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'To say we weren't disappointed would be a lie': Artists react to cancellation of Juno Awards

Many Canadian musicians were bound for Saskatoon on Thursday when they learned this year's Juno Awards were cancelled due to concerns over the spreading coronavirus.

Event called off due to COVID-19 concerns

Saskatchewan country artists Hunter Brothers were headed to Saskatoon for the Juno Awards on Thursday when they got word the annual celebration of Canadian music was cancelled. (Peter Mills/CBC)

The Hunter Brothers and their families were bound for Saskatoon on Thursday — travelling in a three-car convoy somewhere between Kyle and Rosetown — when they learned this year's Juno Awards were cancelled due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19.

"To say we weren't disappointed would be a lie because it is something we've been so excited about," J.J. Hunter said.

The sibling country music group, slated to play in a Junos kickoff concert Thursday night, have long been fans of the annual awards show celebrating Canadian music.

"Growing up in small-town Saskatchewan, knowing that they were being held here in our home province, knowing that we got to be a part of them… we have been excited for a long time," Hunter said.

The Hunters Brothers were on the road to Saskatoon when they learned the Juno Awards were cancelled. 3:05

On Thursday morning, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) officially announced it was cancelling this year's event, which had been set to include several days of activities, concerts and events leading up to a televised awards show on Sunday.

"When you look at all the work that's gone into it — the planning process, the multiple groups that are a part of it — I think disappointment is a natural reaction to it. At the same time, we also understand that safety is of utmost importance and so we stand behind the governing authorities and the ones that make these decisions," J.J. Hunter said.

Jann Arden, who was to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame as part of Junos week, called the cancellation "absolutely the smartest, most sensible decision that could have been made," in a video message.

Jann Arden says she’s disappointed The Juno Awards have been cancelled over coronavirus concerns but says it was a smart move. The singer-songwriter was slated to be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame at the awards show. 1:06

"We are all listening to our community leaders, which is very key right now: to listen to what we need to do to be safe as a country, to remain safe, to keep the numbers down," Arden said.

She added that CARAS was "figuring out how to go forward" with announcing and distributing the several dozen Juno Award trophies to this year's winners.

Working artists in 'quite a predicament'

Pulling the plug on several days of Junos events was a tough decision, but it was the right one, country artist Blake Berglund said. 

Screens at the Saskatoon Airport Thursday convey news about the Juno Awards cancellation to arrivals. (Jackson Weaver/CBC)

In recent weeks, the spread of COVID-19 to different countries has prompted a growing number of cancellations, closures and postponements. Against this backdrop, choosing whether or not to attend this year's Junos put many Canadian musicians "in a little bit of a pickle," Berglund explained.

"We had these commitments to venues, we had commitments to promoters, we had commitments to the Junos," he said.

"For us to take the responsible route and just pull out on our own … it would have forced venues, it would have forced fellow performers, it would have forced staff to pick up our slack. So we were in quite a predicament."

Berglund said that, as a musician, the current situation surrounding COVID-19 is something completely new to him. 

"I've never really had to face that: knowing that I can't get onstage because someone in the crowd might be sick," he said.

Berglund also had a suggestion for fans:

Fans who were looking forward to attending Junos-related concerts can still support their favourite musicians, says country artist Blake Berglund. 0:14

Reggae artist Jay Douglas, who learned of the Juno Awards being cancelled while on a flight from Toronto to Saskatoon Thursday, took the news in stride. 

"My mom taught me one thing: out of every bad situation, some good is going to come. And we're blessed in this beautiful country. It's all of [our] concern. We will work together to wipe this negative virus," Douglas said after arriving at the Saskatoon airport.

Reggae artist Jay Douglas reacts to the cancellation of the Juno Awards, which he learned of mid-way through his flight to Saskatoon. 0:16

Though he noted his manager was looking into return flights, the music veteran said he also wouldn't mind remaining in town for a few days as originally planned.

"The force has brought us here for a reason," he said, smiling. "The people of Saskatoon have been looking forward to this. We send them love."

Seeing the growing number of cancellations is disappointing, admitted Ty Hunter of the Hunter Brothers.

"It's one of those things that is difficult, but you gotta roll with the tides."

His brother J.J. added that it's important for people to support each other in times like these. 

"Whether that's in the music family, whether that's in the media family, whether that's in small communities or big communities, it's so important to stand side by side through difficult times."  

With files from CBC Saskatchewan, Sharon Wu and Jackson Weaver

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