This weekend, Ottawa was undeniably alive. During the weeks leading up to Canada’s biggest night in music, it seemed as if there was a portion of the population still unaware the event was coming to town. But as the last week of March passed, the Juno flags began to sway from downtown Ottawa’s lamp posts, Canadian music superstars from every generation trickled into the city with their celebrated songs on hand – and soon, there wasn’t a shadow of a doubt that an explosion of cultural spirit and pride had hit the nation’s capital.
Prior to the awards gala and broadcast which brought together some of the country’s largest musicians, Ottawa’s Juno week events were lively platforms for local artists and venues to draw in the flocks of entertainment media and rub shoulders with industry veterans. St. Laurent shopping centre was the autograph grounds for deadMau5, Simple Plan, Carly Rae Jepsen, Alyssa Reid, Classified and more, the JUNO Cup musician versus hockey player showdown took over the Nepean Sportsplex and JUNOFest packed both budding and established local and national acts into the set space at Ottawa’s hottest bars all weekend.
Cuff the Duke. Photo: Quame Scott
To commence the festive weekend, Ottawa Life hosted rockabilly darling and the face of the magazine’s most recent cover, Lindi Ortega, at Mambo in the Byward Market. Lindi, a guitar, her black birdcage veil and little red boots stomped solo in front of a microphone to a crowd of fans and patrons in the restaurant, celebrating the two Junos she received nominations for with her upbeat acoustic set. Although Lindi didn’t take either award home to Nashville with her this year, she did steal another little piece of Ottawa’s heart with her old soul country jams and humble disposition.
As much as the week’s fanfare events were fantastically engaging ways to garner hype around the city, once the doors of the Ottawa Convention Centre opened for the first night of awards distribution on Saturday evening – the build-up swiftly turned to buzz about which musicians would be taking home those neat little glass statues. Around the dinner hour, suits and gowns (1600 of them, to be exact) filed into the ballroom of one of Ottawa’s newest and most exquisite re-builds – so many familiar faces, voices and mannerisms that it was impossible to continue feeling star struck twenty minutes in; unless very well-versed in placing names-to-faces, it might have been hard to tell you were in the drink line with an Arkell, or, because there were so many identifiably legendary artists mingling together, you were smart to just give up on the notion of feeling jumpy.
Hey Rossetta. Photo: Quame Scott
Contrary to popular belief, 34 of the 40 awards – including Group of the Year, Pop Album of the Year and Video of the Year – were handed out at the Saturday evening gala prior to the JUNO broadcast. So, although a formal and more intimate affair including a dinner and six performances by the likes of Lights, Oliver Jones, Dan Mangan and Lindi Ortega – the media still waited with eager fingers hovering over recording devices and keyboards foreshadowing the newsworthiness of following night, which would include the red carpet and the live broadcast. CBC’s Jian Ghomeshi hosted the awards dinner, and despite the pleasant candidness of his appearance, his jokes didn’t always result in a wave of knee-slaps throughout the room. Still, the Canadian broadcaster managed to get the ball rolling while introducing the presenters and nominees, as well as rocker Sam Roberts as the first ever Juno Sustainability Ambassador, Blue Rodeo as the newest inductee into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, music entrepreneur Gary Slaight with the Walt Grealis achievement award (and very long tribute video from Canadian artists to the tune of “We Are the World”) and Simple Plan with the Allan Waters Humanitarian award. Other big wins during the evening went to The Sheepdogs, Feist, The Arkells, Hedley, Drake and Melanie Fiona. On making it in the music business, music tycoon Gary Slaight said plainly: “You have to work hard and you have to be committed. If you write more songs, than you’ve got the key to success. Don’t do anything stupid and treat it like a real job – because it is a real job.”
When Sunday morning rolled around, along with some nasty storm clouds and equally as unforgiving music industry hangovers – the city picked up and hauled out to Kanata to begin set-up for the biggest evening in Canadian music, the Juno live broadcast. While the red carpet rolled out and Feist’s beautiful skin-tight red gown, a glowing Sarah McLachlan and dapper Dan Mangan, Dallas Green and host William Shatner rolled in – the ceremony kicked off to a screaming crowd of Scotiabank attendees. “Hello, I’m recording artist William Shatner,” the 81 year-old Captain Kirk said in a monotone growl, soliciting a roar of cheers from the audience.
Aleesia. Photo: Quame Scott
International pop-rockers Nickelback were the first to perform before Newfoundland collective Hey Rosetta! stepped out, wooing the crowd with their touching newborn-themed rock anthem “Welcome” – a showing that later earned a shout-out from legendary Blue Rodeo frontman Jim Cuddy in their media room appearance. “That Baker guy has just an amazing voice,” Cuddy gushed.
City and Colour nabbed Songwriter of the Year and later in the night performed his haunting tune “The Grand Optimist” in a brave acoustic piece set to a family slideshow; a feat that only someone with Green’s caliber of confident milky vocals could pull off with such power. The kids enjoyed an uppity “dance mix tape” medley performance by Alyssa Reid, Anjulie, Dragonette, Mia Martina and JRDN moments before Feist took home Artist of the Year over some of her Canadian superstar peers. Although the award made number 11 for the famed indie sweetheart, she was adorably startled by the honour. “I’m in shock, I can’t believe I’m standing here,” the belle of the ball said in disbelief.
Another sweet favourite was scruffy indie-rocker Dan Mangan, who has worked incredibly hard to now be a deserving two-time Juno winner in the Best New Artist and Alternative Album categories, to which he graciously said, “I’m just a pebble on the beach of progression. The trick is… it takes time to do anything that is worthwhile.”
One of the undeniably odd parts of the night was all of the absent nominees; although mostly with legitimate reasons, it still didn’t necessarily feel as esteemed or illustrious as years past, where the star-studded attendance roll was almost too much to handle. Some names who received nods but skipped the trip were teen sensation Justin Bieber who sent a pleasant ‘thank you’ video, Drake, Adele (shocking, we know) and The Sheepdogs, who were touring with John Fogerty in Australia –something, however, that is completely understandable and had Canada’s approval. Maybe more strange than the missing musicians was the fact that Michael Buble won Album of the Year over Drake, Justin Bieber and Nickelback…for his Christmas album. Not only because it was the awards note we ended on, which is highly unfortunate after a pleasant evening, but if you are to investigate the qualifications for winning this award – this is a selection I think everyone can agree was either a huge mix-up, or a huge mistake.
In any sense, while Feist absolutely lit up the stadium with a profound performance of “The Bad in Each Other,” Blue Rodeo and Sarah McLachlan did the classic “Lost Together” collaboration and Lights proved herself worthy of a Deadmau5 party duet on stage, there were hundreds of other memorable little moments from this year’s Juno awards. Although we missed some faces, couldn’t possibly make it to everything and had to inevitably say goodbye to many of Canada’s A-list friends on Monday morning, any cause to gather and appreciate music – especially the breadth of Canadian music we have at our fingertips – is a wonderful thing to look back on.