If you don’t know, now Juno

By Sarelle Azuelos

Canada’s 2012 Juno Awards went off without a hitch. Festivities have been popping up for months in anticipation of one final sparkly shebang in Ottawa, a city that’s impossible to hate even as it snowed Sunday like some sort of cruel April Fool’s gag.

The Gauntlet, your favourite student-run weekly rag, somehow managed to scrounge up a media pass. While we weren’t allowed to crash Sunday’s bash, one reporter took the opportunity to skip some midterms and went behind-the-scenes during nearly everything else.

The Junos are Canada’s attempt at a Hollywood-style awards show, with a few northern prerequisites. The entire affair leading up to Sunday’s major announcements was delightfully bipolar. Friday’s crowd was divided between a hockey game of The Rockers versus NHL Greats and a fancy welcome reception. The Greats, made up of folks like ex-Ottawa Senator Brad Marsh and ex-Tampa Bay Lighnting Gary Roberts, defeated The Rockers by a surprisingly slim margin. It seems like rebellious rocker lifestyle took over during halftime goal-worthy antics and helped The Rockers close the gap.

Spurred by the promise of free drinks and a chance to walk to Quebec (how often can you say that?) I instead headed to the reception at the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences coordinates the Junos and organizes many of the events, which may explain why this mainly felt like an excuse for various sponsors and music industry execs to network. Juno nominees Flying Down Thunder and Rise Ashen opened the event and were largely ignored, as was Mayor Jim Watson. Mingling among new hair and suits was more important than any multi-cultural music-related rhetoric spewed forth by municipal politicians. Beer in hand and a little bit starstruck, I did my best not to play “guess-the-artist” whenever a small gaggle of plaid-draped boys walked by.

If the high-class shindig and good ol’ Canadian hockey game didn’t satisfy your musical needs, JunoFest was just around the corner. The real highlight for most locals was not Friday’s reception or Saturday’s exclusive gala, but the dozens of local venues who teamed up with Juno organizers to showcase over 100 Canadian acts. Ottawa’s Byward district is about six square blocks packed with restaurants and bars, many of which opened their doors to wristband-toting music lovers seeking every kind of genre. Country, rock, pop and the Junos’s newest category, metal/hard music, all had their little corner of city for two nights. The people were great, the music even better.

What may be hard to tell from Sunday night’s CTV broadcast is that a vast majority of awards are actually handed out the night before.

Us media types were ushered to a room practically underneath the main stage, stuffed ourselves with meat on sticks and cookies, and watched the event via two TVs.

Hosted by CBC radio guru Jian Ghomeshi (here I’ll admit a small crush), Saturday probably wouldn’t make for great television as most of the winners didn’t bother to show. The opening scenes were bipolar in their own right. A band of bag pipers marched across the room to warm the audience for a quick performance by Lights, the tiny, tattooed 24-year-old rocker from Ontario. Thirty-three awards were handed out that night, and performers in attendance were subjected to some friendly Q&A sessions after their acceptance speeches. Some of the best quotes of the night came from unexpected sources. First up were metal vanquishers KEN mode, made up of brothers Jesse and Shane Matthewson and Andrew LaCour, the latest in a long line of bassists.

“I’m dumbfounded. I didn’t know this existed,” said Floridian LaCour.

Brian Howes won the Jack Richardson Producer of the Year award for his work with Nickelback and Hedley. He talked about his recent move to Los Angeles and working with American Idol winners, who always want to make a Radiohead record.

“It goes to their head a bit,” he said. “You need to make a soccer mom record, ’cause that’s who listens to the show.”

The Arkells, who took Group of the Year, stuck to a March Madness theme (“We’re gonna go all the way!”) and tried to ward off angry Hedley fans on Twitter, while Dan Mangan bagged Alternative Album of the Year after wooing the crowd during his performance.

Some big names won big awards, but most were saving their interviews for Sunday. Ah, well– next year, I guess. By then the Gauntlet will have surely made it to the big leagues. And while I’m sad not to have shaken hands with William Shatner, I’m happy to have avoided hearing him speak for an entire night.

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