montreal, and will soon be releasing her debut album.
Writing about life and everything that comes with it is Shantaia’s specialty, and that includes the most difficult days too. When her grandfather became ill, Shantaia’s buried herself in her songwriting. In 2019, she was recognized for her work and was named Emerging Artist of the Year at the Saskatchewan Country Music Association Awards.
Her most recent summer release, ‘Have a Good Weekend’ has been rising in popularity on Canadian country radio and marked her first top 50 spot on the charts.
Born and raised in Toronto, Barney was among the artists who started his career at a very early age, back when it was more of a fun pastime than a career. After years of performing in local venues, Barney had taken all the steps in an attempt to become the best artist possible. Luckily, it seems as though his hard work and determination have really been paying off.
In 2020, after the release of his sophomore EP, No Road Too Long, he was named Breakthrough Artist of the Month by Amazon. Last year, Barney also got the chance to partner with the popular Canadian lifestyle brand, Roots, to perform in the first Roots Muskoka Cottage Country Concert.
Make sure to follow Holler's Best New Country and New Country Artists playlists now to keep up with all the great music from the country, Americana and roots worlds.