Story by Chris Ryall
OTTAWA, ONTARIO — Normally, you don’t think of Ottawa as a destination to rediscover your youth and passion for music. Canada’s capital surprisingly struck the right chord with me and thousands of others when it recently hosted the 2017 Juno Week with an array of events, including an exhibition hockey game between musicians and ex-NHLers, a free fan festival, art exhibitions, and the awards show itself, which took place at the Canadian Tire Centre, home of the Ottawa Senators.
From Guitars to Pucks for Rock Stars
The annual Juno Cup features musicians taking on former NHL stars and has been a tradition for years. This year, Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy was captain of the musicians’ team while former Montreal Canadiens forward Mark Napier led the NHL alumni squad. Fans jammed the stands at TD Place Arena, with their loudest cheers for former Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson and the biggest boos bestowed on former Toronto Maple Leafs star Gary Roberts. The Battle of Ontario lived on this night. I viewed the game while squeezed in with other media and photographers in the penalty box/time keeper’s area. Thankfully, no fights broke out as we jostled to get the best position for taking pictures.
The game itself wasn’t all that riveting but it was interesting to see the hockey prowess of musicians. The ex-NHLers won, 13-12.
Fans Turn Out to Cheer Canadian Musicians
Justin Bieber wasn’t in the house but that didn’t stop teenage girls and fans from screaming their admiration for musicians like the Strumbellas, Arkells and July Talk at the Juno FanFare, an event at the CF Rideau Centre shopping mall. After the bands performed, fans grabbed selfies and autographs.
Needing eardrum relief after FanFare, I walked over to Ottawa City Hall. The Art is Art exhibition inside showcased musicians’ artistic talents in sketches, paintings and digital art. Buffy Sainte-Marie, Sarah McLachlan, Serena Ryder and others displayed their artistry.
Music is, of course, at the core of Juno Week and there was plenty of it, from pop, blues, electronic dance music (EDM), hip-hop, country, heavy metal, reggae, folk and other genres by more than 100 performers playing at 15 music venues around Ottawa. My kids would have been proud of their dad (or more likely embarrassed) dancing to the EDM beat or doing unrecognizable mosh-pit moves to heavy-metal tunes at Ottawa’s legendary Dominion Tavern. The music was raw and loud, the room dark and weathered, and the crowd pumped in bad-ass wear. Ottawa brought out my wild side.
At the more subdued (at least in decibel levels) Songwriter’s Circle at the National Arts Centre, the crowd of mostly 40-plus-year-olds listened intently to host Bruce Cockburn and other musicians, including Chantal Kreviazuk, Colin Linden and Lisa Leblanc, discuss how they came up with the lyrics of their favourite songs. Particularly moving was Kreviazuk’s account of her dear friend Samuel who committed suicide when she was 18. Tear ducts filled up when she sang, “Surrounded,” the hit song dedicated to him.
Backstage at the Junos
Most winners would go backstage to the media room for photo ops and to answer a few questions. Some performers arrived shoeless. McLachlan, for one, came to the podium with a glass of white wine but no shoes after she was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
The broadcast was co-hosted by Russell Peters and Bryan Adams. Peters looked relaxed while Adams appeared stiff. Peters’ one-liners got many chuckles backstage along with some groans when he called the Culture and Heritage Minister Melanie Joly “hot.” Following that remark — a comment for which Peters has since apologized — Joly arrived the media room and was asked by a journalist about the comment. She was not pleased. Ignoring the question, she went on to speak about the federal government’s support for the arts and the importance of Canada’s culture.
Heartthrob Shawn Mendes elicited the biggest fan reaction of the night from screaming girls. Despite all the accolades and attention, he seems like a grounded guy.
Overall the show was entertaining, well-produced, and showcased Canada’s veteran and developing talent while also paying homage to indigenous cultures. The broadcast’s major gaffe, however, was cutting off Tragically Hip guitarist Paul Langlois’s acceptance speech for the Group of the Year award while he started talking about ailing lead singer Gord Downie (who did not attend). There was a collective, “Oh, my God” reaction in the media room and we all agreed the Twitter universe would explode in reaction. And it did — with highly critical tweets of the show’s producer who cut off Langlois.