This will be the first in a series of blog posts about my experiences covering this year’s Juno awards. It was a crazy weekend full of 16 hour days, many new friends, a festivals worth of Canadian talent, and more events than I knew what to do with. Invites for interviews, galas, events, and shows were pouring into my inbox, and it was a veritable crap shoot deciding which ones to attend. Being the only accredited photographer for the publication I shoot for, meant that there were choices to be made every step of the way. I couldn’t be everywhere.

So it was Friday night around 8:30. I had stopped in at the JUNOcup at TD Place to snag some shots of rock legends proving that they did in fact belong on the stage and not on the ice. After having caught most of the first period alongside the regular shooters I’d be seeing at most events over the weekend, my new acquaintance and show hopping buddy Els Durnford picked me up outside, and we started making our way over to the Ole party at Zibi in Gatineau.

To be fair, I only decided I wanted to go to this event because I had read that Fred Penner was going to be there. I had no idea what the format was, honestly thought it was going to be a seated conference. It was not.

George Strombolopolous hosted what was hands down the event to be at that weekend. After a quick intro from our host for the evening, which included a duet with Feltworth, the evening was off. A whose who of Canadian music as players rotated on and off the stage in a laid back open jam atmosphere that I’m used to seeing at small pubs with aging hippies, not professionally lit stages with Juno nominees.

My memory is not the greatest, and coupled with the fact that my brain turns off when my eye is in the viewfinder, I know that I am going to miss some names as I recap what was probably the best party I’ve ever been to. And a party it was. Catered, open bar, invite only, and I shook hands with Ian D’Sa of Billy Talent in the line for the washrooms. What is this life.

William Prince, Kasador, a duet from Carol Pope and Benjamin Kowalewicz of Billy Talent, a couple tracks from Whitehorse, Lindi Ortega, and rising country star Jess Moskaluke started off the night. By this point I was very well aware that I was not at a conference, and any other plans I had for the evening were long forgotten. When it comes to covering multiple events at once, it’s about picking the right one to be at. And this was that right one.

The absolute stand out moment of the night for me was two tracks away at this point. Tasha the Amazon took the stage, and unabashedly delivered her own brand of rap to the lively crowd. And we ate it up. She was joined on stage by Michie Mee, a Canadian hip-hop pioneer, who paved the way for artists like Tasha. After performing what I can only assume was one of her hit singles, Michie and Tasha joined forces and threw down what was likely the best thing I heard all weekend. I can’t even begin to do justice to what they did on stage, but it was a battle rap esque, Beastie Boys inspired, live band playing break beats rhyme fest that spoke to everything I love about hip hop. I only wish it was a track I could get my hands on.

Chris Murphy, of Sloan, and recently Feltworth, fame, took the stage next, and he was followed by a band I gained a huge amount of respect for over the weekend, The Arkells. Having shot these hard working poli-sci majors twice already that day (more on that later), and knowing they played at least one show that I didn’t attend I was thoroughly impressed with their ability to put on the same energetic, honest show time and time again. This time around was special, as they were joined on stage by George Stromobolopolous mid way through their set. Something about the emotion between Max and George speaks to me of a relationship that extends beyond the stage at Zibi that night.

After a short intermission, Fred Penner, my sole reason my going in the first place made his entrance. If you haven’t heard The Cat Came Back at 11pm with a decent buzz on you haven’t really lived. Feltworth made a second appearance, and my inner child was freaking out the whole time. There is something about seeing these artists that have been around since your childhood that connects in a special way. Looking around the room, you could see the joy on so many thirty something’s faces. Quipping that “we were all clearly drinking, so clearly we hadn’t listened to enough of his songs” Penner played a couple of his hits and departed the stage after a few appreciative words directed towards the audience. I got to shake his hand on his way out. Night. Made.

Jim Cuddy, who is likely the artist I saw the most of over the weekend, took the stage, followed by Ottawa’s recently out of retirement sweetheart, Kathleen Edwards. Her personality on stage is infectious, and we are lucky that she has decided to wade back into the fray. Sam Roberts, and a slew of Canadian country artists closed out the second set.

Newcomers to the scene Cold Creek County closed out the night in fine form, sporting a new vocalist, and a crisp and tight sound beyond their age. Joined on stage at the end of their set by Aaron Pritchett, as most of us began to filter out, quickly realizing that Uber will deliver you to Gatineau, but no pick you up.

A small hike, some more new friends, a friendly flat rate cabbie, and I quickly passed the second my head hit the pillow at 3:30am, knowing that I had another full day ahead of me. But that’s a story for another day. See you at the next one.

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