We’re deep into May already, but I’m only now getting the chance to share my 2015 JUNO Awards experience. When we look back on 2015, the JUNOs are going to stand out as one of the most exciting moments of the year. It could not have been a better time for Hamilton to take the stage on a national level and host the JUNOs. We were the first to host when the show began to travel to other cities in 1995. Our last time hosting was in 2001, and it all felt very full circle to have the 44th annual JUNOs back in Hamilton. It was our time to shine.
Read my immediate recap on Tourism Hamilton’s #MyHamilton blog series. Leading up to JUNO Week, I also got to record an episode of the JUNOs #Turn It On podcast with host Jamie Tennant to talk local music – check it out!
With so many events leading up to the JUNOs, it was was hard to believe when it rolled around so quickly. The first press conference was back in December which was followed by a Tokyo Police Club pop-up show. The first chunk of this year leading up to the big day was filled with more JUNO fun: nominations press conference, Valentine’s Day fundraiser show for MusiCounts, July Talk pop-up show – it was such an exciting time.
JUNO Week itself was absolutely packed with events – sold-out concert at Liuna Station with The Sheepdogs and Tokyo Police Club, JUNO Cup celeb hockey game, JUNO Fan Fare, JUNOfest at various venues, Music Crawl, Songwriters’ Circle, Francophone and Aboriginal events.. phew! The weekend for me felt like Supercrawl, with so much excitement and buzz throughout the city, and a lot of me running around! To recap my adventures:
The fantastic #TurnItOn Music Crawl took place along James Street North and extended all the way down to Jackson Square. It was perfect that the night fell on our regular Art Crawl, making it a great opportunity to show out-of-towners one of our most vibrant events. Local musicians and bigger Canadian acts played in unconventional spaces along the street throughout the evening.
Down the street at Liuna Station was the official JUNO Welcome Reception. With my trusty media pass around my neck, it was a new experience for me. I quickly connected with fellow bloggers – Justin of People of Hamilton, Fehn of Cut From Steel, Thorsten of The Xtra Mile, Elise from Redeemer College and Aaron Daniel Films. We were the green carpet crew! We had the chance to snap photos of some of the nominees before heading inside to schmooze a little (ok, we mostly just hung out with each other). It was a fancy affair, with two JUNO cocktails being served: the “Encore” made with Polar Ice vodka, lemonade, raspberry liqueur, and soda water, and the “Headliner” made with JP Wiser’s whiskey, triple sec, angostura bitters, and orange zest. Suffice to say, I sampled both. Gotta get the full experience.
After that, I raced over to The Casbah, which was my pick for the first night of JUNOfest. You couldn’t go wrong with whichever showcase you chose, but I was particularly excited for this one. Fred Penner (who went on to win a JUNO the following night) opened the show. It was so nostalgic and such a joyful experience to be in a room full of people who grew up watching him, and be singing along as the lyrics came flooding back to memory. I couldn’t have imagined singing “The Cat Came Back” one day at The Casbah!
Grey Lands had a tough act to follow but they did not disappoint. It was my first time seeing this new project by Wayne Petti of Cuff the Duke. The band, rounded out by Dan Empringham and Nick Hind-Knapp, was stellar. They really blew me away and their set made even more pumped to have them at I Heart Hamilton’s annual bash in May.
Up next, Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer were the B.C. contingent to the bill and were also JUNO nominees. I hadn’t heard them before and was thoroughly impressed by the duo. Finishing the night, The Elwins were a delight, playing songs off their new album Play For Keeps, out now on local label Hidden Pony.
I hit the streets early to check out the action at Tourism Hamilton’s headquarters inside the Lister Block. There were live performances going on inside, and outside I met up with Andrew Gerrior who was set up with 95.3 Fresh FM. I hopped in their van where they were broadcasting live on site and chatted on air with Andrew about Hamilton’s music scene.
From there, I wandered down to Sheraton Hotel which was buzzing with people all weekend long. I received a tip to head up to the TD Music Green Room where there were live performances, delicious drinks by DAVIDsTEA, and even free makeovers to get you dolled up to meet some celebs. I caught a performance by acapella group Eh440 – they were really impressive and so much fun to watch. I felt like I stepped into an episode of Glee (my dream!). After that, I grabbed a refreshing “Strawberry Fields” from DAVIDsTEA and raced off to my next stop – the Gala Awards!
The JUNO Gala Dinner & Awards were by far the biggest event I’ve had the opportunity to experience yet as a blogger. The Gala took place in the Convention Centre and us media folk were set up across the hall. It was awesome that so many local, independent bloggers like myself were given this opportunity, along with larger media outlets from the surrounding area. It was serious business! The event was for all of the awards you don’t see on television. Hosted by Jessi Cruickshank, the event also featured performances by Daniel Lanois, Dallas Smith, Matt Andersen, Alvvays, and a blues jam featuring Crystal Shawanda, JW-Jones, Steve Hill, The Harpoonist & the Axe Murderer, and our own Steve Strongman.
We were able to watch the show on screens from our media room. As the awards were given out, the winners came through to be interviewed. Winners included Bahamas, Lights, July Talk, and Hamilton’s own Arkells and Diana Panton. We even got to see Geddy Lee after RUSH received The Allan Waters Humanitarian Award. The coolest moment for me – when July Talk came in, I gave them a wave and singer Leah Fay smiled back and exclaimed, “I Heart Hamilton!”
It was a long affair at the Gala Awards; when they were over, I was anxious to get back out there. It was onward to my next JUNOfest showcase. As I was sprinting over to Baltimore House, I had to pause at the corner of King William and take in the sight of Lister Block (with the new Tourism and Culture Music Office inside). It looked absolutely stunning as it was lit up for JUNO Week. This shot also now holds the record for the most Instagram likes I’ve ever received!
When deciding on which JUNOfest showcase to check out on Saturday, it was a complete no brainer. I was so stoked to see that Rich Aucoin would be in town. His live show is one of my absolute favourites and it was a dream to see him at one of my favourite spots, Baltimore House. I was curious to see his dynamic live show in the small space. HIGHS, Gazoline, and Run with the Kittens got the crowd moving before Rich took the stage.
The two JUNOfest showcases I chose ended up pairing really well. Both Fred Penner and Rich Aucoin exude pure joy into their performances. Each in his own way, they promote a playful approach to music. From Fred’s songs that we sang as kids, to Rich’s parachute games, they awaken the childlike spirit in all of us that we lost somewhere along way. Their performances left me feeling so in the moment and filled with positive energy. Definitely huge highlights of my whole JUNO experience.
All of that excitement, and we hadn’t even reached the main event. Nominees and performers arrived on the red carpet and FirstOntario Centre was packed to the rafters with excited fans. Hamilton’s own Hachey the MouthPEACE got the crowd going before we went to air and it was incredible to see him on such a massive stage. Our hype man for the night, Kardinal Offishall, kept the energy up before and during commercial breaks. It was surreal to hear him introduce our mayor, in an Oprah-style, “Fred Eisenberrrrrgerrrrrr!”. When the lights went down and the intro began, the place erupted. There’s a crackling energy about a live broadcast – there’s nothing like it.
It was obviously a huge night for Arkells. In true hometown fashion, the band rode to the JUNOs on SoBi bicycles before walking the red carpet. The band took home Rock Album of the Year for High Noon (after taking Group of the Year the previous night) and I felt so proud to see them accepting their award. I was also beaming during their special performance of “Come to Light” with Boris Brott and the National Academy Orchestra of Canada. It was a very cool hometown moment and so well deserved for those guys.
Other performances included Hedley (the host for the night was frontman Jacob Hoggard), The Weeknd, Sam Roberts, Lights, deadmau5, Kiesza, MAGIC!, Shawn Mendes, and Bobby Bazini.
We also got to see Alanis Morissette perform a medley of songs from her groundbreaking 1995 album Jagged Little Pill, after she was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. It worked well that Hamilton’s first time hosting the show was back in 1995 – full circle! I had chills hearing her perform some of those songs.
Looking back on it all again – it makes me miss it! It really was such an amazing time. Thank you to the JUNO Awards and CARAS teams for a fantastic JUNOs and for being so engaged with the city, both online and in person. Thank you to Holmes PR for their hard work and accommodation. This was the biggest event I’ve experienced yet. It was an incredible opportunity to attend so many of these events.
Thank you to everyone who was part of the Hamilton Host Committee. Chair Tim Potocic and the entire team were just the best. You did Hamilton proud and I can’t wait to see the JUNOs back here again!