Juno Awards

JunoFest brings the ruckus to Regina: Review

Celebrity worship abounds as the Junos unfold in Regina

“The biggest jackass in the world is Lou Reed.”

-Larry LeBlanc, on receiving the Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award at the 2013 Junos.

Award shows are a strange spectacle. Why anyone cares who wins Rock Album on the Year in Canada has always confounded me. Especially given that most of these people aren’t likely to actually go out and buy albums from Rush, Marianas Trench or Carly Rae Jepsen. That’s alright though – I wouldn’t buy those albums either.

Still, there is something palpably exciting about being amongst celebrities. Especially when you live in a place where no one is really that famous. And if they are famous they really aren’t that famous.

Unless they play hockey.

Despite celebrating the most mundane of Canadian music, the Juno Awards came packaged along with JunoFest, an event that pairs up local bands along with some of the bigger names who were in town for the debacle.

Taking place in Regina and Moose Jaw, JunoFest brought together over 100 bands in two days in 15 venues in two different cities. So, you know, it was a pretty good time.

Also, it should go without saying that the volunteers and behind-the-scenes people that make everything work deserve a fat high-five.

Friday – “Rock the Quonset”

I’m checking into the hotel when I spy the guitarist from Billy Talent. Maybe. Or maybe it’s just another leather-clad dude with a goofy haircut.

Not even.

In reality I am looking at the guy who drives the bus that goes to the casino. He’s wearing a funny hat. I am weirdly relieved.

The lobby is buzzing with people and energy. Everyone looks at everyone, straining to gauge if they are having a celebrity encounter. I am immediately self-conscious – as a member of a Saskatoon indie rock band that is destined to never win a Juno, I am clearly disappointing everyone who I make eye contact with. Off to our JunoFest showcase.

Located in the heart of downtown Regina, the venue is a massive tent. Although quonset might be a better description – this is the prairies after all. The stage is huge and awesome. To the side is a jumbotron that plays videos and broadcasts live footage of the bands that are playing a few feet over.

Slow Down Molasses at JunoFest
Slow Down, Molasses

Wyatt, a Saskatoon country rock band, are playing before us. Stylistically we have absolutely nothing in common. The audience, mostly middle-aged non-indie rock fans, are in for a treat – the musical transition is going to be akin to a belt of gin following a good toothbrushing. There seems to be no stage manager, however there is a security guard that looks eerily identical to my high school principal. Our gaze meets and his eyes narrow. I run back onstage – I’m supposed to be here.

And it seems to go okay. But several times during our set I make my way over to my amp to make sure it’s still on. Despite the Junos’ ubiquitous motto, “Gonna Get Loud”, I can’t hear a fucking thing. The irony is not lost as I make every attempt to destroy my guitar strings and neck muscles while I thrash and titty flop my way around the stage.

Foam Lake at JunoFest
Foam Lake

Foam Lake of Saskatoon are up next. A hearty, prairies indie rock group, they totally nail it down hard. Keyboards swim into muscular guitar riffs. There is an appreciative murmur of approval from nearly everyone in attendance. The venue is more or less full at this point and the crowd drinks it up, albeit a safe distance from the front of the stage.

In the back of the tent is the most hilarious photobooth I have ever seen. Sponsored by Potash Corp, participants dress up like miners and pose with giant chunks of potash while having their picture taken by an ancient Blackberry camera phone. You just can’t make this shit up.

Two Hours Traffic are up next, and it’s nice to not have to think too hard about what they are doing. Not bad but a little nondescript.

Although I’m not in attendance, I will later hear stories about Devin Townsend trash talking Saskatoon’s Jeans Boots’ set across town. A strange brush with fame if there was ever one.

Rah Rah at JunoFest
Rah Rah
Rah Rah at JunoFest
Rah Rah

After hitting up the food trucks out front, we drink beer backstage and get nice and loose for Rah Rah, who tear the flaps off the tent. Having spent the majority of the past two months touring through North America, the group are in amazing live form. The highlight of the set comes when instrumentalist Erin Passmore tosses giant letter balloons that spell the word “RAH” into the audience. Rah indeed.

Whacked out of our collective gourds on prairie rock and free Great Western, Ryan and I decide to go try and find Bieber and ask him if he would be interested in a three-way gangbang.

Instead we wander into a Juno after party at a local restaurant. We likely aren’t supposed to be there. Which, of course translates into partaking all the free booze and molesting the smorg. In between bites of deep-fried potato salmonella we spy Fred Penner sipping on martinis with some lovely-looking young people. I take photos before feeling kinda dumb and sheepish about the whole thing – two years ago I met Mr. Penner backstage when we shared a bill at the Regina Folk Festival. Class act. Fred Penner, that is. Not us.

Bored and stuffed, we head out to O’Hanlons and enjoy the extended city-wide drinking hours. The rest of the night is a blur, but I vaguely remember a man commenting on my penis in the washroom. It is not Bieber.

Disappointment indeed.

Saturday – “Permanent Temp”

We wake up early and are immediately whisked off to record a music video in someone’s living room despite a member missing in action. It is 10am and all I can think about is the make-your-own-caesar party at The Artful Dodger. After making roughly 60 phone calls – and at least one death threat answering machine message – we track down a highly apologetic guitarist, and bang our way through a stripped-down version of our song ‘City Sublet’. Why anyone wants to film musicians so early in the morning is beyond me. We smell of hangover and Regina tapwater. And we look awful.

After the shoot is wrapped up we head off to catch some afternoon acoustic acts. Saskatoon’s Smokekiller aka John Antoniuk is onstage when we arrive. John looks a little rough as well – more Juno madness, I assume – but kills it as usual. I continue to down more caesars. The day gets better. Regina’s Andy Shauf takes the stage next and sings like a diminutive plaid-clad angel. It’s Record Store Day, so I chat up Andy and buy a vinyl copy of his excellent album The Bearer of Bad News. This is by far the best ‘celebrity’ interaction I will have all day.

Classified at the Juno Award Gala
Tom Cochrane at the Juno Award Gala
Tom Cochrane

Ryan and I meet up and head off to the Junos press gala. There’s a free supper. There’s also free beer. We meet up with several other journalists and share stories and laughs – this is undoubtedly the highlight of our afternoon at the gala.

The event starts and the press room quickly loses its novelty. We are given a sheet with a list of winners on the condition that we don’t Tweet the results. For whatever reason, the Juno Awards are split into two events. All the important awards are to be doled out Sunday night, it seems. Bieber will not be on hand.

Awards are given out and musicians are paraded through the press room. Some of them even make a few compelling remarks. I’ve interviewed several of them before via the telephone in advance of their performances in Saskatoon. I infinitely prefer this method to watching them blink uncomfortably under a bath of fluorescent light.

Pugs & Crows, who have picked up Instrumental Album of the Year for their LP Fantastic Pictures, are clearly bemused with the spectacle. Steve Strongman, winner of the Blues Album of the Year for A Natural Fact, is a complete gentleman and a total pro.

I consider leaving – the beer has been cut off and Ryan, who is sequestered in the photo pit, is half-asleep. It gets worse. Many of the bigger names, such as Rush, Mumford & Sons and Grimes, haven’t bothered to show up. Why did we?

And then Larry LeBlanc happens.

The recipient of the 2013 Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award, LeBlanc is an outspoken rock journalist who began his career in the ‘60s. I am in awe of him as he forms sentences akin to snowballs and begins lobbing them indiscriminately.

LeBlanc, who has written for publications such as Rolling Stone, Melody Maker, Maclean’s and the Toronto Star, continues by telling various tirades disguised as anecdotes, including a story about witnessing Lou Reed grab a journalist’s breast. LeBlanc concludes that Reed was “the biggest jackass in the world.”

Yup. Lou Reed sucks.

Strangely enough, he also admits to liking Nickleback. Given the climate of the room and the candour of his earlier comments, I take this to be a very punk rock statement.

However, Nickleback sucks.

LeBlanc eventually shuffles off and things go back to being boring. I decide to amuse myself by chatting with Rick Campanelli of ET Canada. Campanelli aka Rick the Temp is really nice and makes jokes about how tall I am. That’s especially nice of him because it spares me the awkwardness of making jokes about how short he is. I envy his teeth, which, of course, are TV perfect.

Shooting Guns at JunoFest
Shooting Guns

We finally head out to The Exchange to see Saskatoon’s Shooting Guns take the stage and subsequently blow some minds with their downtuned heaviosity. Vancouver’s Pack A.D. take the stage after and similarly put on a brilliant albeit furious live performance. One Bad Son take the stage as we head out for the night for more adventure. Next time, I guess.

The Pack A.D. at JunoFest
The Pack A.D.
The Pack A.D. at JunoFest
The Pack A.D.

Despite numerous Bieber sighting rumours and tonnes of other bands to see, we end the night with a rousing game of shuffleboard at The German Club. It’s easy to regret not seeing more bands, but a flurry of texts ‘n’ Tweets reveals that several key shows are at capacity. Even worse, most of the clubs we want to hit up aren’t within walking distance.

I will later hear that bands like The Barr Brothers, Library Voices and many others will totally kill it. Regret.

Despite hosting numerous after parties for the Regina Folk Festival, the German Club is relatively quiet and, subsequently, a good place to get loser wasted.

No one famous is on hand to witness the party hard.

Sunday – “Neither stoked nor snowed”

We wake up slowly and mow down the remnants of the pizza crusts from the night before. Everything already tastes like regret – why not cheese too?

The Juno Gala Awards start at 6pm – no one in our camp is stoked, snowed or otherwise gives a fuck. The Sheepdogs are playing, but at this point I’d rather see Larry LeBlanc do his thing again.

We decide to head home and catch up on some much-needed sleep. Hours later, Ryan sends a text that sums everything up:

“Glad we went home. The award show is boring.”

I didn’t even think to turn it on.