By J.A. Shapira
Photography by Sara Jensen
Just a couple months ago, Winnipeg played host to the 2014 Juno Awards where it transformed from its snow-globe appearance into a star-speckled spectacle of music, glitz and glamour.
From the heart of the City, the MTS Centre buzzed with excitement as Canada’s most prolific recording artists descended on our small, but proud City known for its bone-chilling winters and multi-cultural spirit. In the epicentre of it all stood myself, armed with a recording device, a local photographer and a cheat sheet with questions.
Making the lobby couches at the Delta Hotel my makeshift office for the week, I stood guard, waiting and ready to pounce like paparazzi at the sight of any note-worthy celebrity. Like a Conservative on the hunt, I walked back and forth between Winnipeg’s top hotels and convention centres with my Juno Award Press Pass dangling proudly from around my neck.
While I’d love to detail every exclusive interview I had that week, there ended up being almost 40 of them that took up a significant chunk of my recorder’s 90 hours of recording time. From one-on-ones with Trevor Guthrie, Dru, Jacynthe and Kardinal Offishal, to sitting in Thomas Hinds Tobacconist with country music superstar Tim Hicks and the beautiful Brandi Disterheft, the week went by in a flash as celebrities swooned in and out of my grasp as we sat and chatted like we had been friends forever.
Downtown was buzzing and press from across the country made it their home as we partied hard and worked even harder. Friendships were forged and business cards exchanged, and this was all before the official kickoff to the 2014 Juno Awards.
One thing that really separates our City from the rest of Canada is the level of networking and camaraderie that can be achieved. In cities like Toronto and Vancouver, delegates are swept across the many hotels and vast cityscapes making it almost impossible to run into each other. However, in Winnipeg, it was impossible not to. The Delta, Fairmont and MTS Centre were hotbeds for the swarms of media and the celebrities who for one week out of the year, spent time together like friends.
The first glimpse that weekend was an inside look I got at a rehearsal of the Juno Awards broadcast where a selection of reporters were treated to a performance by Tegan and Sara. As we waited, hosts Serena Ryder and Johnny Reid graced us with their presence and Virgin 103’s Chrissy Troy and I bounced question after question off them as they flawlessly stood poised and ready to answer.
As the rehearsal wound down, my photographer Sara and I rushed back to the Delta to meet up with Juno nominee Shad to chat and discuss what the award show means to him as a Canadian hip hop artist.
Despite having already met many of the nominees and colleagues from across the country, that evening was the official kickoff party at the beautiful Canadian Museum for Human Rights. As artists posed on TD’s Green Carpet, I chatted off to the side with Alysha Brilla, Kardinal Offishall, and JRDN, before we entered the ballroom where a crowd of what seemed like thousands engaged in meaningful conversation and irrelevant banter.
With his arm around me, Mayor Sam Katz told me exactly what the Juno Awards mean to him. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to show the rest of the country what Winnipeg is all about and how we can host a phenomenal event, celebrating the music scene across the country, but also the great music scene we have here in Winnipeg,” says Katz. “I’m very proud of that, and there’s no question, it has a phenomenal impact on the economy.”
After a whirlwind tour of the newly constructed Museum for Human Rights, we boarded Winnipeg Transit buses with our newfound celebrity friends which took us to the Fairmont Hotel. Immediately heading straight for the bar, I was joined by reporters from Toronto and Vancouver as we sipped Scotch and waited for an exclusive interview with William Sperandei and Amy McConnell. Accompanied by Nicolle Hodges of VanCityBuzz, we ran through our questions before departing to an after-hours party superstar Alysha Brilla had invited us to. Finally cabbing it home at around 3 a.m., I woke up by nine, ready for back-to-back exclusives with country music sensation Tim Hicks and legendary jazz musician Brandi Disterheft, who I have to admit I have a slight crush on.
That night I donned the tuxedo and black bow tie as the sun set and the Gala Awards began at the RBC Convention Centre. Looking like we stepped out of Winnipeg and into Hollywood, we were ushered into a media room backstage where Ace Burpee entertained with witty banter between Juno Award winners coming backstage for a quick media scrum.
After hours of what was honestly mind-numbing backstage scrummages, we decided we needed to party some more and took Gibson Guitars up on their invite to the official Gibson after-party. Hosted at Hermanos, the invitation-only event was packed wall-to-wall with celebrities.
The next morning I arrived back at the Fairmont Hotel where I met up with former SoulDecision frontman Trevor Guthrie, and we had a meaningful, heartfelt conversation about the highs and lows of his career and his new hit single “This is what it feels like” with Armin Van Buuren.
Then, fresh from the Gibson’s party, I was met by recording artist Dru who talked about his career in depth and proved once again, that just because you’re a celebrity, doesn’t mean you can’t be a gentleman. He was one of the best interviews of the week.
After a quick lunch, I rushed down to the Delta, where I met up with Montreal hit maker Jacynthe who not only blew me away with her supermodel-good-looks, but even sang to me just for fun. It was almost as if the interviews kept getting better and better.
Then it was time. The 2014 Juno Awards Broadcast was set to begin and we rushed from the Delta, through the various skywalks until we landed right in the middle of absolute chaos.
The streets were blocked by police, white tents covering the red carpet and fans gathering by the masses inside and outside the MTS Centre. Picketers rocked their various signs outside the lobby and traffic was at a standstill taking taxis almost an hour to get through downtown.
As we were ushered past security and to the press room with an overview of the entire stage, Tweets rang out through the Twittersphere as virtually every celebrity junkie in Canada talked about the broadcast. The night was a success, the entire week a triumph and Winnipeg once again, served as what was deemed by producers as the best Juno Awards show in history! It was a week of celebration that took a week to recover from. I can’t wait for next time.