The Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary, AB | April 3, 2016
The show opened, pre-broadcast, with a barrage of lights and spotlights and a voice pushing the near capacity crowd to cheer, clap, yell, scream, and do whatever was necessary to make noise so the transition to near-live television would be a thrill for those on the other side of their LED screens. From a camera shot at floor level from the back of the building, the arrangement of the stage screens was reminiscent of an Inuit Inuksuk, painted in a psychedelic pastiche.
As promised by the producers, this show was for the fans who lined the flowing stage thrusts with smart phones flashing. With the stage thrusts less than half a metre in height, the audience were active participants in the event, making it difficult to denote the performers from the distant camera angles.
Jann Arden and co-emcee Jon Montgomery were off to an good start with some droll humour. In a quick discussion about the nominees, Arden noted with a big smile, “It’s better when you win.” A joke around the comparisons of training for career in sports and training for a musical life were very similar, except the fact that, as Arden pointed out, “There is no drug testing,” in music “or there wouldn’t be a single soul here tonight.” Obvious jokes for some of us perhaps, but the younger audience ate it up.
The first award went to Walk Off the Earth for Group of the Year. A long walk to the stage leads to some empty air; some narrated facts may have made this walk, and others, flow more effectively.
Country Album of the Year went to Gypsy Road by Dean Brody. The strong fan reaction and his genuine heart felt response were a nice counterpoint to the glossiness of the show.
Shawn Mendes was the obvious fan choice in the building though he lost to Justin Bieber, whose name brought a small chorus of boos. Fame and popularity can be fleeting.
The Weeknd pushed the volume, rattling the walls and getting the audience in front to jump-jump-jump. His five wins over the weekend proved fitting given his international presence. Let’s hope he can maintain the momentum over time.
Alessia Cara gushed, “I couldn’t be prouder to be Canadian.” And with a bit of subtle humour, she noted the number one question she’s asked when travelling, “What’s in the water there?”
Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly comments on artist funding from the new government were an interesting contrast to Walk Off the Earth’s later statement, “Just do the work yourself,” when asked how young artists should utilize social media to build their material. There was much discussion over the weekend about organizations like MusiCounts and the Junos, and institutions like the NMC being incubators for new talent. The past few years have shown that the DIY attitude has had a greater impact on artists than the older development-nurture model. Time will tell which approach yields better results, but one would guess that a blending of the two will be the most successful.
Burton Cummings brought down the house with “My Own Way to Rock,” a fitting bookend to his Hall of Fame award. A man of music and heart. At the media Q&A he advised musicians to, “Write your own stuff,” because “anyone can sing, but if you don’t have songs…you’re done.”
He then stated, “I never spend more than two hours to write to a song.” Not to say that he’s a genius, but if an idea isn’t working within two hours he moves onto another. It’s a journeyman approach, but it has obviously worked well for him. “I’m writing more about aging and existential ideas now,” he muses. Long gone are the songs about love, heartbreak, and moody angst. He added that when he was growing up in the 60s there were 150 and 200 bands working every weekend in Winnipeg.
And that’s what the Junos weekend should really be about: live music available to all and all musicians earning a living making music.
By Brian Stanko