The new millennium brought big changes to the JUNO Awards. The show had been held outside Ontario only twice in its first 30 years – both times in Vancouver. But in 2002, the show hit the road. It began heading to a different host city each year, coast-to-coast, bringing with it a range of JUNO-branded public events – from charity hockey games to autograph signings – in the week leading up to the main Sunday telecast.
When Stan Klees and the late Walt Grealis, founder of RPM Magazine – Canada’s first-ever music industry publication, now long defunct – launched the annual celebration of Canadian music on Feb. 23, 1970, it was known as the Gold Leaf Awards. It was a modest beginning, to say the least: only about 250 industry people attended the show, which was held at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Hall. The following year the name was changed to The JUNO Awards, in honour of Pierre Juneau, champion of the Canadian Content regulations and the first head of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC).
The JUNOS show was first televised in 1975 on the CBC. But even as the venue size increased, it remained largely a music industry affair that the public got to watch, but only from home. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that tickets were available to the public, as the show bid farewell to theatres such as the O’Keefe Centre (now Meridian Hall), and hello to arenas like Copps Coliseum (now FirstOntario Centre) and Vancouver’s General Motors Place (now Rogers Arena).
In 2000, teen brothers The Moffatts had the privilege of hosting the very first JUNOS of the new millennium at what, to this day, remains the largest venue in the show’s history: Toronto’s SkyDome (today’s Rogers Centre), albeit in a tented area for about 15,000 people. And, for the first time, the awards were doled out over two nights, the majority at an untelevised gala at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre the night before the broadcast. The two-night approach continues to this day.
Another first: the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) commissioned renowned glass blower Shirley Elford to design a new trophy. She crafted a sleek human figure standing on top of the world with a nickel-plated ribbon, representing a staff, wrapped around it. And she made every trophy by hand. That popular design, which was replaced in 2011 – sadly, the same year Elford passed away – makes a triumphant comeback for the 50th anniversary.
Over the next few years, the JUNOS celebrations would change dramatically, expanding in size and scope to match the remarkable domestic and international successes of artists like Nelly Furtado, Avril Lavigne, Michael Bublé and Nickelback, and the increased interest from outside the country. But after the JUNOS were held in Toronto and Hamilton, Ontario, the annual event seemed to get even more fun when it bounced from city to city, starting with the quaint and friendly St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador in 2002.
The city was pulsating. Countless shops and restaurants posted “welcome” signs in their windows and there was a palpable excitement about the awards that can tend to get lost in larger host cities.
That year, CARAS also switched its broadcast partner to CTV as the public broadcaster was going through budget restraints at the time and taking the JUNOS on the road was becoming an increasingly expensive proposition.
Most touring musicians would invariably skip St. John’s because, as Canada’s most easterly city, it was simply cost-prohibitive. So, having such stars as Nickelback, Furtado, Sum 41, Diana Krall and American artist Shaggy in town for the JUNOS generated some serious street buzz. The host city also added three new components to what has come to be known as JUNO Week: JUNO Fan Fare, a meet-and-greet event with nominees for the public; a weekend-long JUNOfest, with national talent and local acts performing at the clubs; and JUNO Songwriters’ Circle, a stripped-down, unplugged afternoon concert by a handful of notable artists playing songs and sharing the stories behind them.
The JUNOS as we know it today, complete with all its companion events, was by this time its own travelling roadshow. Its ancillary stock had also grown: municipal governments across the provinces, aware of the tremendous boost in tourism it brought, began assembling bid committees to lobby the CARAS board of directors to play host.
The 2003 JUNO Week was held in Ottawa, with a population large enough to require an expansion of JUNOfest and other events. The year also marked the debut of the JUNO-nominee compilation album, featuring acts from all five major labels (there are now three), each one taking turns marketing and distributing with proceeds going to CARAS’ music education charity, MusiCounts.
The following year, the JUNOS headed to Edmonton and one more event was added: JUNO Cup, a charity hockey game between musicians and members of the music industry and some of the NHL’s all-time greats. More than a mere game, JUNO Cup is a competitive event that so many musicians have come to cherish – even non-nominated musicians in some years have been known to travel great distances to participate.
There have been other changes to the awards during this period – the addition of certain awards, such as the curiously named Adult Alternative Album of the Year, as well the Humanitarian Award (originally the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award). As well, there was more emphasis on live musical performances on the televised show and less on the number of trophies awarded. But while digital downloads of the performances were on sale after the show – with proceeds going to MusiCounts – the winning formula of the JUNOS was cemented: JUNO Week: JUNO Fan Fare, JUNOfest, JUNO Songwriters’ Circle and JUNO Cup.
“Go big or go home,” as the saying goes. And, by 2009, the JUNOS had indeed gone “big.” And “home” had become the entire country.
Featured Image: Avril Lavigne shows off her first 4 JUNO statuettes after winning Single, Pop Album, New Artist, and Album of the Year at The 2003 JUNO Awards. Credit: George Pimentel/WireImage.