7 reasons not to miss the Junos

The Junos take over Ottawa this weekend. While classical, roots and R&B artists get their awards Saturday at a pre-show, the Sunday night broadcast looks set to focus attention on some of Canada's biggest music stars.
Simple Plan performs at the 44th Festival d'ete de Quebec on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec city Monday July 11, 2011. They'll be awarded the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award at the Junos. (Festival d'ete de Quebec/Canadian Press)

The Junos are always a hit-and-miss affair. Last year’s classy showcase of some of Canada’s best pop and indie music, hosted by Drake, compares well, especially for those who recall earlier Juno galas (2010’s host-less format or 2007’s Nelly Furtado effort) that seemed painfully unplanned.

Fan favourite nominees

  • Arcade Fire
  • City and Colour
  • Deadmau5
  • Ginette Reno
  • Drake
  • Hedley
  • Justin Bieber
  • Michael Bublé
  • Nickelback

The festivities are in Ottawa this year, with the capital planning multiple concerts ahead of a pre-show on Saturday and Sunday night’s broadcast gala. Just nine awards will be presented during the broadcast gala, including artist and single of the year.

The rest of the evening will be devoted to performances by the likes of Simple Plan, Feist and k’naan. How well the gala performs as TV will rest on how genuine those performances are, and whether the awards-giving in between hops along quickly enough.  The music tends toward commercial pop and rock, with the occasional singer-songwriter thrown in, while the winners in the blues, roots and Aboriginal music categories are relegated to the unbroadcast ceremony.

There are 32 awards to be presented Saturday evening, including group of the year, international album of the year and francophone recording of the year. One of Canada’s biggest new stars – Melanie Fiona, who took home two Grammys this year for her collaboration with Cee Lo Green, Fool for You, is up for soul recording of the year on Saturday, but Canadians will not get to see her in action.

Equally missing from the broadcast is any celebration of Canada’s classical music stars – this year’s nominees include violinist James Ehnes, nominated for his recording of Bartok, and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, nominated twice for its albums with conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin. 

But that’s no reason not to look forward to the Junos gala on Sunday. The Ottawa shindig has some things going for it:

  • William Shatner as host: The guy who does All Bran commercials and the short-lived series S—t My Dad Says is not known for his unerring choice of material. However Shatner always has screen aplomb, and will deliver the worst schlock imaginable with grace, without stumbling.
    Ginette Reno is in a race with Michael Buble and Justin Bieber for Fan Favourite. (Canadian Press)
  • A Fan Favourite race that pits Michael Bublé and Justin Bieber against Ginette Reno: The fan-voted award is a peculiar mix of international stars with indie darlings such as Arcade Fire and City and Colour.  Bublé has already sent his regrets to the Juno committee as he has a gig elsewhere and Bieber, who is the other star able to harness the power of the internet to woo votes, has not confirmed for the gala. Drake will also be a no-show – having been shut out of last year’s awards despite his performance as host. The most peculiar choice in this list is Ginette Reno, a French-Canadian chanteuse with a five decade career in the Canadian music business and 50 million albums sold. How did she end up on the fan favourite list? She doesn’t know, but says she’s not about to turn up and see  the awards give francophone music the short stick.   
  • A tribute to Blue Rodeo: The classic Canuck band, known for Hasn’t Hit Me Yet and Lost Together is being inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at this year's Junos. That means a performance by Jim Cuddy, Greg Keelor and friends, and chance to look at what happens to good bands that capture Canadian hearts, but don’t break out internationally.
  • Deadmau5 with Lights. The DJ who got the outdoor crowd dancing at this year’s Grammys performs on the Juno stage with MC Flipside and supertalented keyboardist Lights. Other promised performances — Feist, Hey Rosetta, k’naan, Sarah McLachlan.
  • New faces of Canadian music: Indie singer-songwriter Dan Mangan, out of Vancouver, has four nominations for his unusual folkie sound. Mangan thus matches his nominations haul to much more well-known stars such as Drake, Feist and  Hedley. Edmonton’s Alyssa Reid is another new face – nominated in the new artist category along with hip hop artist JRDN. Every one of the nominees in that category – Diamond Rings, Lindi Ortega and Mia Martina -- has committed to coming.
  • Stephen Harper on the piano: Not at the broadcast gala, but the prime minister will be feting a small group of Juno nominees Saturday at Sussex Drive. Look for the YouTube. At the gala, Heritage Minister James Moore will be presenting an award, planting his very large footprint on an event Canadian taxpayers no doubt pay for in more ways than one.
  • It wouldn’t be the Junos without Nickelback The band Canada loves to hate has four nominations including single of the year for When We Stand Together. Everyone loves the story of The Sheepdogs, nominated in the same category for I Don’t Know,  the Saskatoon band that graced the cover of Rolling Stone last year. But Nickelback, who have won 12 Junos since 2001, are a consistent Juno presence.That’s because of the Juno process, in which album sales play a large part in whether groups get nominated. The Black Keys may criticize the band for the death of rock, but someone out there is buying their songs.

The Junos broadcast airs Sunday night on CTV.