Sunday night's telecast might be the Big Show, but the heart of the Juno Awards is JunoFest.
On March 28 and 29, nearly 20 Winnipeg venues will host more than 100 national and local acts from almost every genre and sub-genre you can name for a two-night celebration of why the awards exist in the first place.
"It's a great opportunity to get out and experience Canadian music," says Chris Topping, vice-president of events and special programming at the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS). "JunoFest is a return to the roots. All of these musicians got their start in the clubs. We've lost some artists to bigger venues, but that's a good problem to have. We're hopefully nurturing the next round of nominees."
Since it made its debut in St. John's, N.L., in 2002, JunoFest has grown into an anticipated marquee event. "We're up to 120 bands and over 50 nominees this year -- generally we have about 40 nominees," Topping says. "We include as many local artists as we can; about 50 per cent of the lineup is local."
Indeed, JunoFest has strong slate of Manitoba acts representing a wide cross-section of our local music scene, including 2014 nominees Royal Canoe, Mahogany Frog and Desiree Dorion, as well as Chic Gamine, Crooked Brothers, Distances, Dr. Rage & The Uppercuts, Federal Lights, Grand Analog, Imaginary Cities, Joe Silva, Mise en Scene, Mobina Galore, Nathan Music Co., Nathan Zahn, Sierra Noble, Sweet Alibi, the Bros. Landreth, the Lytics, the Treble and more.
By design, JunoFest allows fans to see as much music as possible. Four or five acts play at each venue per night and are scheduled into one-hour blocks. Topping recommends festival-goers buy a $30 wristband, which offers priority access to all JunoFest venues. And with door prices averaging $15, the wristband offers the most bang for your buck. "We wanted to provide as much value as possible," Topping says. On Friday night, the Windsor Hotel boasts a white-hot roots-rock bill featuring three roots/trad nominees -- Daniel Romano, Lee Harvey Osmond and the Devin Cuddy Band -- along with local luminary Scott Nolan. The West End Cultural Centre is presenting a buzzed-about showcase dubbed Outlaws and Gunslingers, featuring Ron Sexsmith, Justin Rutledge, Del Barber, Luke Doucet and many more. Over at The Cavern, festivalgoers can catch blistering sets by the righteous prairie babes in Winnipeg's Mobina Galore, Chica Boom Boom (the new project from American Flamewhip's J-Rod and the Quiffs' Alana Mercer) and Mad Young Darlings as well as Regina's the Fortunate Isles. Hip-hop heads will want to make their way to the Exchange Event Centre, where Rich Kidd (who is up for rap recording of the year), D-Sisive, Grand Analog, DRU, Joanna Borromeo and Winnipeg Boyz will perform. The Times Change(d) High and Lonesome will be home of the blues, with locals Crooked Brothers, nominees Little Miss Higgins & the Winnipeg Five and Ottawa's MonkeyJunk.
On Saturday night, the Exchange Event Centre is the site of a not-to-be-missed lineup featuring Aboriginal Album of the Year nominees Inez Jasper and Amanda Rheaume, sharing the stage with A Tribe Called Red, who is up for Breakthrough Artist and Electronic Artist of the year. Leonard Sumner and George Leach are also on that bill. The Pyramid, meanwhile, will be the place to catch indie rock adventurists Rich Aucoin -- whose 2013 Winnipeg Folk Festival sets ranked among this writer's favourites -- local nominee Mahogany Frog and Mounties, the new supergroup featuring Hawksley Workman, Ryan Dahle (Limblifter, Age of Electric) and Steve Bays (Hot Hot Heat). Mounties' debut album, Thrash Rock Legacy, came out March 4, and this will mark their first Winnipeg appearance.
Union Sound Hall will host an Arts & Crafts showcase, headlined by alternative-album-of-the-year nominees the Darcys. Singer/songwriter Megan Bonnell, Calgary's Reuben and the Dark and Los Angeles' NO are also on the bill. (Yes, NO is an American band, but is signed to the influential Canadian label.)
A calendar's worth of associated events are also open to those with JunoFest wristbands this year. On March 27, the Metropolitan Entertainment Centre (a.k.a. Manitoba House) will host the Juno Awards kickoff party, featuring the Trews, Attica Riots and the New Meanies. Also on March 27 is Q with Jian Ghomeshi: Live at the Junos at the Burton Cummings Theatre, featuring interviews with nominees and performers Tegan and Sara, Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Randy Bachman, Team Jennifer Jones and Governor General Award-winning poet Katherena Vermette.
On March 28, Brett Kissel and Tim Hicks will perform at McPhillips Street Station while Manitoba Rocks, which will see Imaginary Cities, Royal Canoe, Nathan Music Co. and the Lytics perform live with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, kicks off a two-night stand at the Centennial Concert Hall with a matinee on Sunday. A classical music showcase featuring Land's End Ensemble with Antiphony Choir, Isabel Bayrakdarian, James Campbell, James O'Callaghan, Serouj Kradjian and Stewart Goodyear, plus works by nominated composers Allan Gordon Bell and Stephen Chatman, at the University of Winnipeg's Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall on March 29 is also open to wristbands.
Admission to these events is limited and will operate on a first come, first served basis.