Party-loving St. John's set to host week of Juno Award celebrations
The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, April 11, 2010 2:53PM EDT
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Tony Dekker of the indie group Great Lake Swimmers fondly recalls a moment that crystallizes why he thinks St. John's is an ideal site for a week-long Juno Awards party set to begin Monday.
He finally made it last year to this windswept island city in the North Atlantic to launch his Juno-nominated album, "Lost Channels."
The band had just played a sold-out show at legendary local tavern The Ship when a kitchen party-style jam session broke out.
"We were at the bar and some people had brought a couple of instruments," Dekker said from Toronto. "Everyone was very willing to pick up an instrument and just play along.
"If I take one thing away from St. John's, it would be that for sure. We played late into the night with our new friends there.
"It was almost like there was a real sense of family, a real sense of community. It was stronger there, I think, than in other places."
Junos organizer Melanie Berry has heard the same sentiment from musicians of all genres who will go far out of their way to play St. John's.
The awards rotate among Canadian cities and were last held in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2002. Nominees are especially eager to attend events leading up to the April 18 televised gala, Berry said.
"I knew we'd have a ton of nominees coming out. Right from the get-go it was: 'Oh, St. John's. We've got to go.'
"I think it's the vibrancy of the culture, the love of music -- that's so apparent to anybody who comes there. And I think that's probably what resonates with the musicians, why they want to go.
"It's a very unique, distinctive culture that you really don't find in other cities across the country."
Emilie-Claire Barlow is nominated for vocal jazz album of the year for her album, "Haven't We Met." She was a nominee the last time the show was in St. John's but figures the details might be a bit fuzzy for many of those who were there.
"I wonder how many people remember much," she said with a laugh in a telephone interview. "It was so fun.
"They know how to host people, they know how to throw a party."
Juno week events include songwriting circles featuring the likes of Ron Hynes, Maureen Ennis and Amelia Curran.
The awards show performances will highlight a broad cross-section of Canadian performers and nominees including Great Lake Swimmers, Michael Buble, Justin Bieber, Drake, Classified, Blue Rodeo, K'Naan and Metric.
While the city throws open its doors to the entertainment onslaught, music promoter Jud Haynes will be opening his home.
The co-founder of Mightypop, a labour-of-love enterprise he launched with partner Krista Power, has hosted dozens of indie bands in the last two years.
Mightypop helps musicians from away book shows while offering a place to stay and even a chance to play tourist at Signal Hill, Cape Spears and picturesque Quidi Vidi village.
"We try and use the tourism side and the fact that playing here is going to be a vacation," Haynes said. "You're on tour for two months. But when you get to Newfoundland, you're on vacation -- and you just happen to have a show while you're here. We make it that way for them.
"It's just good, small-town hospitality, really."
Haynes toured for years as part of the group Wintersleep. He knows how often the Rock is out of reach geographically and economically for many musicians.
"As much as we've opened the door for an awful lot of artists who get over here, there's still tons and tons that don't. It's kind of an uphill battle for us all the time trying to talk more and more people into coming."
Dekker of Great Lake Swimmers stayed with Haynes and Power last year on his trip to St. John's, his first visit to the province despite five years of touring.
The band's recent whirlwind of success and attention, including its Juno nomination for roots and traditional album of the year, make the extra travel more feasible, Dekker said.
"We were all very excited about it and we had such a great trip."
For St. John's indie rockers Hey Rosetta!, playing their hometown is a sweaty, happy chaos of frenzied fans screaming lyrics by heart. The band is one of the most locally anticipated performers of Juno week.
"From the beginning, it has been a great city to play in," said frontman Tim Baker. "It has continued for us across Canada but it was never as immediate as it was here."
He's not convinced that St. John's can boast a unique love of music, citing the warmth of crowds in cities like Yellowknife, N.W.T. and Sydney, N.S.
But the support of fans in the town where he was born and raised has definitely been "active," he said with a laugh.
"People are just really excited and it's wonderful to see."