Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Singing in the slush puddles

Good thing it's Regina's turn to host the Junos AND SHINE on national stage

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REGINA -- The slush puddles on the streets and charcoal-grey snow piled up on boulevards probably give first-time visitors to Saskatchewan the wrong idea of what late April usually looks like on the Canadian Prairies.

Yes, it's a good thing the Juno Awards are in Regina rather than Winnipeg this supposed spring.

The city Bomber fans love to hate during the CFL season deserves our empathy this weekend as it takes the rare opportunity to garner Canada's attention for something sexier than the Riders, high potash prices and low consumption taxes.

 

So let's give the melonheads their due. From a logistical and cultural perspective, the 2013 Juno weekend is among the largest events ever staged in Regina, a city with a metro population of about 210,000. Regina is the second-smallest city to host the Junos since the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences put the show on the road. Only St. John's, N.L., which hosted the awards in 2002 and 2010, was smaller -- and blessed with a far greater selection of pubs offering Irish whiskey and cod's tongues. But that's a hazier story for a warmer day.

The point is, it's much easier for the Junos to create excitement in Regina than it is in a city where a celebrity presence is a common facet of everyday life.

"I'm very happy it's here. Not to put down Toronto or Vancouver, but there's a bigger buzz," this year's host Michael Buble told reporters at Regina's Brandt Centre on Saturday afternoon. "People aren't cynical."

However, when a sizable chunk of the mainstream Canadian music industry descends on a small city, it challenges the capacity of hotels, florists, caterers, restaurants and limo companies to deliver luxury services. It also injects a pile of money into the local economy: In March, CARAS president and CEO Melanie Berry estimated the impact to Regina at $10 million. Similar claims have been made for the event in other cities.

Whether or not you believe this sort of voodoo -- economic-spinoff estimates are notoriously self-serving -- there's no question an event on this scale translates into hospitality business and generates tax revenue that would otherwise not have materialized on an April weekend in a city like Regina.

The financial windfall explains why the City of Winnipeg, the Selinger government and True North Sports & Entertainment were so eager to bring the awards back to Manitoba in 2014, only nine years after comedian Brent Butt hosted the 2005 Junos at the MTS Centre.

It also explains why a large contingent of government and music-industry officials from Winnipeg are in Regina this weekend to see what, if anything, Winnipeg can do to improve upon the Juno Weekend, which has become a somewhat formulaic series of events.

Along with the televised awards show broadcast by CTV, the Juno Weekend includes a non-televised awards gala, an autograph session for fans, a Juno Cup pitting musicians against retired NHL players, an afternoon concert featuring songwriters and a late-night club series open to the public. There is also a pile of VIP events only open to music-industry types, the well-connected and the genetically gifted.

True North vice-president and MTS Centre manager Kevin Donnelly, who flew to Regina only days after enduring the chaos of the Boston Marathon bombing, said the challenge for Winnipeg next year is to make Juno weekend more accessible to real people -- that is, actual fans.

Tickets for the televised awards show, wristbands for the autograph session and even admittance into the club shows are difficult to obtain, leading organizers to brainstorm how to make the event more populist.

Making the red-carpet ceremony more of a public event would be one way to do this, although the early date of next year's Junos -- March 30 -- makes weather an iffy variable in Winnipeg.

The other factor to consider next year is how much Winnipeg has changed since 2005, when the MTS Centre was less than one year old, the National Hockey League had yet to return and the city was hungrier for any major event.

In 2005, the staging of the Junos in Winnipeg almost eclipsed the death of John Paul II in the local news cycle, prompting National Post gossip columnist Shinan Govani to quip the Manitoba capital "may be the only town in the world where they didn't get the memo about the Pope's death."

There is no freaking way the city will embrace the 2014 awards with anywhere near as much excitement. Next year, the untimely passing of John Kerry or Paul Anka could eclipse the show, although of course I wish these guys nothing but a long and happy life.

While the return of the Jets has brought Winnipeg a tremendous amount of confidence, it's also diffused the public's attention, as many of the city's arts groups found when the their gate receipts suffered during the fall of 2011.

Even the simple task of blocking out a week of spring dates to build and stage a Juno ceremony at the MTS Centre is more complicated with an NHL team in town compared to the days when the Manitoba Moose was the major tenant. The venue's ability to bend over backward for CARAS is limited by its primary responsibility to the NHL.

The other factor that will go a long way in determining whether Winnipeg embraces the Junos next year is the cachet and creative focus of the awards themselves. The marriage of a mainstream televised awards show and a somewhat grassroots music festival can be awkward.

CARAS, to its credit, has tinkered with the awards categories to ensure the roster of nominees reflects the more independent acts, more new artists and more creative artists. For example, trippy R&B vocalist The Weeknd, indie electronic artist Grimes and gothic country Elliott Brood were among the list of winners at Saturday night's non-televised awards.

The real task is injecting a little more life into the television broadcast.

"There are some years where I hear a lot of journalists complain there are too many established artists, we're bringing the same characters out year after year," Buble said Saturday. "This year, we're bringing out a lot of new acts."

That's won't be all that apparent tonight, as worldwide phenomenon Carly Rae Jepsen doesn't really cut it as an edgy, new performer. But change is good for any institution, including the 43-year-old creature that is the Juno Awards.

 

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 21, 2013 A8

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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