Island country musician Jeff Pyette inducted into hall of fame

Jeff Pyette, right, holds his official portrait next to the portrait of his late friend Glen McDougall, held by organizer Ben Lentir. In the centre is NOCMA founder and president Dave Patterson.

SAULT STE. MARIE—Gore Bay’s Jeff Pyette was inducted into the Northern Ontario Country Music Hall of Fame this past weekend at the annual Northern Ontario Country Music Association (NOCMA) awards weekend in Sault Ste. Marie.

“This was a moment I’d never forget,” said Mr. Pyette on the day after the festivities concluded.

Mr. Pyette was inducted into the Hall of Fame alongside Yvan Nadeau and Frank Robbins from Cochrane and Nipissing districts, respectively.

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“The focus on the North is great. There’s so many people that really like classic country music and are coming from areas all over the North to see this,” said Mr. Pyette.

NOCMA started in 1989 as the Country Club in Sault Ste. Marie. Two years later, the Sault Ste. Marie and District Country Music Hall of Fame began. The collection does not currently have a permanent home.

In 1993, some of the original organizers registered the term ‘The Great Northern Opry’ to refer to local shows and dances. Every year, notable musicians are inducted into the Hall of Fame and the Great Northern Opry. As per usual, this year a busload of Island country music fans and friends of Mr. Pyette travelled to the Sault for the event.

Many supporters have donated to the organization throughout its existence to ensure its viability. NOCMA is unique as a music organization in that many of its inductees are not career musicians.

The festivities got underway last Friday with a Great Northern Opry Show and Dance that included the musical stylings of inductee Mr. Nadeau and the Bandidos along with guests from around Timmins.

On Saturday evening, the 2018 NOCMA Awards Show started at 6 pm and featured music by White Stallion and Friends. That band also played alongside the seven Great Northern Opry and Hall of Fame inductees.

This year’s Great Northern Opry inductees and their districts are Vern Cheechoo, Cochrane; Mike Joseph, Cochrane; Don Gibbings, Nipissing; Earl Bell, Algoma; Cheryl Robbins, Nipissing; Marc Serre, Sudbury; and Darrin Johnson, inductee-at-large.

Mr. Pyette was the last inductee to perform during the awards show. He played a cover of ‘One Horse Down’ by Blackberry Smoke.

“Everybody was doing classic country,” said Mr. Pyette, adding that the song he chose was released in 2014. “It’s on modern country radio but it sat well. It’s one I’ve been playing a lot. The band was spot on and it broke up what we were doing.”

He said he was a bit nervous leading into the event but managed to pull through.

“I got over my afternoon jitters at the last minute,” said Mr. Pyette. “I’ve performed there before, but it was a bit more about me this time and I’m not quite used to the spotlight.”

Getting all his thoughts out on stage was a challenging task for Mr. Pyette.

“I’m trying to bask in the glory and everything and in the back of my mind I’m just hoping I’m not going to lose it up there in front of so many people,” he said. “There was a lot more I could have said but I was getting to the point where I was trying to dodge the subject to keep my composure. In the end I got to thank a few people individually and let them know how I felt.”

Mr. Pyette received a few keepsakes from the event. MP Carol Hughes and MPP Mike Mantha both prepared a plaque for Mr. Pyette and he received another plaque from the Canadian Country Music Association acknowledging his contributions to the art form. He said there was a sketch artist that created “quite a likeness” of him.

The most significant keepsake, however, was likely from former bandmate and good friend the late Glen McDougall. Mr. McDougall’s wife Beth presented Mr. Pyette with her late husband’s opry ring, personally engraved for Mr. Pyette. Mr. McDougall, who passed away earlier this year, was the one who first broke the news that Mr. Pyette was to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Immediately after the awards ceremony was another Great Northern Opry Show and Dance with music by Back in Tyme from North Bay. The events all concluded on Sunday morning with Scott Infanti’s Great Northern Opry Annual Country Gospel Show. Allan Mooney served as master of ceremonies for the weekend.

“It was a super, super time. There was seating for 550 in the conference room and even the hallways had a lot of people,” said Mr. Pyette. Most of his family was able to attend the ceremony, where friends and strangers alike cheered on Mr. Pyette.

“I was hoping I was going to represent the Island well and I was told by some stranger from North Bay, ‘I think you just represented your jurisdiction as well as anybody can.’”

The celebration gave Mr. Pyette the chance to pause and reflect on what his career has meant to this date.

“I had been thinking, if music kept going the way it was there might not be a place for me,” he said. “This is kind of like the pinnacle for my musical career.”

Mr. Pyette said the new district reps were well organized for the accommodations, meals and other details of the event.

As for the future, Mr. Pyette said there is much more ahead of him.

“I’m just going to keep on plugging away, picking and grinning. As long as people are listening, I’m going to keep playing.”

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