2019 began with bad news on day one. On New Year’s Day, singer Michael Ray’s grandmother died. She had made a cameo appearance in his 2015 music video for “Kiss You in the Morning.” Among the other passages in the first four months of the year: guitarist Steve Ripley, of The Tractors, at age 69 (Jan. 3); songwriter Phil Thomas, who co-wrote Gene Watson’s “Drinking My Way Back Home,” at age 74 (Jan. 5); songwriter Whitey Shafer, who wrote or co-wrote George Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” and Keith Whitley’s “I Wonder Do You Think of Me,” at age 84 (Jan. 12); guitarist Reggie Young, who played on Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” and Waylon Jennings’ “Luckenback, Texas,” at age 82 (Jan. 17); Maxine Brown, the last surviving member of The Browns trio, at age 87 (Jan. 21); author Terry Jennings, Waylon’s oldest child, just four days after his 62nd birthday (Jan. 25); session musician and legendary Nashville producer Harold Bradley, believed to be the most recorded guitarist in history, at age 93 (Jan. 31); Faith Hill’s adoptive father, Wesley “Ted” Perry, at age 88 (Feb. 5); Garry “Hacker” Evans, the man behind The Boothill Jamboree near Bothwell, Ont., at age 66 (Feb. 8); Fred Foster, another legendary Nashville producer who signed Kris Kristofferson and Dolly Parton to record deals, at age 87 (Feb. 20); Ronnie Milsap’s son, Todd, at age 49 (Feb. 23); bluegrass legend Mac Wiseman at age 93 (Feb. 24); Ottawa-based singer Russ Orange, at age 73 (Mar. 13); actor Luke Perry, who played rodeo cowboy Lane Frost in the movie “8 Seconds,” at age 52 (Mar. 29); songwriter Margaret Lewis Warwick, at age 79 (also Mar. 29); Jim Glaser, solo artist and member of Tompall & The Glaser Brothers, at age 82 (Apr. 6); and singer/songwriter Earl Thomas Conley at age 77 (Apr. 10). Locally, Jim Meharg, a regular at various open mic jams, passed away at the age of 79 and Gary Nichol, a power ballad singer, Purple Hill Country Music performer, and a double-lung transplant survivor a few years ago, passed away from cancer. However, the most shocking passing for Canadian country music fans came on Feb. 21 with the death of River Town Saints bassist Daniel Di Giacomo. Only 31 years of age, the talented musician and funnyman died from a suspected blood clot that travelled from his leg to heart. He had broken his ankle almost two months earlier and had screws surgically put in place.

(River Town Saints with Tim Hicks, Dan is second from the left)

But there was also some good news. Among new additions to the country music family: a second daughter, Elody, to Brett Kissel’s drummer, Ben Bradley and his wife, Cassie (Jan. 13); a son, Wyatt, to Jordan Potvin of The River Town Saints and his wife, Angela (Jan. 18); a second son, Jacob, to Carrie Underwood and her husband Mike (also on Jan. 18); a daughter, Phoenix, for Pistol Annies’ member Angaleena Presley and her husband Jordan (Jan. 22); their first son, Leo, to Brett Kissel and his wife, Cecilia (Jan. 27); a daughter, Navy, to Jason Aldean and his wife, Brittany (Feb. 4); and a daughter, Paris, to Jake Owen and his girlfriend, Erica (Apr. 29).

Matrimony was in the air, too: JoJo Mason became engaged to Chanel (Jan. 22); Wade Hayes married Lea, who’s a first cousin to John Rich of Big & Rich, (Jan. 25); Miranda Lambert secretly married N.Y. police officer Brendan (Jan. 26); Chuck Wicks proposed to Jason Aldean’s sister, Casi (Mar. 8); Devon Dawson proposed to Leah on the second anniversary of their first date (Mar. 10); Ches Anthony married Carley (Apr. 8); Michelle Branch married Patrick Carney (Apr. 20); and Matty McKay, Brett Kissel’s guitarist and cousin, married Megan (Apr. 27).

Canadian artists had some pretty cool gigs: Brett Kissel returned to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium (Jan. 4); Tenille Arts serenaded the contestants on her second appearance on TV’s “The Batchelor” (Jan. 18); American Brett Young made a similar appearance on the same show (Feb. 18); and Chad Brownlee sang the national anthem at the NHL All-Star game in San Jose, California (Jan. 26);

Among the big concerts I attended: Dierks Bentley, Jon Pardi and Tenille Townes in Hamilton (Jan. 17); Little Big Town, Midland and Ashley McBryde in London (Feb. 14); and Luke Combs, LANCO and Jameson Rodgers in London (Mar. 28). It was disappointing with the announcement (Feb. 4) the Trackside music festival in London wouldn’t happen after three years of concerts on the Canada Day weekend.

Several artists had health issues: Doug Supernaw announced (Feb. 4) he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung and bladder cancer; Lindsay Ell announced (Feb. 28) she was having surgery to remove pre-cancerous cells; that same day, 83-year-old legend Jerry Lee Lewis suffered a minor stroke but was due to make a full recovery; and Hal Ketchum’s wife announced on Facebook (Apr. 14) he had retired from performing due to Alzheimer’s and dementia. The Canadian country music industry came out in a big way for Runaway Angel singer Cadence Grace with a benefit concert (Mar. 3) in Toronto, supporting her battle with cancer.

Other events: Western Swing Authority hosted the CD release party of the critically acclaimed album “Big Deal” (Jan. 27); Tim Hicks filmed the music video for “What a Song Should Do” in Toronto (Feb. 5); The Hunter Brothers performed a late morning pop-up show at the Western Fair District market in London (Feb. 23) before their concert performance later that night on Paul Brandt’s “The Journey” tour; another Hunter, the legendary Tommy, was in the audience for a special performance by Marie Bottrell, Larry Mercey and Steve Piticco at the London Music Hall of Fame that same day (Feb. 23);

Among the artists who dropped by for interviews: Chris Buck (Feb. 6 and Mar. 15); Dave Hartney (Mar. 6); Wes Mack (a few weeks after the release of the Liam Neeson film “Cold Pursuit” which Wes appears in); Washboard Union, just days before a big Juno award came their way (Mar. 14); Shawn Austin (Mar. 26); The Abrams (Mar. 27); Marshall Dane (Apr. 15); and Ches Anthony (Apr. 24).

(Wes Mack with “Cold Pursuit” movie poster)

Awards: Kasey Musgraves won four Grammys (Feb. 10) for Album, Country Album, Country Solo Performance and Best Country Song, while Dan + Shay won for Best Country Duo/Group Performance; the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) announced (Feb. 11) the eight semi-finalists for the Sirius XM Top of the Country competition with the winner to be announced later in the year; the night before the Junos at the Gala Dinner (Mar. 16), Washboard Union won Breakthrough Group, the first country group to do so; Brett Kissel won the Juno Country Album award on the show (Mar. 17) in addition to performing on the televised show (The Reklaws also performed); during the Juno weekend in London, Ont., I did video interviews with Tim Hicks and Jeff Coplan, Jess Moskaluke, Brett Kissel and Washboard Union as well as interviews on the red carpet before the show with Brett and his wife, Cecila, Tim Hicks and his wife, Amanda, The Reklaws, Meghan Patrick and Jess Moskaluke; Keith Urban won Entertainer of the Year at the Academy of Country Music (ACM) awards (Apr. 7), while Thomas Rhett won Male Artist, Kasey Musgraves was named Female Artist, Old Dominion won Group and Dan + Shay won Duo, Single and Song of the Year for “Tequila;” Jason Aldean had been named ACM Artist of the Decade earlier (Mar. 6); Samara Yung was the Fan’s Choice at the Saskatchewan Country Music Awards (Apr. 14), with Chris Henderson named Male Artist and Tenille Arts won Female Artist; and Kelsea Ballerini became the youngest member of the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 25, inducted by Carrie Underwood (Apr. 16).

(Washboard Union)

(interviewing Jess Moskaluke before the Junos)

And I made a few appearances at various events, including: singing “Folsom Prison Blues” during Paul Anthony’s “Cash – The World’s Most Authentic Johnny Cash Tribute Show” in Hamilton (Feb. 16); singing “Don’t Close Your Eyes” with Hector Sturgeon at Purple Hill Country Music Hall (Apr. 7); and “Got No Reason Now For Going Home” with Richard Guay at the Tri-County Jam in Tillsonburg (Apr. 20).

And that was just the first four months of the year!