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Music NL recognizes regional talent

By JAYMIE WHITE and RYAN KING

SOUTHWEST COAST – MusicNL, a support for the music community across Newfoundland and Labrador, will be presenting Music Celebration Week 2021 from Nov. 15-21. The week will include award presentations and showcases that celebrate the myriad of musical talent the province has to offer. Several local artists from the Southwest and West coasts have been nominated for awards this year.

Fine Lads


Fine Lads (Donovan Conran and Philip Hardy) are nominated for Group of the Year and also for Celtic/Traditional Artist/Group of the Year. – Courtesy of Fine Lads

Fine Lads, a duo of Philip Hardy from Port-Aux-Basques and Donovan Conran of Port au Port, is heavily focused on Newfoundland-Traditional music, but they take influences from all the music they listen to for their own, unique sound.

Donovan Conran said both he and Philip Hardy grew up with similar musical influences.

“We were around that kitchen party scene growing up on the West coast,” said Conran. “We grew up listening to music, my Dad being a huge influence of mine, pretty much taught me everything I know from a very young age in terms of music.”

The group knew each other and started playing together in high school in a class they had for a few years before they each moved to St. John’s and formed Fine Lads three years ago. This year, they have been nominated for two Music NL awards, Celtic/Traditional Artist/Group of the Year and Group of the Year.

“We are super excited and really honored to be nominated for the MusicNL awards this year,” said Hardy. “It’s something new for us and something that we are really excited about.”

Currently Fine Lads are in the initial stages of their next album. They are currently recording, writing, and demoing for what will be their next full-length, finalized CD. They play in downtown St. John’s and are usually all over the island; however, road trips are beginning to slow down as winter gets closer.

Another reason that touring hasn’t been as frequent over the past year has been restrictions of COVID. Hardy said COVID has been tough on everyone, but overall, they have been lucky.

“We lost a lot of shows, but fortunately our regular venues, our livestreams, and our fanbase was really supportive throughout COVID,” said Hardy.

Conran said he and Hardy are extremely blessed to be able to pursue this career, something they both feel very passionate about.

“We’re both super grateful that we get to do this for a living, it’s what we always wanted to do really,” said Conran. “Now we’re at the age where we can take a good, solid shot at it and see what happens. So far it’s been really great.”

Hardy said the best place to get the most up-to-date information on the band is to check out their Fine Lads Facebook page.

“We are doing a lot of live streams, sharing a lot of content on that, videos and updates. We really enjoy people commenting on, liking, and sharing our things so that would be great,” said Hardy.

You can catch performances from Fine Lads on the West and Southwest coasts in November. On Nov. 12 they will be playing at Whelan’s Gate in Corner Brook and on Nov. 13 they will be at the Legion in Port-Aux-Basques.

Mallory Johnson


Mallory Johnson is nominated for Music Video of the Year, along with Twin Kennedy, for Wise Woman. She is also nominated for the Ron Hynes Songwriter of the Year Award and Fans’ Choice Entertainer of the Year. – Courtesy of Mallory Johnson

Mallory Johnson is from Conception Bay South originally, and has strong family ties in the Codroy Valley. She has been making music since she was three years old when she went on stage at the Strawberry Jamboree in the Valley. She got her first true gig in the industry playing with her family band, The Cormiers, with her mother Loretta, her uncle Gordon, and her cousin Randall.

“So we did the whole Celtic traditional family band. So I was eleven when we first started that and that was my first-time recording in the studio, doing my own music, getting to tour,” said Johnson. “We toured across Canada a few times, of course across the province. We toured Scotland, we had a few gigs in the US. So preteen/teenager years I was diving headfirst into the industry with that band, and you know, we did the music.”

Johnson is currently in Nashville and is working on a country music album that should be out in 2022.

“I’m working on a full-length album at the moment and that’s with Kent Wells. He’s our producer, and he produces Dolly Parton. So that was kind of a pinch-me moment in itself too. So actually I recorded my vocals on the same mic that Dolly records her vocals on, so that’s pretty cool,” said Johnson.

Having played so long with her Celtic traditional family band, you can hear influences of other genres in her music.

“The Country music genre is a pretty large umbrella, like a mixing pot of a bunch of influences. I mean, I guess you can hear a little bit of the Celtic in my music. You can honestly hear a lot of the country. I grew up listening to Dolly Parton and Patsy Cline. You can hear some of that in there. And then the Americana world too. I love a lot of the Americana songwriters. I’m a big fan of Jason Isbell and Brandy Clark, and you know, a lot of these really, really great writers,” said Johnson.

Johnson is nominated for the Music Video of the Year, the Ron Hynes songwriter of the year, and the Fans’ Choice Entertainer of the Year. Johnson shared that she is incredibly grateful for the recognition.

“It’s nothing short of awesome. It’s always really cool to be recognized by your peers at home, so it’s always really special to be nominated, just to be a part of the MusicNL week. You know, I’m really excited this year. Of course, the songwriter of the year is a huge one for me. You know I take pride in being a songwriter just as much as an artist but that one is really, really special. And music video of the Year for Wise Woman, that was such, gosh, a passion project for myself and Twin Kennedy,” said Johnson. “Getting to feature so many people we love and adore and look up to you in the video, so they get to be celebrated too. We had women all across North America, so it’s really cool to have them involved in this celebration too.”

Jason Benoit


Jason Benoit is nominated for Indigenous Artist/Group of the Year and Fans’ Choice Entertainer of the Year. – Courtesy of © Donna Hooper

Jason Benoit, born and raised on Newfoundland’s West Coast has been nominated for two MusicNL awards – Indigenous Artist/Group of the Year and Fans’ Choice Entertainer of the Year.

“It’s amazing, it’s always an honor to be nominated for a MusicNL award,” said Benoit. “Living in Newfoundland, it is great to be recognized by your peers here, it’s a great honor for sure.”

Benoit has been quite busy, with a lot of great things coming up in the next couple of months. He will be attending the CCMAs and Country Music Week taking place in London, Ontario from Nov. 26-29, and he also has more music on the horizon.

“Currently, I just finished producing my third full-length album, so that is just being finished up now and planning on releasing it early in 2022. I am also planning on releasing my first Christmas single which will be a duet with Kendra Kay and will be released in November,” said Benoit. “Also in November, I will be starting to do the Friday Night Lockdown Live stream again on my Facebook which I started doing during COVID and it was well received,” said Benoit. “It’s an exciting thing to engage with the fans again.”

Benoit began his career in 2013 with the release of his first single ‘This is What it Feels Like’, and thanks to everything being so connected online today, he has been able to pursue his career while remaining in Newfoundland.

“I have a wife and three kids, and I want them to be in a place that they’re comfortable with,” said Benoit. “I can travel and go anywhere because I’ve got great support from them, so to have them here and safe and close to family is important to us and it works well for us. That’s why we decided to never leave Newfoundland, it’s home.”

This past September, Benoit was featured with numerous NL artists on the album ‘Covers From Away’ where he did his own version of ‘Prayer of St. Francis’ mixed with the traditional Mi’kmaq song the ‘Honor Song’. Benoit said it was a great experience to be able to be able to pay homage to his Indigenous roots.

“That was the first time I got to pay direct respects to my cultural heritage which you don’t always get the chance to do when you do country music,” said Benoit. “So, to be nominated for the Indigenous Artist award is extra special for sure.”

Benoit is thankful that he has been successful in his music career, something that not everyone has the opportunity to do.

“I’ve been blessed. There’s not too many people around today that are able to achieve what I’ve achieved, so I feel blessed,” said Benoit.

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