From Nickelback pyro accidentally torching pricey projectors to Justin Trudeau dancing on a table many years before becoming prime minister, the Juno Awards have certainly had some memorable moments over the past 50 years.
The Canadian Press asked organizers about their biggest behind-the-scenes recollections from Canada’s biggest night in music, which will celebrate its golden anniversary Sunday on CBC-TV and its digital platforms:
When Nickelback took three trophies at the 2002 show in St. John’s, the Alberta rockers were hot on the charts with their album “Silver Side Up” — too hot, in some ways.
John Brunton, chairman and chief executive officer of Junos’ longtime producer Insight Productions, says the band’s sensational pyrotechnics accidentally burned two $75,000 onstage projectors during a late-night rehearsal.
The projectors were an integral part of the set design.
“It was the cornerstone of our entire creative for the whole show, done and dusted,” says Brunton.
“They completely (ruined) our whole creative vision for the show with one flash of their (damn) pyro. Excuse my language,” he adds with a laugh, using unprintable expletives.
The 2002 St. John’s show was among the most raucous and remarkable Junos ever, says Brunton, with locals holding kitchen parties and the Barenaked Ladies hosting a star-packed broadcast on a level the city had never seen before.
“It was the loudest crowd I’d ever heard in Canada to this day,” he recalls.
But the lead-up was challenging, and not just because of the pyro problem.
“All of the artists that were supposed to be rehearsing with us, we had to drag out of bars and strip clubs up and down George Street, because they were all partying full-on,” says Brunton.
The set at Mile One Centre also took longer than expected to build and organizers worried it wouldn’t be done in time.
Lindsay Cox, senior vice-president at Insight, flew in carpenters from Montreal at midnight to help, while the set designer slept inside the venue every night to get the job done.
Brunton was reluctant to put on a wrap party after all the complications. But when the show became a rousing success, he threw one together at the last minute at Bianca’s Restaurant.
A sunglasses-wearing Trudeau was dancing on a table and “a big bucket of cod came in and bottles of screech,” says Brunton.
The late Jack Layton, who became leader of the NDP a year later, was also there busting a move.
“One by one everybody at the party got screeched-in, dancing on top of tables, drinking like crazy,” Brunton says, referring to the Newfoundland and Labrador welcoming tradition of kissing a cod fish and downing a shot of alcohol.
“The cost of the bill for the wrap party was more money than we were paid to make the Junos,” he adds.
ASH CLOUD CALAMITY
Disorder hung over the Junos again — literally — when the show returned to St. John’s in 2010.
Cox says the show was unfolding without a hitch when audience members started looking down at their smartphones — BlackBerrys were favoured at the time.
“You can tell something has just happened and they’re reacting very differently to the show,” says Cox, who has staged 20 Junos alongside Brunton, who’s done 26 over the course of 35 years.
The issue was an encroaching ash cloud from a volcanic eruption in Iceland that was disrupting air travel and prevented Bryan Adams from flying in for the show.
“You could see everybody trying to plan to leave as awards were being handed out and performances were happening,” Cox says.
To make matters worse: the toilets had overflowed backstage at Mile One Centre and dripped into the production office below. That sent crew scrambling to cover laptops and equipment in the production room.
“Now we’re running around saying, ‘Who’s got plastic? Who’s got plastic?'” says Brunton.
When singer-songwriter Leslie Feist got onstage at the 2005 Junos in Winnipeg, it seemed to be a fool-proof setup of just a guitar and connector. But midway through her performance of her hit “Mushaboom,” her guitar went silent.
“With such beauty and grace and class and calm, she just fiddled around, somebody came running out from our team, replugged it in and she started from the start again,” says Brunton.
“To us it was devastating, an artist hung out to dry, and it just didn’t feel that way to her,” says Cox, noting Feist didn’t even mention the incident later backstage. “That said so much about Leslie.”
Brunton also recalls a technical glitch with his “heroes,” members of the Band, during his first Junos as a producer in 1989.
It happened when the Band was behind the curtain, ready to put on a surprise performance of their hit “The Weight,” for the big finale.
“The Band is tuning up and I’m looking at Robbie Robertson and he’s strumming his guitar and no sound’s coming out of his guitar, and I start to freak out,” Brunton says.
Brunton tried in vain to signal to host André-Philippe Gagnon to stretch out the show. And the curtain operator didn’t hear his pleas to stall.
“Needless to say, just as the curtain goes up, he strums his guitar, nothing comes out,” Brunton says. “But it wasn’t to start the song. And then boom, he did it one more time and the sound came out of his guitar.
“I could have gone on a respirator because I was about to have a heart attack because I was about to hang my favourite guitar player in the world out to dry.”
Brunton says the CBC later told him he put on “a wonderful show” and asked him to sign on for another three years.
“I remember saying to them, ‘Well, I’ve done the show once. Why would I ever want to do it again?'” he says with a laugh.
“Now if somebody tries to take the Junos away from Lindsay and I, I might stab them in the chest. I’m so attached to the show.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2021.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press