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Rocky Mountain Country Music Awards Honor the Year's Best in Nine States

Winners of the 2022 Rocky Mountain Country Music Awards will receive a custom-made buckle by Montana Silversmiths and an OtterBox cooler.
Winners of the 2022 Rocky Mountain Country Music Awards will receive a custom-made buckle by Montana Silversmiths and an OtterBox cooler. Courtesy photo / RMCMAs
One night around ten years ago, Greeley native and country radio on-air talent Shawn Patrick was thinking about how he could honor the local country music scene and build awareness.

“I knew many of these talented bands were not getting the recognition they deserved,” says Patrick, who runs the programming on iHeartRadio country stations in Loveland, Greeley, northern Colorado and Cheyenne, Wyoming. He also hosts The Shawn Patrick Show, a country radio program in ninety markets nationwide.

“Looking back, I ultimately wanted to get everyone in one room and thank this amazing talent pool in Colorado and Wyoming,” recalls Patrick. “Having an award show was a way to do that.”

He presented the concept to iHeartRadio, which agreed to take on the financial risks, and the Rocky Mountain Country Music Awards were started in 2016, with Patrick as the principal founder. Since then, the event has grown legs. “It has snowballed into something really cool, with nine states participating,” notes Patrick.

In 2017, Utah, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas joined Colorado and Wyoming as participants, between 2017 and 2019, New Mexico, Montana and North Dakota followed suit.

On Saturday, February 19, nominees from the Rocky Mountain region will gather at the Union Colony Civic Center in downtown Greeley to celebrate the 2022 Rocky Mountain Country Music Awards. Tickets to the show and the option to livestream are still available.

Singer-songwriter Caitlin Quisenberry, who moved from Denver to Nashville a year ago to pursue music full-time, is up for New Artist of the Year. She’ll perform an unplugged version of her single “Take Only What You Need” at the awards ceremony.

“This nomination is very sentimental to me, as I’m a fourth-generation Colorado native, born and raised in Denver, and grew up singing in churches and choirs here, and it’s where I launched my country music career,” says Quisenberry.

Clayton Smalley, from Spanish Fork, Utah, is up for the same award as Quisenberry; he'll perform an acoustic rendition of his latest song, “His Guitar,” a true story about his grandmother giving him her father’s 1935 Gibson guitar in 2019, after the release of his debut EP, Whiskey Sunrise. “I didn’t know my great-grandfather played guitar. It still had the same strings on it from when he played it last,” says Smalley. “It’s an honor to be able to play the song for everyone that night.”

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Greeley native Shawn Patrick founded the Rocky Mountain Country Music Awards in 2016.
Shawn Patrick
Patrick says the 2022 RMCMAs is styled after national award shows like the Country Music Awards and the Grammys. “When I was putting the first event together, the word ‘banquet’ kept being brought up to me, and it drove me nuts, because that’s exactly what I didn’t want it to be — a room filled with tablecloths and folding tables. I wanted a true, elegant event like you see on television.”

Newcomers to Saturday’s show can expect an evening of live music, some laughs, the presentation of eleven awards to the year’s best, and a bevy of celebrity presenters, including Craig Campbell, who has four Top 25 country songs; American Young, a CMA and ACM-nominated Nashville act; the Ryan Beyer Experience, a local magic act; and Longmont native Kody Lostroh, who was crowned the Professional Bull Riders World Champion in 2009. Double Wide, a comic ’90s-country cover band, will also perform a song. Patrick, who fronts the group, will be sporting his usual mullet wig and heavy mustache.

“The human eye can get bored, so we’re mixing things up," promises Patrick. "This year, we’re putting the drum kit on a mobile caster so it can roll around and be in different spots each time a band plays. And we have a giant screen that sits behind the bands that takes up the whole back part of the stage, which helps to change up the look with each act."

The awards will be handed out in the following categories: New Artist of the Year, Female Vocalist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, Venue of the Year, Event/Festival of the Year, Musician of the Year, Entertainer of the Year, and the Fan Army Award, which is the only fan-voted award.

Two specialty awards will also be presented: The Hadley Barrett Person of the Year Award and the Chris LeDoux Lifetime Achievement Award. The former honors the late Hall of Fame Rodeo announcer and is given to an individual from the music scene that has done incredible things for their community.

The Chris LeDoux Lifetime Achievement Award, which was inaugurated in memory of late Wyoming singer-songwriter and former rodeo champion Chris LeDoux, is presented to someone who Patrick describes as “taking Rocky Mountain country music to new levels throughout their career.” A past recipient of the award is country-radio hitmaker Dierks Bentley, who won two years ago.

Kayla Ruby, who is up for Female Vocalist of the Year, will perform her new single, “Ladies Night,” with her band. The Broomfield songwriter, who’s been singing since her teens — including a national anthem gig with the Denver Broncos over the past four years — says she is proud to represent her home state. “It means the world to me! It’s such an honor to represent country music in the Rocky Mountain region and Colorado, and to be nominated alongside other powerhouse women in the genre.” The full list of nominees can be viewed on the RMCMA website.

Patrick says that in order to be eligible for an award, a band or artist must live in the nine-state region or have lived in one of the states for at least a year. Among other criteria, nominations are based on performances and/or releases that have taken place within eighteen months prior to the date of the awards show.

This year, he received around a thousand submissions. “The nominations come from pure votes from people in the industry, including bands, record labels, managers, publicists, crews and professionals involved in the music scene," explains Patrick. "We announce how to vote on our socials and website two months before the award show.”

Although fans can only vote for the Fan Army Award, a chunk of submissions came from non-industry people. “Around one-third comes from fans each year, and those have to be thrown out,” says Patrick. He has a team that calculates legitimate submissions, as well as a ten-member silent committee that selects the finalists.

Each of the eleven winners will take home a $500 RMCMA custom-made belt buckle by Montana Silversmiths, a manufacturer known for the gold buckles presented at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Texas. In addition to the buckle, Fort Collins-based OtterBox will give a cooler to each recipient.
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Singer-songwriter, Nashville recording artist and Colorado native Clare Dunn is nominated in three categories.
Clare Dunn
One of the past winners of the esteemed belt buckle is country star Clare Dunn, who won Entertainer of the Year in 2020. Dunn, who grew up on her parents’ farm and cattle ranch in Two Buttes, in southeastern Colorado, is up for three awards this year, including Female Vocalist of the Year, Song of the Year for her single “Holding Out for a Cowboy,” and Entertainer of the Year again. She'll perform the single on Saturday.

The singer, songwriter, guitarist and producer says this is her first time attending the RMCMAs in person, though she was in town for the last one.

“I drove my pickup truck from Nashville to Colorado to spend a week with my family and go to the awards in March of 2020," recalls Dunn. "And on the day of the show, I got a text from Shawn Patrick, letting me know it had been canceled because of the pandemic.” 

She hasn’t left her hometown since. “I’ve been hiding out here, which has been incredibly freeing — being surrounded by family, nature, animals, helping out and working the land like I used to when I was younger.”

Being home has only deepened her creativity. Dunn penned “Safe Haven,” a soulful ballad wishing everyone safety and comfort during trying times, and performed it during the April 2020 virtual RMCMAs. Last year she released a five-song EP, In This Kind of Light, that she produced in the basement of her family farm.

"I'm glad I got to live in Nashville for many years, pursuing my dreams," says Dunn, who secured a recording contract with Universal Music Group Nashville in 2014. (Her songs "Move On," "Tuxedo" and "More" all charted on Billboard's Top Country Songs.) "But the silver lining that's come out of going through the pandemic is that creators like myself have realized that we don't have to live in Nashville to be a part of country music. We can write and make music anywhere. I'm so pumped about that!"

The 2022 Rocky Mountain Country Music Awards presented by iHeartRadio, 7 p.m. Saturday, February 19, Union Colony Civic Center, 701 10th Avenue in Greeley. Tickets to the all-ages show are $12-$60; livestreaming is also available for a fee.
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