Calgary hosted this year’s Juno Awards, which seemed apropos as their hometown hero Feist, whose stellar material from The Reminder, swept in every category (including Album of the Year) for which she was nominated. But that wasn’t the only music news to break out of the area. While the biggest selling band to come from Calgary is Nickelback, don’t hold it against them. The city has long been the seat of Canada’s country music scene, and in more recent years rockabilly has had a strong presence. Like the city’s growing importance in Canada – it has the fastest growing population in the country – some of the country’s best musical exports hail from this meat-and-oil industry town, including Feist and Tegan & Sara.
Once stationary in Toronto, Canada’s highest musical honors show has been traveling to different Canadian cities since 1991 - and it has grown beyond the awards ceremony. A month-long celebration filled Calgary with musical attractions leading to the main event, but we kicked things off on Thursday by taking to the slopes at Olympic Park where the “fastest zipline in North America” awaited. There are few things more rock ‘n’ roll than plummeting from 90 meters up off the top of the former 1988 Olympics ski jump at 110 kilometers an hour down a mountainside. It’s also a good place to practice your best Robert Plant wail, though mine resembled a frightened Geddy Lee that certainly all of Calgary, if not half of North America, heard. Later, a free outdoor concert featured Sloan and Finger 11 alongside popular Canadian outfit Bedouin Soundclash whose radio-friendly fusion of reggae and punked-up rock description sounded more exciting than it actually is, recalling an even more pedestrian version of 311.
On Friday the annual Juno Cup benefit, pitted NHL hockey legends (The Greats) against Canadian rockers (The Rockers, which included members of Blue Rodeo, who later won two Junos) in a hilarious game of cat-and-mouse on the ice. While The Greats easily scored five goals in the first five minutes, The Rockers did their best to hold their own, with Sloan’s Chris Murphy scoring the Rockers’ first goal. But the powerful Greats – which included Lanny McDonald, Doug Gilmour and Paul Coffey – proved too much for Rockers goalie/Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor, and The Greats took the prize 16 to 14.
JunoFest featured up-and-coming Canadian artists at venues throughout Calgary over the weekend. On Friday at Ironwood Grill a trio of women-fronted groups made a lasting impression. Autorickshaw was fronted by Indian vocalist Suba Sankaran, whose jazzy intonations floated harmoniously above Indian-flavored funky rhythms. Oh Susanna’s acoustic set featured noir country, while Little Miss Higgins rounded out the evening with their brand of lively blues-tinged country.
On Saturday several Juno nominees mingled with fans at the open-to-the-public Juno Fan Fare event and night two of JunoFest brought a mixed bag of talent. We checked out local outfit Eve Hell and the Razors. While their performance drew rockabilly scenesters, the band mirrored the crowd: more cool to look at than engaging. Axis of Conversation was much more intriguing. Its experimental forays were as much fun to witness as the band seemed to have performing. Fusing sweeping violins with electronic beats one minute, and making noise with childhood toys and glockenspiel the next, it was an engrossing set. Equally impressive was Ontario’s Most Serene Republic, whose infectious hooks were matched with a dark indie rock sway.
One of the highlights of the Juno festivities was the Songwriter’s Circle. Held on Sunday and hosted by Joel Plaskett, the event highlighted solo performances by Cuban-bred Alex Cuba (whose Agua Del Pozo garnered the Juno for World Music Album of the Year), Corb Lund, Jay Malinowski, newcomer Jeremy Fisher, New Artist of the Year Juno recipient Serena Ryder, and Tegan Quinn of Tegan & Sara. The intimate