The Reklaws adjusted to the COVID-19 pandemic as best they could, streaming live concerts from their Toronto living room in the early days of lockdown and playing outdoor programs once restrictions loosened.
But those modified shows don't compare to the thrill of performing in front of large, indoor crowds, the Canadian country singers say.
The Reklaws will finally relive a rush they haven't experienced since 2019 when they perform — twice — in front of indoor audiences in London, Ont., this weekend. They headline a concert to kick off Canadian Country Music week on Friday, then cap it with the main event at the Canadian Country Music Association Awards on Monday night.
"It's a whole new energy (with indoor crowds). They're like caged animals that have been trapped and re-released into the wild," said Stuart Walker, half of the sibling duo that makes up the band along with Jenna Walker.
"It will be incredible to see what the crowd is like after you've taken that away from them for a year."
The award show marks the return of the CCMA spectacle in person since Calgary hosted it in 2019. Last year's show was a virtual, multicity production filmed in Toronto and Nashville weeks before it was broadcast.
The Nov. 29 bash will be livestreamed on the Global TV App and on Prime Video and broadcast on select radio stations in Calgary, Edmonton and London. Global will air an encore presentation of the show on Fri., Dec. 3.
With COVID-19 cases on the rise in Ontario, the CCMA announced its vaccine policy for the event in September, mandating full vaccination status for all attendees including performers, presenters and guests. The policy extends to all Country Music Week events.
Budweiser Gardens holds 10,000 for concerts, but the CCMA said capacity would be closer to 5,500 to 6,000 after taking into account the show's staging and the space required for a TV production. The organization said ticket sales are "moving as anticipated" on Wednesday.
The Reklaws, from Cambridge, Ont., lead the artist categories for this year's show with six nominations, including entertainer of the year, Amazon Music & Alexa Fans' Choice and single of the year for "Where I'm From."
They're also up for group or duo of the year, interactive artist of the year and single of the year for Dean Brody's "Can't Help Myself," which they feature on.
Jenna Walker described the duo's past 20 months as "wild." On a personal note, she got engaged over the summer, and the siblings bought a home in Nashville, where they spent some time songwriting in the spring.
Professionally, the Reklaws have enjoyed success in 2020 and 2021, earning back-to-back Juno nominations for group of the year. While COVID-19 restrictions forced them to cancel a number of shows, they used their pandemic frustrations to fuel song lyrics that pay lighthearted homage to some of the emotions they were feeling.
"What the Truck" — a pun-filled ditty that originated when the duo released a half-written version of it on TikTok — became a surprise hit after Sacha, another small-town Ontario country singer, chimed in with her own verse to complete the song.
Canadian pop star Shawn Mendes added to its popularity when he posted a video of himself listening to the song on his TikTok account, garnering five million views.
"We wrote it peak pandemic and I thought it was a complete joke," Jenna said with a laugh in a phone interview from Toronto. "We were honestly like: 'What the truck is going on in the world right now,' you know? ... We didn't think it would blow up but it did."
Sacha will perform alongside the Reklaws on Monday in an act Stuart said will "bring the heat to the party."
"You can expect a lot of lights, maybe an extra visual aspect.... It'll be a blast," he said.
Other performers include 2020 CCMA female artist of the year Tenille Townes of Grand Prairie, Alta., and 2021 five-time nominee Dallas Smith of Langley, B.C.
U.S. country star Chris Stapleton, who won six Country Music Association Awards two weeks ago, is set to perform virtually, as are Thomas Rhett and Walker Hayes.
The bash will be co-hosted by "Canada's Drag Race" winner Priyanka and CCMA Awards nominee Lindsay Ell of Calgary, who will also perform.
Ell, nominated for five awards including female artist of the year, said the show will represent a step forward for "change and inclusivity."
"The moments that Priyanka and I are planning together are going to be so much fun," Ell said. "There's a charisma that Priyanka brings when she gets on the screen. I was like: 'Goodness gracious, I'm going to have to stand on stage with the epitome of glam.'"
The Reklaws said they were also looking forward to the glamour and fun an in-person award show can bring after missing that last year.
"We cannot wait to see everybody," Stuart said. "It's going to be like a homecoming, a family reunion."
"It's been too long," Jenna added. "Let's have a party."
— With files from David Friend.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2021.
Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press