Behind the Scenes at the 45th Annual JUNO Awards – Part 1

Calgary, AB – On April 3, the country celebrated Canadian music at the 45th Annual JUNO Awards inside Calgary’s Scotiabank Saddledome. Sarah Jay and I were fortunate to be on the scene on behalf of HipHopCanada, which included the untelevised awards ceremony at the TELUS Convention Centre on April 2.

From the red carpet and inside the media centre, we gained exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the nominees, winners, music executives and more. You name it. We saw it. Now let’s get to the business.

Saturday April 2 – JUNO Gala Dinner & Awards presented by SOCAN

Unfortunately I missed out on the majority of JUNO Week’s events while working in Edmonton (luckily Sarah was all over it with every detail), but come Saturday April 2 we were both front and centre for the JUNO Gala Dinner & Awards hosted by etalk’s Jessi Cruickshank.

After checking in the media centre, Sarah and I got ourselves situated at our stations. Sarah inside the photography room and myself inside the Q&A room. What made the media centre so dope, was the smooth and casual flow of operations. Once you were in, you were in; free range to go back and forth between rooms, there was an immaculate spread of food and snacks and (more importantly) an open bar. From online, television and radio – it was the who’s-who of Canadian media all under one roof. The OGs schmoozed and the rookies (like myself) followed their lead in awe.

Shamus Neeson from All Hits B93 (Lethbridge), particularly played a key role in how successful my weekend went. He pulled up a chair beside Sarah and I, while having dinner before the ceremony started. After shaking hands and exchanging names, I went on to tell him that it was my first time doing an event like this. Shamus has covered the JUNOS several times and with all of his media experience, he instantly picked up on how extremely nervous I was.

Shamus’ advice to me basically went on the lines of this: “Walk like you own the place and even if you’re not supposed to be there, act like you are. If you’re timid, they’re going to walk all over you.” Those words set the tone for the rest of my JUNO weekend. In any situation I was in, that’s exactly what I would refer back too. All hail, Shamus!

After Sarah and I covered social media and photography for the green carpet, the Q&A sessions began as the awards were handed out. Rap Recording of the Year was the only rap category of evening (of course), the JUNO went to Drake for If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late (of course), Drake was absent (of course). Sooo here’s the scenario: we’re a hip-hop publication and the winner of the only rap category of the night isn’t present. I could either A) abuse my privilege of the open bar or B) improvise on the Q&A sessions with the winners of the other categories. I did a little bit of both.

Hip-hop or not hip-hop, every winner had something to add to the table which made for great content. We’re all here for the same reason, we’re all here to celebrate Canadian music. Everything applies.

Producer of The Year, Bob Ezrin filled us in about his brief Twitter-feud with Kanye West, Buffy Sainte-Marie (Contemporary Roots Album of the Year) dropped gems on the need for more government funding for touring artists and Harrison Kennedy (Blues Album of the Year) kept it 100 on staying focused on your passion:

If you have a passion for something, keep working at it. It may be short, it may be long. But if you have a passion for it, develop it.”

Mind you, all of these gems were from observation; just listening while furiously writing down notes. It wasn’t until Reggae Recording of the Year winner, Kafinal, entered the room when I finally pulled up my Q&A boot straps. I’ll have more on that on part two.

Sunday April 3 – The 2016 JUNO Awards Broadcast and Red Carpet

I arrived eagerly at the Scotiabank Saddledome shortly after noon, two hours before the red carpet began. There were maybe a dozen of us at the media check-in at the time. As security escorted us to the media centre, The Weeknd and Belly were in the middle of their soundcheck. THE WEEKND AND BELLY WERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THEIR SOUNDCHECK! In case you didn’t catch that the first time.

While the media centre at the TELUS Convention Centre was lovely, there were LEVELS to the media centre at the Saddledome. Security was on security, so there wasn’t as much breathing room, but fortunately things became more relaxed as the day went on.

The Dutton’s Lounge (just to the right of the media centre) became The Holt Renfrew JUNO Red Carpet Lounge – illuminated with pink lighting and draped with gorgeous bouquets of white flowers. The coveted HR logo was strategically placed at every turn, and guests were treated with gift bags containing $50 certificates. FYI: I know $50 doesn’t get you very far at Holt Renfrew but there wasn’t exactly a limit per guest. So there’s that. The champagne flowed and fancy hors d’oeurves were served as the nominees and VIPs poured into the lounge. And yes. We were there for it all.

Before everyone’s arrival at the red carpet, media was served another delicious spread and (oh yes) open bar which remained available throughout the entire event. CTV’s media heavyweight, etalk had the Tim Horton’s Lounge in full effect. Unsurprisingly, it was the first stop for interviews with winners. The JUNO TV lounge was the next stop, located conveniently beside etalk’s.

Side note: My first of many fan-girl moments was the arrival of etalk’s anchors and reporters. Ben Mulroney, Danielle Graham, Devon Soltendieck,and Liz Tinnear were all on deck. I definitely can’t forget my sightings of E! and Much Music’s Tyrone Edwards – who was all over the scene for JUNO week. These individuals are in the positions I aspire to be in, so it was an honour to be working with them. Well, working in the same room as them, but you get the idea.

Our situation inside the media centre was similar to Saturday – Sarah posted up in photography and myself in Q&A. Cue the return of the Shamus: this time he was joined by Michelle Yi from 101.5 Kool FM (Calgary). Michelle is equally as fantastic, with a bursting personality. When I found out they were conveniently assigned to the station behind me, I knew we were in for another fun-filled night.

Unfortunately Sarah and I couldn’t cover the red carpet together, but luckily Shamus and Michelle took me under their wing for the 3 hour extravaganza. The red carpet was beautifully laid out, outside the Holt Renfrew lounge. Fans eagerly lined up along the carpet as bloggers, reporters and photographers were escorted inside the media tent.

JUNOS Red Carpet_450x300

Of all the events I’ve covered so far, this was the most glamours. The lights, the cameras, the hair and makeup – it didn’t feel like real life. As nominees, presenters, and special guests trickled in – the more I had to act like I was a pro. That wasn’t easy for someone who gets as easily excited as me, but I pulled through. On the outside.

Guests ranged from; Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Shawn Mendes, Shawn Hook, Lights, Alessia Cara, SonReal, Kardinal Offishall (more on that later), Dru, k-os, Mariana’s Trench, Paul Brandt, Dean Brody, Brett Kissel, Nickleback and so much more. Speaking of Nickelback; the JUNOS witnessed the return of “Chavril.” Canadian pop-star Avril Lavigne surprised everyone as she arrived on the red carpet with Nickleback front man (and ex-hubby) Chad Kroeger. Of course, the “are they or aren’t they” rumours spread like wild fire, but the two have since claimed that it was simply a date.

The VIPs circulated the tent, stopping for interviews and taking selfies with fans. Needless to say, it took much longer for the “high profile” celebrities to make their way around. Some didn’t make it all. Alessia Cara, for example, had only enough time to pose for the photographers and do a quick interview with etalk before she was whisked away. The Breakthrough Artist of The Year recipient was not only one of the most anticipated arrivals, she was also opening the show.

Once the red carpet wrapped up at 4:30 p.m., we made our way back to the media centre for the show to begin. By that time I felt invincible, so I took it upon myself to make my way through the Holt Renfrew lounge. I felt like a queen when the doormen greeted me and was handed a glass of champagne, as I entered the star-studded room. I was on top of the world…even though I technically wasn’t supposed to be there.

The live broadcast began at 5:00 p.m. sharp and went without a hitch. A few highlights:

– The Weeknd, clearly the star of the entire evening, had a near clean sweep with five awards (three being given at the untelevised ceremony). His live performance of “Acquainted” and “Might Not” featuring Belly was FIRE!

Justin Bieber was booed after his joke of an acceptance speech for the Fan Choice award. He was in Los Angeles for the iHeartRadio Music awards, so made a meaningless 15-second video clip – you know what – I don’t even want to get into it.

– I have a born-again pop-boy obsession, after the performances of Shawn Hook (“Sound of Your Heart”) and Shawn Mendes (“Stitches”). Feels like it should be illegal at this age, to be honest!

– Hosts Jann Arden and Jon Montgomery were a great match and played off of each other effortlessly. I had no idea Jann was so hilarious and cheeky!

It was quiet for both the Q&A and photography rooms, as the winners didn’t quite make their way back until towards the end of the show. I won’t lie – buffet and the open bar definitely helped the time go by. Everyone just kicked back and caught the show on the big screens.

Eventually the winners made their way back for Q&As which included; Walk Off The Earth, Dean Broady, Alessia Cara and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Burton Cummings. The Weeknd, who was pretty much non-existant [to media] other than his performance, pulled a fast one on everyone and posed with his awards inside the photography room. Unfortunately Abel declined any Q&As (no shocker) but we took what we could get.

In a nutshell, the entire experience of my first JUNO Awards was nothing short of amazing and I can confirm that Sarah is on the same page. I checked in with her the next day to see if she was still on a high…the level was affirmative.

Stay tuned for part two of our behind-the-scenes coverage, which includes interviews with Kardinal Offishall, Alessia Cara and more. In the meantime, I’ve selected a few of our Instagram photos in the gallery below.

Kafani, tailored to perfection. 👌🏾#JUNOS

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@lights looking beautiful as ever! #JUNOS

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Our host and favourite red head, @jessicruickshank! #JUNOS

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@missjason’s situation. Huge shout out to CARAS for the amazing hospitality! #JUNOS

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The red carpet is about to begin! #JUNOS

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@kardinalo’s jacket is fire! 🔥#JUNOS

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@alessiasmusic looks absolutely stunning! #JUNOS

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@therealsonreal reppin’ the West Coast! #JUNOS

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Just when you thought it was over…CHAVRIL! 😊 #JUNOS

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Calgary Mayor Nenshi poses for a few photos outside the VIP lounge. Just about showtime! #JUNOS

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@alessiasmusic couldn’t have been more humble. BIG things to come for this talented young lady! #JUNOS

A photo posted by HipHopCanada (@hiphopcanada) on

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