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Jarrett Edmund

Calgary prepares to host Junos

By Jason Herring with files from Jarrett Edmund, March 22 2016 —JunosSidebar

Calgary is getting ready to host its second-ever Juno Awards with a week of festivities leading up to the April 3 awards show. The annual ceremony, which recognizes the best in Canadian music in a variety of technical and musical categories, was last held in Calgary in 2008.

The most prominent event taking place in the lead-up to the awards is JUNOfest, a music festival running from March 31–April 2 showcasing both artists nominated for Junos and other Canadian talent. Over 150 artists will play throughout the three evenings. Roughly one third are up for awards and one third hail from the Calgary region.

One band that fits in both these categories is AM Static, a local duo whose 2014 release A Life Well Lived is nominated for “Electronic Album of the Year.” Band members Chris Austman and Nils Mikkelsen are excited about the nomination.

“It feels terrific. It took a while to sink in. We’re thrilled,” Austman says.

“I see electronic as being a very broad term,” Mikkelsen adds. “It’s a big umbrella. The process in which we make it relies on a lot of computers.”

Twenty venues will host bands over the weekend, with each venue showcasing its staple genre. The Ironwood Stage & Grill, for example, will welcome many “Jazz Album of the Year” nominees, while Dicken’s Pub will feature bands up for “Heavy Metal Album of the Year.”

Local bar Broken City has a less focused bill, with acts ranging from hip-hop to alternative rock to electropop — a fittingly diverse lineup for the prolific bar. Venue co-owner Andrew Brassard is pleased with Calgary’s musical growth.

“The city is building a population downtown in the core and creating an environment for that core that’s unique,” Brassard says. “And I think with the eclectic mix that we have, it fits Broken City really well, because we don’t have a set mandate on what types of bands can play here.”

The Junos are arguably the centrepiece of what many have labeled Calgary’s “Year of Music.” Though the awards recognize music from all across Canada, events leading up to the ceremony focus more on celebrating the city’s musical identity.

Junos organizer Chris Topping says there was an effort to incorporate local talent into the week.

“From what I’m feeling and gathering, there’s a lot of excitement building,” Topping says. “For events like JUNOfest, we’re booking over 50 bands from Calgary and slightly beyond. I think there’s a real good sense of community there.”

Austman agrees that Calgary’s musical scene is thriving, but hopes the city’s focus on music will continue past 2016.

“We have a lot of talent in town. Having the city on board is a great boon,” he says. “Knowing the city is interested in promoting a cultural sector with that level of enthusiasm is great. What we’d really like to see after the year of music is for somebody to follow that up with a decade of music.”

Another development in the local music scene is the imminent opening of the new National Music Centre, located in the Studio Bell building in the East Village. The NMC isn’t ready for their original Junos launch, but are inviting visiting music industry members to the building in advance of their summer opening.

“With the Junos coming to town, we thought it was too great an opportunity to pass up,” NMC programs director Adam Fox says. “Getting all of Canada’s music industry in one place outside of Toronto is a pretty rare opportunity.”

Another facet of the Junos is its economic benefit. Calgary’s 2008 Junos contributed $11.3 million to the local economy. Fox expects a similar boon from this year’s festivities.

“It’s been a tough time in Alberta for the past year or so. It’ll inject some cash into the city, which is great,” he says. “I also think it’s a chance for the industry to see the evolving nature of Calgary. Calgary has so much promise to become a music hub for Western Canada.”

Brassard also thinks that the Junos will help showcase the local music scene to those from across the country.

“This is a really good time for Calgary, especially with the price of oil, for the city to be promoting something other than oil and the Stampede,” Brassard says. “They’re showing there’s a really good music scene and I think that’s really important for Calgary moving forward to become a world-class city where people want to visit.”

This year’s Juno Awards haven’t been without controversy. When nominees were announced and no female artists were among the “Artist of the Year” and “Album of the Year” categories, many took to social media with the #JunosSoMale hashtag. Grimes, who released the critically-acclaimed Art Angels in November, tweeted her displeasure with the nominations.

“I can’t help but feel that if women were equally rewarded for technical work, they would feel inclined to participate more,” Grimes tweeted.

Topping says the gender imbalance is just a reflection of Canadian music that’s currently popular.

“If you look at the top of the charts, they happen to be dominated by males — Canadian artists. Drake, Bieber, the Weeknd. There have been other times, maybe not really recently, when Celine and Shania and Alanis were at the top of the charts,” he says. “The Junos are holding up a mirror and right now, that’s the way it looks. Historically, there’s been quite a good balance between male and female.”

For more information about the Junos and JUNOfest, visit junoawards.ca.

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