Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Junos then, Junos now
Winnipeg got its only other taste of Canada's music awards blowout nine years ago, and things were very different on the street and on the stage
Nine years ago this spring, Winnipeg had a new mayor, a new downtown hockey arena and a new plan to convert some city streets into bike-and-pedestrian lanes.
Those nuts and bolts aside, this city was a radically different place.
Consider the first time the Juno Awards came to town, in the early spring of 2005, transfixing a city that was still in the process of reclaiming the mojo it lost a decade earlier with the loss of the Jets.
The Junos occupied so much of Winnipeg's attention that spring, the death of Pope John Paul II -- whose papacy lasted 25 years -- was relegated to secondary news the day Neil Young dropped out of the awards due to a brain aneurysm.
Yes, this actually happened.
"In this city, which I believe may be the only town in the world where they didn't get the memo about the pope's death, the absentee Young got more buzz than he possibly would have had he actually made it," snarked National Post gossip columnist Shinan Govani at the time.
"In this little town on the prairie, where the folks looked permanently in need of hair of the dog and it was all Junos all the damn time, it served as the all-important conversational glue."
This year, Juno Week is still a big deal. It just happens to be just one of a number of deals in a city that's supposedly on the look for a deal all the time.
For posterity's sake, here's how the 2005 Junos went down in comparison to what's in store this year:
Nine years ago, when Winnipeg had no NHL hockey, the Juno Awards amounted to the most prestigious event to be held in this city since the 1999 Pan Am Games made salmon-coloured windbreakers a permissible fashion statement.
The MTS Centre was brand-new, having opened mere months earlier, in November 2004. The excitement about the Junos in the city was palpable, as there was a genuine sense of pride in hosting a national event in Winnipeg.
In the years following the opening of the MTS Centre, Winnipeg grew accustomed to hosting big-name concerts. While the city isn't exactly blasé about major events now, it does take a lot more to impress the locals.
The return of the Jets in 2011 also reduced the insecurity that used to pervade the collective consciousness. We're simply a lot less concerned about what the rest of Canada thinks about us, mainly because we know the rest of the nation rarely thinks of us at all. And we're cool with that.
There's no question -- Winnipeg was way, way more pumped about the Junos in 2005. Remember, the death of the pope was treated as secondary news.
THE VISITOR EXPERIENCE
Nine years ago, visitors to downtown Winnipeg would have encountered a brand-new arena, but also a lot more empty storefronts than exist today.
An entire city block west of the MTS Centre was cordoned off for the pending construction of the Manitoba Hydro tower. The Portage Village Inn, since demolished to make way for the Centrepoint development, stood empty directly across the street from the arena, along with the Mitchell-Copp Building.
There simply was a lot less foot traffic and commercial development in downtown Winnipeg. On the plus side, the 2005 Junos were held during an unseasonably warm spring.
Compared to 2005, downtown Winnipeg is in better shape. East of the arena, Canad Inns has renovated and reopened the Metropolitan Theatre. There are more restaurants and shops in the Exchange District. Density has increased and the downtown streetscape has become more pedestrian-friendly, albeit by small increments.
On the downside, the forecast for Juno Week calls for slightly-below-normal temperatures, which means just-below-freezing days.
That said, icy Winnipeg in March is prettier than dusty Winnipeg in April.
Downtown still suffers from underdevelopment, but it's a nicer place in 2014.
When the Junos first came to town, the production team chose comedian Brent Butt to host the broadcast portion of the awards, partly because he was a Prairie boy and partly because Corner Gas was a big hit on awards-show broadcaster CTV.
This year, the Juno producers made a relatively late decision to choose a trio of nominees -- country singer Johnny Reid, rapper Classified and pop singer-songwriter Serena Ryder -- to serve as co-hosts.
Neither. The likable Butt didn't possess the star power of prior hosts such as Shania Twain and Alanis Morissette. Ryder, Reid and Classified should prove to be more comfortable on the big stage, but they also don't provide megawatts for the marquee.
Nine years ago, the lineup of performers at the Juno broadcast was stacked with big Canadian names such as The Tragically Hip, k-os, k.d. lang and Feist. The supporting cast wasn't shabby, either: Billy Talent, Simple Plan, Kalan Porter, Sum 41 and an all-Winnipeg show closer featuring Burton Cummings, Randy Bachman, Wailin' Jennys, Nathan, Fresh I.E. and The Waking Eyes.
Neil Young was a last-minute no-show due to a brain aneurysm.
This year, co-hosts Ryder, Reid and Classified will perform, while the big names on the bill are Robin Thicke, Tegan & Sara, Sarah McLachlan and the US of A's OneRepublic. The supporting cast comprises Brett Kissel, Dean Brody, Gord Bamford, Matt Mays, The Sheepdogs and Walk Off The Earth.
Don't be upset if you don't know all those names.
The 2005 show had bigger names. But relative star power doesn't necessarily translate into a less entertaining show -- it's all in the production and the execution.
The price range for tickets to Winnipeg's first Juno broadcast was $40 to $116, plus service charges.
This year's price range is $48.50 to $204, plus service charges.
None, for a low-end ticket, as $40 in 2005 is equivalent to $48 today. But a high-end seat was a way better deal in 2005. In today's funds, $116 is equivalent to $139.
HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE
The Tragically Hip, the pride of Kingston, Ont., is the quintessential Canadian guitar-rock band. The only downer nine years ago was fellow Kingstonite Dan Aykroyd's last-minute decision to bail on introducing the band.
This is the second time the Junos have tried to honour Bachman-Turner Overdrive, which was formed in Winnipeg. In-fighting sabotaged the first attempt, so the payoff should be sweet for Randy Bachman, who has never grown tired of the stage.
Neither, though hometown honours are nice.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2014 G1
Updated on Saturday, March 22, 2014 at 11:44 AM CDT: adds photo
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