How country music is at the centre of one fan's sense of belonging and ever-changing community

Johnathan Smalley was gathered around a table at a barbeque with friends when he got an email he couldn't believe. Two weeks after entering a contest to attend the Canadian Country Music Awards (CCMA) as the CCMA's Ultimate Fan Experience Winner, Smalley found out he won the top prize. A country music fan since he was a kid, not only would Smalley get to go to the event in Calgary, Alberta, but winning the top prize included that he would also be on stage presenting one of the CCMA awards during the live broadcast.

For an avid country music fan like Smalley, this prize was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Country music is not just a genre, but a passion for Smalley. As the general manager of Toronto's only country music bar, he has built a career around country music and has found a sense of belonging in the process.

"Country music is what I enjoy, and through my work I've made lots of friends who share this passion," said Smalley. "I have many talented friends from my hometown who can sing – Leah Daniels, Ben Hudson and Robyn Ottolini to name a few – and when someone from my hometown is performing or filming a video, everyone comes together to help out and support them."

In Smalley's experience, country music has had the power to bring people from various communities together, whether they are line dancing on a crowded dancefloor, sitting around a bonfire, or coming together to support a new artist. According to research by the Country Music Association, the musical genre has been growing in popularity with more diverse communities over the last nine years, including teens, Millennials and people of Latin origin.

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"Some people think country music is only about trucks, beer, or breakups, but there's more to it than that. It can make you feel like a part of something," he said, adding that it was his father that first introduced him to country music. Growing up, Smalley and his dad would listen to old school country songs along with the top female country artists of the nineties, as the pair drove their tractor on the family's dairy farm in Uxbridge, Ontario.

TD sponsors over 80 music festivals and 100 community music programs in Canada, including the 2019 CCMA Awards where Smalley will present the Apple Music Fans' Choice Award during the live broadcast on September 8th.

"When I received the news I had won, I was in shock," said Smalley. "After the shock wore off I got nervous about being on stage in front of the entire country, but then became excited about being in Calgary, surrounded by so many talented Canadian artists."

Find out more about how TD supports music events like the 2019 CCMA Awards across Canada to help create stronger, more inclusive communities at TDMusic.com