WINNIPEG —When a big name drops out of the Juno Awards, something of a similar quality always takes its place.
In 2005, when the legendary Neil Young dropped out of his hometown Junos due to a brain aneurysm, the amazing k.d. lang graciously agreed to perform in his slot.
In 2014, when the questionably Canadian and lyrically suspect Robin Thicke dropped out of the Winnipeg Junos due to vocal problems, Manitoba got a crap-tastic late-season snowstorm in his place.
Aside from this piece of perfect symmetry, here’s what else happened at the MTS Centre and throughout Winnipeg during Juno Week, in the form of arbitrarily assigned awards:
The Justice Has Been Served Award
Given pop music’s tendency to eat itself, it’s always surprising, if not outright shocking, to hear a recording artist create a genuinely new sound. Ottawa’s A Tribe Called Red accomplished this unusual feat by seamlessly integrating powwow vocals with electronic beats, with awe-inspiring results.
In a rare example of an awards show doing what it’s supposed to do, the trio was named breakthrough artist of the year. This is a big deal on a musical level as well as on a socio-political level, as these guys serve as a source of inspiration for urban indigenous kids across the country.
Good on the Juno producers for ensuring this moment wound up on the national broadcast. Personally, this was the highlight of the night.
The Better Late Than Never Trophy
The first time the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences tried to induct Winnipeg-formed Bachman-Turner Overdrive into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, infighting among the band members nixed the opportunity.
You can’t honour four people when they refuse to stand onstage together. The chill ended Sunday, when BTO was finally ushered in, following a video intro featuring tributes from the likes of Elton John and Metallica.
The Medal for Absolute Meh
So, Arcade Fire appeared in a pre-taped performance from a tour stop in Chile.
This had all the emotional impact of a late-night infomercial. And that’s being generous.
Extreme Ambivalence of the Evening
Backstage at the MTS Centre, media Q&A MC Ace Burpee was taking bets as to whether uber-brat Justin Bieber would be cheered or booed if he was named fan choice of the year.
When the Biebs won the honour, the cheers came first. But they were drowned out by subsequent boos.
Yet again, Canada remains divided into two solitudes.
No-Show of the Night
Every major awards show deserves a little drama — and the aforementioned Robin Thicke was only too happy to oblige.
Juno organizers waited until early Sunday to announce the "Blurred Lines" vocalist wouldn’t perform at the MTS Centre due to "mandatory vocal rest." While it appears they knew by Saturday Thicke wouldn’t make it, releasing that info would have resulted in the cancellation superseding coverage of the non-televised Juno gala, where most of the awards were handed out.
The irony is, Thicke was the subject of an online petition that called on the Junos to get rid of him on the grounds "Blurred Lines" is misogynist or worse. But 1,700 signatures had nothing to do with it: Thicke has cancelled a number of performances over the past three months due to vocal issues, including gigs in Vancouver, Hamilton and Atlanta.
Best Performance of Juno weekend
OK, so Serena Ryder has an amazing voice. But it was a club show that deserves the honour for best performance.
Early Sunday morning, in one of the final Juno Fest shows of the weekend, Toronto’s Lemon Bucket Orkestra delivered an amazingly frenetic, gloriously anarchic and ultimately joyous set of acoustic Slavic weirdness in the bowels of Shannon’s Irish Pub on Carlton Street.
The madcap acoustic orchestra, which failed to win world music album of the year on Saturday, started off onstage before marching into the audience and eventually winding up on top of the pub’s bar, tables and ledges — with nothing less than ecstatic results.
Adding to the emotion was the band’s decision to drape themselves in Ukrainian-flag scarves, a show of solidarity with Russia’s least comfortable neighbour.
The Winnipeg Folk Festival needs to book this band.
Moodiest Manitoba Moment
When you hold the Junos in Winnipeg, you know there’s going to be plenty of Peg City content.
Sunday night saw BTO inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, Saint Boniface MP and Heritage Minister Shelly Glover enjoy national face time and Chantal Kreviazuk introduce an award.
But the most memorable local moment belonged to Jennifer Jones’ gold-medal-winning curling team, who were introduced with an F-bomb-augmented superlative by Juno co-host Classified.
Runner-up: astronaut Chris Hadfield disclosing he sang "Takin’ Care Of Business" to Russian cosmonauts while in orbit.
This planet is a weird and wonderful place.
» Bartley Kives is a reporter and former music writer at the Winnipeg Free Press.