2011 Juno Awards: ‘It’s a long way from Sneaky Dee’s’

Just got back from the top row of the Air Canada Centre. Some observations after the 40th anniversary Juno Awards:

Highlight No. 1: The acceptance speeches. They ran the gamut: From the humorous (Win Butler of Arcade Fire saying his band — arguably the hottest in the world at the moment — had come “a long way from Sneaky Dee’s, where we played our first show in Toronto.”) to the professorial (Humanitarian Award winner Neil Young’s instruction to fellow musicians to take care of their music first and charitable initiatives second because “music makes you look inside yourself” and “that’s where it all starts.”) to Shania Twain’s genuinely sweet deflection of praise upon being inducted to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.

Lowlight No. 1: The presenters’ speeches. The scriptwriting was so awful and groan-inducing even the low-key Dan Hill had to crack a smile when reading the set up for the Pop Album of the Year award. And Alex Lifeson of Rush couldn’t help but add some sarcastic body language while presenting the final award for Album of the Year (which went to “The Suburbs” and was the fourth Juno this year for Arcade Fire). Plus, those sponsor blurbs are tacky and cheapen the show and the presenters who are made to announce them.

Awkward moment No. 1: Shania declaring she loves Canada’s “bush.” There’s your morning talk show punchline.

Highlight No. 2: The musical gem of the night was “The Shape I’m In”, performed by a host of artists, including the Sadies, Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo, Serena Ryder and Justin Rutledge. The classic by The Band was part of a tribute to Toronto and its music scene of the ’60s and ’70s that began with Sarah Harmer’s terrific rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “Carey” and also featured “If You Could Read My Mind”, one of Gordon Lightfoot’s best songs performed by Cuddy and Sarah Slean, and Young’s “Old Man”, sung by City and Colour.

Lowlight No. 2: The lack of energy in the audience and the lack of imagination from the producers. Why not make the Toronto tribute the theme of your show? That way you spread out the songs throughout the night, giving the 40th anniversary cohesiveness and the opportunity to build up toward a big finish.

Awkward moment No. 2: Buck65 keeping his distance from co-presenter Deadmau5 (Joel Zimmerman) as they handed out the Group of the Year honour. You never want to be too close to a guy wearing a giant silver rat helmet.

Highlight No. 3: The absence of Justin Bieber. If he was there, all the many Bieberettes in the audience would’ve shrieked so loud they might’ve managed to crack Dallas Green’s glasses.

Lowlight No. 3: The absence of Justin Bieber. If he was there, the Junos would’ve actually been a hot ticket. As it was, there were sections of the ACC that were as empty as the Rotterdam theatre where Bieber recorded his acceptance speeches. The show may have been “sold out”, but a lot of people who got those tickets either didn’t use them or couldn’t get rid of them.

Awkward moment No. 3: Bieber losing Artist of the Year to Young, an outcome so incredulous the old man called it “incomprehensible.” It’s such an upset, you might think the fix was in because Young was there and Bieber wasn’t.

Highlight No. 4: All of the musical performers, proving the Canadian music scene is just getting better and better.

Lowlight No. 4: The production. This week, Eye Weekly asked in a headline if the Junos were “finally cool?” The answer is no. Canadian music is cool; the awards show that celebrates its best is still amateurish.

Awkward moment No. 4: The bromance between Drake and Bieber is so overboard that if they’re not careful they’re going to end up on a NAMBLA promotional poster.

Highlight No. 5: Drake’s easygoing demeanour worked as host.

Lowlight No. 5: What a waste to not have him perform.

Awkward moment No. 5: Having your host go 0-for-5 during the awards broadcast. You might think hosting the Junos was a jinx after that shutout.

Highlight No. 6: Johnny Reid made some new fans with his performance of “Today I’m Going to Change the World”, a moving song of his that sounds like a John Hiatt tune.

Lowlight No. 6: The ACC started emptying out with an hour to go. The exodus began during a commercial break when the big-screen inside the arena showed a Celine Dion performance of “Love Can Move Mountains” from the 1994 Junos.

Awkward moment No. 6: On a night that celebrated Toronto, anyone notice no mention of or soundbite from The Tragically Hip?

What do you think? Any Juno highlights, lowlights, jokes to share?

(Photo courtesy of the Juno Awards)

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