OTTAWA -- There were plenty of surprises at this year's Juno Awards, and the fact it was April Fool's Day had nothing to do with it.
Consider this: a Christmas album was named the best album released in 2011, Saskatoon rockers the Sheepdogs took home three awards and Nickelback got shut out.
Anything really can happen at the Junos, and as usual it was a mixed bag with some high points, upsets and things that need improvement.
Here's what I observed over the past three days in Ottawa. Let's call it the good, the bad and the upsets.
-- William Shatner as host of the Juno broadcast. While the 81-year-old probably didn't bring in the youth demo, Capt. Kirk was on top of his game and was very funny at times. About Nickelback's performance he noted: "Sure there were flames, but if the drummer survived, what's the point?" And then, "What a way to kick off the show with the top two pillars of rock: Nickelback and William Shatner. Nickelshat." He also performed a medley of Canadian music in his signature sing-speak style and appeared in a series of sketches throughout the show about trying to join Nickelback, Hedley and Feist.
-- Junofest. One of the highlights of Juno weekend is the two-day music festival known as Junofest, where you can just bounce from venue to venue seeing artists from every genre. My favourite new discovery was Hamilton boogie rock band Monster Truck. Getting a chance to catch a set by Winnipeg noise rock trio KEN Mode hours after watching them win a Juno was a definite highlight.
-- The performances on the Juno broadcast. Nickelback started things off with This Means War and a whole lot of pyro. Newfoundland's Hey Rosetta, Feist, City and Colour, Blue Rodeo and Deadmau5 with Lights and MC Flipside were highlights.
-- Humble acceptance speeches. "Canada has some of the best songwriters in the world," Dallas Green said, while Dan Mangan steered toward inspirational by reminding people, "It takes time to do anything that's worthwhile."
-- The setup. There were two stages, a performance stage and a presentation stage, which kept things moving swiftly. The performance stage was an impressive sight with a wall of LED screens behind the artists and a giant video screen above them.
-- Winnipeg artists KEN Mode and the Wailin' Jennys winning Junos. I have known the members of both bands for years and can vouch not only for their talent, but for being great people.
-- Blue Rodeo inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. A well-deserved honour for the veteran Toronto roots rockers.
-- While the Sheepdogs song I Don't Know is the best of the bunch here, no one actually expected it to win. The money was on Nickelback, who performed on the broadcast and participated in a comedy sketch with Shatner.
-- How can you not like Feist? She is talented, charming, funny, honest and quirky, but beating out Drake was a huge surprise. She seemed genuinely shocked, too.
-- Nickelback getting shut out. The Vancouver post-grunge band was up for four awards but went home empty-handed. They were considered favourites for group of the year and single of the year.
-- Hamilton rock band the Arkells beat out Nickelback, Hedley, Down With Webster and the Sam Roberts Band for group of the year.
-- Winnipeg's KEN Mode won the inaugural metal/hard rock album of the year, beating out veteran headbangers Anvil. "We respect them. They've been a band longer than we've been alive," drummer Shane Matthewson said.
-- Vancouver folkie Dan Mangan winning alternative album of the year over F--ked UP's David Comes to Life, which topped many album of the year lists in 2011, including mine.
-- Michael Bublé's holiday album Christmas winning what should be the most prestigious award of the night: album of the year.
Giving Bublé the award sets a dangerous precedent. What is to stop popular artists from simply recording a covers album that sells well just to win the award, which is based strictly on sales? It's a good Christmas album, sure, but not the best Canadian album released last year. If this is going to be the way this award is handed out in the future, the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences should just change the name to bestselling album of the year and be done with it.
-- The lack of the country's biggest stars. Bublé wasn't there, Drake wasn't there, Bieber wasn't there and even the Sheepdogs weren't there. Everyone but Bieber -- who should have been asked to host -- was on tour in different countries, but it felt a little empty without them.