Everything’s better when it’s in Regina

by Gregory Beatty

Michael BubléWith record snowfall this winter, and cold temps and bitter wind-chills lingering long after they should have disappeared for another season, Reginans are suffering from a serious case of cabin fever.

Fortunately, a great cure is looming on the horizon: the Juno Awards, which will be held in Regina and Moose Jaw April 15-21. With all the great musical talent that will be descending on our city, it’ll be a great way for everyone to shake off the winter blahs.

That vibe was certainly evident at the Juno kick-off March 19 at the Artesian. Sandwiched between two songs by the Regina band Fly Points, Regina Mayor Michael Fougere, Moose Jaw Mayor Deb Higgins, provincial Minister of Parks, Culture & Sport Kevin Doherty and CARAS president Melanie Berry all spoke to a packed house about the Junos and their significance to the host communities.

CARAS stands for Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, by the way, and it’s the organization that administers the Junos. The awards date back to 1970, and are named after CRTC head Pierre Juneau who introduced Can-con regulations that are generally credited with sparking growth in the music industry and helping Canadian acts achieve success nationally and internationally.

Yes, the awards do have the taint of industry about them. Some categories are decided strictly by sales figures as opposed to artistic merit, others by a mix of sales figures and a jury vote. But they do shine a spotlight on music in Canada and help draw attention to worthwhile acts in many different genres.

And a big part of the Junos has nothing to do with awards and industry hype. JunoFest runs April 19-20 and will see over 100 bands, most of the indie or small label variety, play showcase gigs at 17 or so venues in Regina and Moose Jaw.

We’re publishing the official JunoFest guide, so we’ll give you the lowdown in our April 18 issue. But rest assured that for the price of a $30 wrist band it’s a sweet deal.

Pre-Juno events have already started. On March 23, the Cornwall Centre and O’Hanlon’s Pub hosted performances, and on April 6 there’s a songwriters’ circle at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum in conjunction with The Power of Music: Sustainability & the Junos.

“The exhibit explores how musicians have written music around three themes: nature, resilience and wisdom, and the idea of those being aspects of living more sustainably,” says Glenn Sutter, an RSM biologist who’s also a singer-songwriter. “There’s been a lot of music written and activism by leading songwriters in Canada, and that lent itself to a pretty interesting exhibit.”

Over 20 Juno Award-winning musicians are represented, including Sarah Harmer, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Neil Young.

“The exhibit involves four listening stations where you learn about the causes that artists are supporting and also hear songs they’ve written,” says Sutter. ‘The idea with the circle is to give local songwriters a chance to explore those same themes.”

Sutter is hosting and will also participate.

“We’ve got some great people lined up,” he says. “JJ Voss is on the country side. Megan Nash from Moose Jaw is country-pop. Thomas Roussin is well-known from the Nancy Ray-Guns and has an interesting First Nations perspective on some of these topics. And Mark Ceaser is just a fantastic songwriter.”

In 2007, you might recall, Saskatoon hosted the Junos. Our sister publication Planet S did the JunoFest guide that time too. I took a look at it when we were brainstorming on our guide and saw that the Junos were in late March in 2007. The gala was actually on April 1. Good thing that didn’t happen this year, as everything would have been buried under a ton of snow.

Although come April 15, I suspect there’s still going to be some white stuff around. Not to mention a lot of water. But after what we’ve been through this winter we deserve a good time.

When I mentioned the idea of cabin fever to SaskMusic head J.P. Ellson, he laughed and said, “We have a ticket for them.”

Already, he says, downtown hotels are booked solid.

“This will be my sixth Junos,” says Ellson. “The smaller cities really embrace them. Probably the most comparable ones would be St. John’s, NL and Saskatoon. I’ve been to Vancouver and Toronto too. The Junos are very well done there, but there’s so many other things going on that they don’t get adopted by the city in the same way.

“This is an opportunity for people to see acts they’ve never seen before because they haven’t come through, or some new up-and-coming ones that they may not recognize. Just because you don’t recognize the name doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go — because everything’s going to be spectacular.”

The Saskatoon-based Sheepdogs are nominated for three Junos (Rock Album, Group and Single of the Year), and Donny Parenteau is up for Aboriginal Album of the Year. So Saskatchewan acts will be represented at the gala. It’s April 21 at Brandt Centre and will be hosted by Michael Bublé with performances by Carly Rae Jepsen, Billy Talent, Serena Ryder, the Sheepdogs and more.

Saskatchewan talent will be front and centre at JunoFest too, says Ellson. “I haven’t done the exact calculation but I think 50 per cent or more are Saskatchewan artists.

‘There’s jazz, country, rock ‘n’ roll, pop and everything in between,” says Ellson. “We’re also putting up a big tent downtown on the plaza. Thursday [April 18], it’s $15 to get in and see four acts. Friday and Saturday you can buy wrist bands for $30.

“Then on Sunday there will be a simulcast of the awards. Most people don’t realize the broadcast is tape-delayed because they go live into the Toronto market. But we’ll have live entertainment before and after and you’ll see the show in real-time on the big screen.”

Throw in the Juno Cup — an annual hockey game that goes April 19 in Moose Jaw and pits former NHL greats against a team of musicians — along with Juno Fan Fare at Cornwall Centre on April 20, and a Songwriters’ Circle at Casino Regina hosted by Tom Cochrane on April 21, and Juno Week is shaping up to be loads of fun. For more info visit junoawards.ca.