LONDON, Ont. - Dallas Smith was the big winner at the Canadian Country Music Association award show Monday night, nabbing three trophies including entertainer of the year at a splashy live-streamed event in front of thousands of in-person spectators.
The 43-year-old from Langley, B.C., who performed his single "Hide From a Broken Heart" for the fully vaccinated crowd at Budweiser Gardens, also won the male artist of the year award and single of the year for "Like A Man."
Smith claimed the top entertainer title for the third straight year, beating out Brett Kissel of Flat Lake, Alta.; Dean Brody of Smithers, B.C.; MacKenzie Porter of Medicine Hat, Alta.; and the Reklaws from Cambridge, Ont.
The bash marked the return of the CCMA show to the live-event sphere for the first time since Calgary hosted in 2019.
Smith, accepting his first award of the night, thanked organizers for "doing what they needed to do to get people in a building again and bring this genre and live music back to life."
Backstage, he called his entertainer of the year award the "icing on the cake" to a weekend spent with country music fans and artists in person.
"I had this date marked on the calendar for quite a while, (it's) signifying getting back together for a lot of people in the industry," he said. "Last year we did what we could with the CCMAs ... but now we're more back to normal and what this needs to be."
The Reklaws, a brother-sister pair comprised of Jenna and Stuart Walker, won top group or duo of the year, thanking their parents — "the first duo to shine in our eyes," Stuart said in their acceptance speech and again backstage.
Tenille Townes of Grand Prairie, Alta., earned two awards, repeating as top female artist for a third straight year and adding an album of the year trophy for "The Lemonade Stand."
Townes described Monday's show as "surreal," saying backstage that she felt "honoured to be part of the Canadian country music community" after a week's worth of events also capped by Patricia Conroy's induction the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame.
"I'm just thinking of all of these heroes, these legendary female artists that I grew up listening to ... and just being like, 'Man, what a dream it would be to follow in those footsteps someday,'" Townes said. "It is so surreal to me to get to be a part of continuing that circle around and ... I don't even know if it's quite sunk in yet."
Drag queen-turned-country music diva Priyanka injected some glam alongside fellow co-host Lindsay Ell of Calgary after COVID-19 restrictions turned last year's show into a scaled-back, virtual event.
The two kicked off the show with Priyanka — winner of "Canada's Drag Race" — in an asymmetrical blue sequin minidress belting, "Let's go girls!" and singing the first verse of Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like a Woman." A sequin-draped Ell joined in for a partial duet on Bonnie Raitt's "Something to Talk About."
Earlier, Priyanka paused for photos with fans on the red carpet, showing off a bedazzled twist on the Canadian tuxedo — a studded denim bodysuit with matching jacket, boots and fringed cowboy hat. She said the look was an homage to the denim dress worn at the 2001 American Music Awards by Britney Spears, who was recently freed from a 13-year conservatorship.
Priyanka, known out of drag as Mark Suknanan of Toronto, said being at the CCMA Awards was "a dream come true."
"I get to perform, I get to host, I get to be a drag queen," she said. "People always say that country music is so conservative. So it's nice to show up and be accepted and be loved so people can see that we're all in this together.... I'm very used to being an outcast in a room, but in this room I'm not."
Priyanka later appeared onstage in a cow-print jumpsuit, complete with lengthy fringe along the sleeves, and a black, leather, head-to-toe get-up that was torn off to reveal a multicolour bodysuit while she performed her recently released single "Country Queen."
Her outfits drew some praise from the Washboard Union, winners of nine past CCMA Awards and presenters at Monday's show.
"I'm pumped to see Priyanka here giving us a run for our money in the wardrobe department," said Chris Duncombe, the bearded member of the three-man band, before announcing Townes as the female artist of the year.
Robyn Ottolini of Uxbridge, Ont., won the rising star award while Kissel earned the fans' choice trophy.
Kissel, who wasn't in attendance Monday, also picked up three awards at a Sunday night ceremony in London, where the bulk of the prizes were handed out.
He won best video for "Make A Life, Not A Living," as well as a special live innovation award for his tour, "Brett Kissel: Live At The Drive-In." His production company claimed best country music program or special for a one-hour documentary about the tour.
Smith also won the top selling album of the year at Sunday's pre-award show while Ell nabbed the interactive artist of the year award. Brody and the Reklaws had the top selling Canadian single of the year with "Can't Help Myself."
Monday's spectacle streamed live on the Global TV app and Amazon Prime Video, and an encore presentation airs Friday on Global TV.
The Reklaws, who capped the show with a performance of their single "What The Truck" featuring Sacha, had led the artist award categories with six nominations coming into the weekend, while Smith, Kissel and Ell each had five.
U.S. country star Chris Stapleton, who won six Country Music Association Awards earlier this month, performed "You Should Probably Leave" virtually from Sioux Falls, S.D. Thomas Rhett and Walker Hayes also performed virtually, both from Nashville.
The CCMA implemented a vaccination policy for all Country Music Week events leading up to and including the award show. COVID-19 cases have been rising in Ontario this month, with 788 new infections reported Monday.
Attendees, including performers, presenters, their teams and guests had to be fully vaccinated to be part of the events. Shots of the crowd on the broadcast showed groups of mask-wearing audience members, which organizers said numbered approximately 4,000.
The CCMA awards return to Calgary in 2022, the organization announced Sunday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.