New Year, New Project… The Durham County Band is Born!

Well, we’re barely into 2018 and I can hardly contain my excitement about what the year might hold!

Last summer, a group of friends gathered in rural South Western Ontario. A campfire was burning (hint: forget about the yellow birch… just move on to more cooperative woods), some guitars were being strummed, some songs were bing sung, and probably a few drinks were enjoyed, too.

We talked about friendship. We talked about love. We talked about joy. And we talked a fair bit about pain and regret.

We talked about how music can capture the essence of these in ourselves, and convey it in a way that those around us can share in that feeling – something, perhaps, beyond simple comprehension. And we talked about how music is such a big part of who we are as individuals, and how it has supported and defined our friendships with each other.

And we talked about how little time we seem to have in our busy lives, and how much of it we contribute to mundane pursuits that do little to expand our joy, express our love, and grow our friendships. As you get older, you start to think a bit differently about your time, and what you do with it. You start to take stock of how you’re spending it, on what, and what you get out of it in return.

We decided that we wanted to spend more of our time doing what we love and what brings us joy.  Essentially, we decided that we have no time for regrets.

And so, a new musical venture was born – the Durham County Band! For those of you who’ve been following my own musical journey, this group of friends is a familiar bunch. Mark Smith and Emmanuel Brown can be heard on my recordings, and share the stage with me in the James Downham band. Peter Boshart is no stranger to my music, as my producer extraordinaire.

Together we’ve decided to expand the scope of what we can do together. Durham County Band, named after the rural place where friends first gathered and hatched a plan, is country rock, Canadiana, no holds barred rollicking fun. And we’re off to a quick start. We’re about half-way through recording our debut album, and we’ve just sent out irst single, Valentine’s Day, to wide release on Canadian radio.

Who knows where DCB will take us, and what 2018 has in store. But this group of friends is going to have a blast finding out…

James Downham joins the Country Music Association of Ontario

Well, I finally did it. I am now a proud member of the Country Music Association of Ontario. This is something I’ve thought about for a long time. I know many of you will think this was a no-brainer, but I can tell you I wasn’t sure, which is why it took so long to do.

You see, I just didn’t think I was a country singer, and I didn’t really think my music was country music. However, it seems that the rest of the world disagrees.

When I released “Don’t Talk to Girls” to radio last year, we pitched to Adult Contemporary radiostations. AC Radio, as it’s known, is primarily pop, and some light rock. Think Bieber, Beyonce, and the Chainsmokers. The rest of the guys in my band immediately asked” You’re not releasing to Country?” Well, no… we’re a rock band, I said. Not so fast. While a few stations picked up the song, the predominant feedback was “Try country radio – you’ll do much better over there.”

I suppose I should have seen that coming. I mean, when I talk to folks after a show, people regularly comment that they thought we were great, and they’re big fans of country music, or that they really like us even though they don’t usually like country. Really, i thought? But we don’t have fiddles or steel – we’re a rock band!!  But then again, one instrument that might be hard to disguise is my voice. And it’s hard to shake off 12 years of singing in a Tim McGraw tribute act.

I really wrestled with my identify as a singer a songwriter for a long time. And the truth is (as the song goes) I’m a little bit country, and I’m a little bit rock ‘n roll. And I’m good with that!

And what CMA Ontario represents to me, more than anything, is an active community of music professionals supporting one another, celebrating one another, and encouraging one another. There’s no other genre in the music world, from my perspective, that does this as well as country music.

Even if my music isn’t the typical country radio fare, I’m hoping that the barn is big, and that there’s room for all sorts – including me. – James


IndieWeek Canada 2017 Confirmed!

I’m really pleased to announce that I’ll be joining the band to showcase at IndieWeek Canada 2017 this November in Toronto. The festival runs November 7-12 and the showdate/time has not yet been confirmed. I’ll post as soon as I know what we’re doing for sure.

We’ll have a few new ones to unveil at the show – so stay tuned!

What now?! The Shot All-Stars?!

After an epic Season 4 of the Shot – just when you thought it couldn’t get any better – the Shot introduces a new chapter: The Shot All-Stars!

Finalists from the first 4 seasons of the Shot will compete to be crowned the Ultimate Shot contestant!  And yes, James Downham will be there with bells on – or a cowboy hat (or perhaps not…) You’ll have to wait and see. The Shot All Stars will take place this June. Here’s more detail from the Shot website:

This June, 16 finalists from seasons 1-4 of The Shot are returning to compete in the ultimate battle of the best!

The All-Stars showdown will include former winners and top 8 finalists. Some of them are looking to hold onto their titles while others are back for redemption and another opportunity at the top prize.

“We’ve seen some amazing talent over the last four seasons,” says The Shot executive producer and head judge C.J. Allen, “this a chance for them to come together for a battle royale. We thought this was the perfect time to bring them under one roof. Season 4 was phenomenal and this is a great way to top it. There are new challenges ahead [for the contestants] for sure. Some of them haven’t had the full experience as it is now and so it will be completely new to them. We’re really looking forward to having them all back.”

In addition to the returning contestants, the judging panel will be a combination of judges from seasons 1-4 but at least two them will be familiar to the participants.

“Well, it wouldn’t be a season of The Shot without both Juneyt and myself,” Allen says, “but as for the other seats, it’s anybody’s guess really. Maybe there’s more than four judges this season? Maybe there’s only three? No matter who the judges are or how many of them there are, it’s going to be a blast and June really can’t come soon enough!”

Out of the 16 returning All-Stars, 8 of them will be featured in the finale on June 17 and one of them will be the best of the best.

Following All-Stars, The Shot will return in September with a brand new season open to anyone, from anywhere over the age of 16.

“Fall” Featured on 2016 Toronto Independent Music Awards Compilation

I’m really excited to be featured on the 2016 Toronto Independent Music Awards 2016 Compilation, which was officially released on October 17, 2016. Interestingly, there’s a really strong The Shot connection here! The compilation features my song “Fall” as well as Shot Judge Cuneyt -Juneyt- Yetkiner‘s track “Tesla.” Check it out on iTunes, Spotify, (well, I think you can get it just about everywhere!!)

The Shot Season 4 Underway

Once again, tremendous vocal talent has descended upon Kitchener-Waterloo, as the auditions for Season 4 of Canada’s premiere vocal talent competition, The Shot, are underway.

Unlike past seasons, auditions are open for anyone, anywhere, 16 years of age and older. The response has been fantastic, with over 200 entries into the competition, from across Canada, and as far away as the Bahamas! Auditions began on Friday, and will conclude on Saturday. The level of talent is unprecedented in the history of the competition, according to The Shot Executive Producer, CJ Allen. On the first day, just over 30 entrants made it through to the call-backs, which will held on Sunday. The competition will heat up, as the field is narrowed to 12 semi-finalists.

Semi-Finalists will perform on Saturday, November 12th at Kitchener’s Rhapsody Barrel Bar and the field will be whittled down to 8 Finalists. The audience at the Finals will select the winner from the finalists!

I’m pleased to support The Shot once again, and my band will be performing at the Semi-Final next Saturday to close out the night. Come on out!

Arts Awards Waterloo Region – Nomination & Performance

I’m excited to share that I’ve been nominated for an Arts Awards Waterloo Region in the Music category. This is a huge honour and it means a lot to be recognized in a community with so many fantastic musicians and artists! And, as if it could get any better, the band will be performing a couple songs at the awards show!

Here is the full list of nominees for the Music category:


James Downham

James is a singer-songwriter. After winning “The Shot” vocal talent search in March 2015, his band was a finalist in the Breaking Bands competition at the 2015 Big Music Fest, and then a semi-finalist in Indie Week Canada. His debut solo EP was also released in 2015. James helps organize the Hohner Avenue Porch Party in Kitchener.

Bethany Horst 

Bethany has sung with opera companies and orchestras in Canada, the United States, and Europe. A soprano, she has won the Lyndon Woodside Oratorio Solo Competition and received the prestigious Jacqueline Desmarais Foundation grant. In 2015 she sang locally with the Grand Philharmonic Choir and in a K-W Symphony opera-in-concert presentation of Die Fledermaus.

Olena Klyucharova and Andriy Tykhonov

Olena and Andriy are music instructors and performers who together and separately have delighted audiences of the Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival, K-W Chamber Music Society, The Jazz Room and many more venues. The couple, both graduates of the Glier State Music College of Kiev, operate the Accent Piano Studio and KW School of Music and Art.

Kathryn Ladano

Kathryn is the artistic director of NUMUS, a Waterloo new music organization focused on contemporary sounds. She is also director of the Improvisation Concerts Ensemble at Wilfrid Laurier University and an improvisation instructor in the faculty of musicAlso a professional bass clarinetist, Kathryn has toured Canada as a soloist and released two albums.

Trevor Wagler

Trevor is co-owner and director of Renaissance School of the Arts and conducts the Waterloo Concert Band and K-W Symphony Youth Concert Band. As a composer and arranger, he has produced more than 950 scores for performers around the world and for local groups, including KW Glee. He also teaches at Wilfrid Laurier University.


James Downham Featured in Waterloo Region Record

Kitchener musician finds his true voice again

James Downham has kicked off country trappings for his rock roots

Waterloo Region Record
Saturday, May 7, 2016

KITCHENER — James Downham — a true-to-himself Kitchener guy with his own rock band, CD and website — spent 10 years living a rhinestone lie.

He’d dress himself up as country crooner Tim McGraw for the amusement of urban cow-folk.

Black Stetson? Check. Western boots? Check. Gaudy belt buckle? Ditto.

That’s all the longtime local community care worker needed — besides his neatly chiseled chin-whiskers and twang-tinged vocal chords.

He was only tricked into this gig 12 years ago anyway, he sometimes feels.

His friends in a Tim tribute band needed a McGraw mimic to practise with. Downham slowly slipped into the role. A drawl developed in his delivery. His indie rock voice, still lingering from his University of Waterloo days fronting a band called Reson, was buried beneath the various Tim Mc-trappings.

“You’re being somebody else,” the 40-year-old Downham says.

“You play in front of packed bars of inebriated people who see you and they’re screaming and go crazy. But you can walk off the stage at the end of the set, take off the hat, walk back on stage to start wrapping cables and you’re not Tim McGraw anymore.”

The illusion dissipates immediately, he says. The ersatz Superman is replaced by a clumsy, cable-bashing Clark Kent. Nobody recognizes him. Nobody cares.

What about the songs he’s been writing with bandmate and keyboardist Mark Smith since the two were grade-schoolers in rural Pembroke?

As age 40 neared, were his days performing original material with his true voice long gone?

“I just didn’t think I’d get back to doing my own thing,” he worried.

“I thought that ship had sailed.”

He felt a bit like his dad, Bill, who once sang in a boys gospel group. Bill was enthusiastic but couldn’t carry a tune. The mic he stood in front of was always turned off. Bill was going through the motions to put on a show. Maybe his son was, too.

About four years ago, Downham started to step out of Tim McGraw’s shadow. His good friend Catherine Fife, now Kitchener-Waterloo MPP, asked Downham to play his music on her front deck during the Grand Porch Party.

“I almost said no.”

But Downham thought hard and accepted. He once orchestrated one of Fife’s political campaigns so surely he could strum a few tunes on her front porch. Then, he played at Hohner Avenue’s porch party. That’s in his Kitchener neighbourhood, so he now sits on the organizing committee.

Two Marches ago, his wife Angela suggested that he attend a music industry seminar at Kitchener City Hall, so he went. Then, as he was studying part-time at Laurier to get his master’s degree in business administration, he entered and won The Shot, a local competition aimed at mentoring emerging musical talent. Winning altered his attitude.

“You believe in yourself,” he said. “You get a little dose of anything-is-possible.”

One of the prizes was recording time. A CD ensued. He relearned how to play guitar standing up, something he never did as McGraw. His band played at last year’s Big Music Fest in Kitchener. This past week, Downham’s band joined bands from Hamilton to Hungary for Canadian Music Week at the Cadillac Lounge in Toronto. He’ll play Hohner Ave. again this month. His next 30 years are well underway.

Downham recently released a single called “Don’t Talk to Girls” that got airplay on radio stations out east, out west and up north — but not locally, he said.

Some pop-rock stations felt the single was too country. Some country stations felt it was too pop-rocky.

“Maybe we’ve made it difficult for ourselves,” said Downham, who promises the full album he’s working on will be rock. “I’m sure people are always going to hear a little bit of country in my voice.”

Maybe that’s a troublesome byproduct of his McGraw moonlighting.

But another potential booking looms for Downham. He’s been asked to dust off his Tim McGraw tribute act for a date in July.

“I don’t know if I will do it,” he said.

Why not? Because he doesn’t want to be just a quick-change, quick-draw impostor on stage any longer.

“Now, at least I’m still James Downham. People can come up to be after the show and say, ‘I really enjoyed that. That was great.'”

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