By Terry Steeves
The 46th Juno Awards found it’s home for the third time in Canada’s capital city of Ottawa, appropriately located as the nation celebrates its 150th birthday. And the third time was certainly the charm, as the city celebrated not only Canada’s Juno-nominated musicians, but also many national and local Canadian artists in a vast array of events that took place during the week leading up to the main event on Sun. 2 Apr. at the Canadian Tire Centre.
Here are some event highlights of an unforgettable week of Juno-mania in the nation’s capital:
Juno Awards Set Reveal/Open Rehearsal (Fri. Mar. 31) – Friday morning took me to Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre, where I had the opportunity to see the actual set design set-up for Sunday’s awards broadcast, and the added bonus of watching an Arkells rehearsal. I saw a creative team of boom camera operators, sound and lighting engineers, stage managers, set crew, and musicians, all working together like a well-oiled machine with the common goal of pulling off one of the biggest televised Canadian productions.
I spoke with Production/Video/Lighting Designer and Director of Photography, Alex Nadon, a Buckingham, PQ native who has taken the Junos across the country for the past 10 years: “The original name of this arena, the Palladium, inspired the Romanesque architecture for the set design. There’s so much that happens in between the load-in and the show. There are many challenges like having only 4 minutes to changeover from one band to the next, while trying to make sure each artist is equally represented. There are literally hundreds involved…local crews work in conjunction with us and have been so cooperative. With each year, we learn new things and repeat some others, but it’s a brand new experience each time.”
Next, I chatted with CEO of Insight Productions, and Executive Producer of the Juno Awards, John Brunton. “You could say is like another 150th celebration of sorts…we always wrap ourselves up in the Canadian flag. But you always want to tip your hat to the past as well as be focused on the future…there’s a necessary diversity, and an interesting balance of young/old, future/past. You want to have a show that celebrates iconic artists, but have a point of discovery on artists people may not have seen yet. A lot of these new artists are kicking ass and taking prisoners from one corner of the world to another. We’re also celebrating people like Leonard Cohen, with Feist paying tribute to him. Feist has got heart, soul, and an artistic sensibility that represents an artist like Cohen…and we haven’t seen her in awhile. We also always want to make sure this is a fan-friendly awards show.”
JUNO Cup (Fri., Mar. 31) – This year’s 14th annual hockey game took place at downtown Ottawa’s TD Place Arena, the proceeds of which went to MusiCounts, a charity operated by the CARAS that supports music programs in schools across Canada. The game pits musicians (The Rockers) against alumni NHL hockey jocks (NHL Greats) in two 25-minute periods, or as this year’s team captain Jim Cuddy put it, “thoroughbreds against quarter horses…”, and even included a singing face-off between himself and opponent, Daniel Alfredsson. But in the end, even though the NHL Greats may have won (again) by a hair of one point, there’s never any winners or losers. It was, and is clearly about fun, and most importantly, the kids in schools that benefit from the proceeds raised for MusiCounts.
JUNO Cup Jam (Thurs., Mar. 30) – This year’s ‘Rockers’ hockey team took to the stage at a packed Bourbon Room the night before they faced off on the ice against the NHL Greats in a comfortably unscripted musical merry-go-round of performers. With Devin Cuddy and his crew acting as house band, some of the performers included Jim Cuddy, Barney Bentall, Gord Bamford, Steve Marriner, Amanda Rheaume, Kathleen Edwards, bassist Jonathan Gallant (Billy Talent), J.J. Shiplett, Doug Oliver (Cold Creek County), Adrian Sutherland (Midnight Shine), and guitarist Jimmy Bowskill (Blue Rodeo/Sheepdogs). Songs ranged from crowd-pleasing covers to original material, and finished nicely in an all-out jam by everyone on The Band’s, “The Weight”. Proceeds from the sold out show also went to MusiCounts.
Art is Art Exhibit (Fri. Mar. 31) – Ottawa Art Gallery Annex, located inside Ottawa City Hall, was a free event that showcased the visual art practices of prominent Canadian recording artists. A selection of paintings, sketches, digital art, and photographs revealed the artistic tangents of Jann Arden, Chantal Kreviazuk, Sarah McLachlan, Bruce Cole, Tom Wilson, Jay Malinowski, Murray McLauchlan, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and other celebrated Canadian musicians and reknowned rock and roll photographers.
JUNOfest (Fri. 31 Mar. & Sat. 1 Apr.) – presented by CBC Music, and produced by Shawn Scallen of Spectrasonic. Like the name entails, it was indeed a city-wide two-night music festival that brought together performances by both local and Juno-nominated artists at over 20 venues. For a mere $30 wristband, one had the opportunity to hop from one location to another, to take in a band/artist that one might not get to see in a more intimate setting. My Friday escapades included acts, Heather Bambrick (Live On Elgin), leMeow (Irene’s Pub), Stay Classy (Dominion Tavern), The Balconies (Zaphod Beeblebrox), and a two-fer of Sean Pinchin and Colin Linden (Rainbow Bistro). My only regret is that I didn’t have 12 clones of myself to catch all the excitement.”
Juno Welcome Reception (Fri. 31 Mar.) – Friday night kicked off The 2017 JUNO Awards in Ottawa with a welcome reception held inside the gorgeous National Gallery, in honour of Canada’s music elite and Juno Award nominated artists. Inspiring speeches were given by CARAS President and CEO, Allan Reid, and President of Music Canada, Graham Henderson, who spoke of the importance of nurturing those who create music, for they are often the ones that have the hardest time making a living. A special celebration for MusiCounts 20th anniversary awarded their inaugural Inspired Minds Ambassador Award to Canadian music producer, Bob Ezrin and his wife, Jan Ezrin, as well as the Teacher of the Year Award to Dianne Winmill of North Hastings High School in Bancroft, Ont. By the end of 2017, MusiCounts will have awarded over $10,000,000 through its programs.
Juno Gala Dinner & Awards (Sat. 1 Apr) – took place inside the Shaw Centre, and honoured 35 winners including Artist of the Year (Leonard Cohen), Alternative Album of the Year (July Talk), Breakthrough Group of the Year (The Dirty Nil), Rock Album of the Year (The Tragically Hip), and a surprise win by Toronto’s, The Strumbellas, who beat out Alessia Cara, Drake, and Shawn Mendes for Single of the Year.
Keifer Sutherland presented the annual Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award to Randy Lennox, now President of Bell Media, but whose term as former President and CEO of Universal Music Canada offered a staggeringly long list of artists, whose careers he’d catapulted into music industry success.
JUNO 2017 Songwriters’ Circle – another event that benefitted MusiCounts, gave an up-close and personal look at some of our Juno nominees and their craft. It was hosted by revered Canadian singer/songwriter and guitarist, Bruce Cockburn, who received a welcome standing ovation before he even reached the microphone. Songwriters included Chantal Kreviazuk, Donovan Woods, Paul Murphy (Wintersleep), Lisa LeBlanc, and blues great, Colin Linden, to name a few. The show, which took place inside the National Art Centre’s Southam Hall, preluded the Juno Awards live broadcast earlier in the afternoon, and offered a stripped down listen of the artists and the stories behind their songs.
2017 Juno Awards – Live broadcast (Sun. 2 Apr. 6:30pm) –
What impressed me most about the Junos this year, is that it centered more around the performances. With only 7 awards handed out, it left plenty of space for musical content, which was a diverse selection that offered a mixed bag of musical genres. The transitions between the hosts, presenters, performers, and featured segments was smooth, and entertaining. The energy of performances by July Talk, the Arkells, The Strumbellas, Dallas Smith, Billy Talent, Bryan Adams, and more were matched by the energy of the crowd, and the night seemed to fly by. Here’s a brief rundown of Sunday night’s winners:
Breakthrough Artist of the Year: Edmonton native, Ruth B, who brightly added, “No matter where you come from, no matter what you do, follow your passion.” She would later sit at the piano for a beautiful performance of her song “Lost Boys”, with the accompaniment of the OrKidstra orchestra, in her first-ever Juno performance.
Country Album of the Year: Jess Moskaluke (“Kiss Me Quiet”) – Saskatchewan’s, Jess Moskaluke, who left her heels behind to climb onboard the stage to claim her first Juno award. Wearing no shoes seemed to be theme of some of the winners…The Strumbellas unexpected win for Single of the Year had lead singer, Simon Ward leave his boots under the table to grab the band’s award during Saturday’s gala in his sock feet. Later, I would see Sarah McLachlan walking around backstage in her bare feet…it was just a kind of comfortable informality.
Pop Album of the Year: Alessia Cara (“Know-It-All”) – Pretty impressive for the fact this is the first album she’s ever released (although not her first Juno), but what impressed me even more about this 20-year old woman from Brampton, Ont. was her strong vocals and how comfortable she was onstage…it was as if she’d performed thousands of times already. She later graced us with duo performances of “Stay” (w/Zedd), and “Scars To Your Beautiful”.
Songwriter of the Year: Gord Downie (who appeared via video broadcast) – Downie has especially brought an awareness to our First Nations peoples with his latest album, “Secret Path”, which also claimed the Alternative Album of the Year, and won Art Director, Jonathan Shedletzky a Juno for Recording Package of the Year. “Thank you for…recognizing our friends who were here before us for thousands of years. My dream would be that this record with Jeff Lemire’s drawings might help people. It might give teachers something to help teach our young ones…”.
Group of the Year: The Tragically Hip – who also picked up an award for Rock Album of the Year (“Man Machine Poem”) during Saturday’s gala awards show. Hip members Paul Langlois and Rob Baker received the award on behalf of the band. Langlois gave a string of lengthy, yet necessary thank yous to members of their longtime crew, who have always “made sure they got us to the gig on time…”. Some live hilarity ensued when Baker’s turn to speak got cut short…”Go to commercial – go ahead”, he quipped, “This is MY arena, not yours…”. The fans cheered on as he kept talking while the show cut to commercial.
Juno Fan Choice: Shawn Mendes – At only 18 years of age, his songs and natural-born stage presence have quickly landed him international status. Dressed in black leather duds, he blew the crowd away with an energetic performance of his hit, “Mercy”.
Album of the Year: Leonard Cohen – PM Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, shared the mic to speak eloquently about the late great Leonard Cohen, and how his hometown of Montreal was often in the content of his songs. “He shared profound truths and sang every word with candor and grace. We recognized ourselves in what he wrote.” They then introduced Feist to the stage, who gave a performance in tribute to Cohen with, “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye”. The room fell silent as she sang to the accompaniment of her acoustic guitar and two backing vocalists. She delivered a song as pure and sensitive as the sound of her voice. I could think of no other performer more appropriate to convey the music and words of a man that were honest, thought-provoking, and dared to wallow in the depths of the human condition.
Canadian Music Hall of Fame – an award that is always given to the recipient during the Juno Awards broadcast, was presented by Bryan Adams to Sarah McLachlan, who also won A Juno for Adult Contemporary Album of the Year during Saturday’s Gala Awards show. A video showcase outlined her long career as a successful Canadian singer/songwriter, her trailblazing journey to international stardom, and her noted achievements, the Sarah McLachlan School of Music, and Lilith Fair.
Final performances included Sarah McLachlan, who performed “World On Fire”, accompanied with Canadian sensation couple, Whitehorse. Bryan Adams tied things up as he led the pack for a rendition of his classic, “Summer of 69”, as promised to PM Justin Trudeau during the opening comedic segment of the show.