Junos: not without our folk & roots

The fortieth anniversary of the Juno Awards culminated with the customary awards show last evening, televised by CTV.

We sat it out.

Don’t get us wrong: we’re not boycotting. We were really “rooting” for artists who work in folk, roots, world, traditional and other genres we cover.

We also recognize the importance of the televised awards show to the Canadian music industry in general, and wish every artist publicly honoured last night – from Justin Bieber to Arcade Fire – all success in their careers.

But we were not in a hurry to watch an awards show that doesn’t present the music we believe in and support so passionately. (We did follow along on Twitter, just to stay in the game.)

The irony is, wherever their populist presentation preferences may lie, the Junos couldn’t get away from folk and roots music if they tried.

Take Neil Young, who won Artist Of The Year, Adult Alternative Album Of The Year, and the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award. Hipsters pour adoration over the guy like maple syrup, despite the fact he’s been absent from Canada for as long as the Junos have been in existence.

Neil Young earned a lot of cred with the thirty-somethings who were teens in the grunge era, but let’s not forget that he sprang out of Yorkville’s coffee house scene, a six-string strumming songwriter at the height of the folk era, and almost all his best-known tunes are folk songs. He even had a hit with a cover of the ultimate Canadian folk record, “Four Strong Winds.”

Daniel Lanois, who started off his extraordinary career engineering Stan Rogers albums, won Producer of the Year, for Young’s “Le Noise”. That album’s been called “experimental folk,” but was placed in the bizarre “Adult Alternative” category, which sounds like a slogan for Viagra. As Benjamin Boles of NOW Magazine wondered, “does ‘adult’ just mean that they’re influenced by roots music?”

Sarah McLachlan, Luke Doucet, k. d. lang (doing Leonard Cohen), Great Big Sea, Basia Bulat, and Royal Wood, to name only a few roots and folk-influenced artists, were all in the running for Junos OUTSIDE the roots and traditional categories.

Sometime folk-singer Dan Hill presented an award. Justin Rutledge and Sarah Harmer, Serena Ryder and The Sadies got their licks in on the big jam session, we hear. Dear me, Junos, your roots are showing!

Seems that on TV, as on radio, you have to make it big enough to be a cross-genre success to get the airtime, and at that point your roots are somehow redundant.

Too bad for Le Vent du Nord and Old Man Luedecke, winners for best Roots/Trad Album, (Group and Solo respectively), and their co-nominees.

It’s unfortunate, because folk singers forged the Canadian sound, and roots influences continue to shape it — from Sylvia Tyson to Gordon Lightfoot to Tom Cochrane to Jann Arden to Hawksley Workman to Tegan and Sara.

Think of how much the flourishing Aboriginal roots music scene owes to Buffy Ste. Marie. Consider the fact that K’Naan‘s “Waving the Flag” has pretty much become a folk song for the whole world.

Folk means people, after all. And roots are where your creative nourishment comes from.

All of which gives us hope, as folk, roots, blues, world, and trad music continue to thrive and reinvent themselves as essential elements of the Canadian sound today.

The Junos could be comfortable with their roots; they just don’t always realize where they are. They know where the TV ratings are, and they program their gala shows accordingly. They need to get the eyeballs to support the good work they do, and we respect that.

Thankfully, music is about ears, not eyes. And we know our roots when we hear them.

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  1. avatar
    Bill Garrett 28 March, 2011 at 19:02

    Absolutely right on! Loved the captions on les boys.
    Canadian Folk Music Awards – Dec. 4th. (and in Toronto -oooh)
    Prenez garde – they may be bilingual.

  2. avatar
    brent mason 28 March, 2011 at 20:23

    i watched a part of it- really thought it was a good show, and it wouldn’t have been a stretch to acknowledge the roots in a very roots dependent show, shania included. great piece david

  3. avatar
    frankcasting 28 March, 2011 at 21:27

    Le Vent Du Nord would have blown the socks off the venue and TV sets across the country with their high energy, universally-friendly brand of traditional Québecois music, too bad they weren’t given the opportunity. I couldn’t watch the show either, but am curious to know if any francophone music was represented in performance?

  4. avatar
    michelle josef 28 March, 2011 at 22:39

    There once was a time in this great land when the Junos featured a wide scope of awards on the broadcast night. Rock stood aside country, kinda like a metaphor for Canada uniting us all together. These days the market has stratified, there’s less cross-breeding of tastes and cultures, be they rock-a-billy or bee-bop or hip hop. The Juno broadcast is all about the corporate and the main stream these days. I think I’d rather watch the Saturday gala than the Sunday broadcast.

  5. avatar
    Lesley Marie 29 March, 2011 at 09:01

    Saturday night I was following the Juno gala via Twitter, confused as to why I couldn’t find it on tv…. a commercial came on advertising that the Junos would be handed out Sunday night, live! Then they started listing off who would be there… this just added to my confusion, as none of the people they listed were people I wanted to see, and those that I wanted to see had spent the evening on twitter/facebook/social media rejoicing and mourning wins and losses.
    When I finally found out that it really was two separate events I was so disappointed that the folk/roots scene wasn’t being celebrated and shared with the rest of Canada.

  6. avatar
    Don Bird 29 March, 2011 at 11:55

    Totally agree with michelle josef in that I would rather watch the Saturday night presentations. Some of the most influential performers of the 32 some odd names that were unfortunately delegated to the “dark zone.” Roots acts at one time were featured on the TV show and to leave out country, folk, jazz, world is just not right. Having said that, I don’t have an solution to make room for the ‘absentees’ since I enjoyed ‘most’ of the show. Jim Cuddy is a national treasure and his surrounding band mates made for one of the evenings highlights. That and Neil Young’s speech.

  7. avatar
    Beverly Kreller 29 March, 2011 at 15:34

    LOL, the captions say it all! Great piece David. I thought the most soulful and captivating performances were the tributes with Sarah Harmer, Jim Cuddy & Sarah Slean etc, that lead into the “jam” with the Sadies and Justin et al. Andy, I agree with your comment about Le Vent Du Nord. They definitely should have been performing on the Sunday program…I didn’t see the whole thing but I’m pretty sure the francophone music wasn’t represented in performance. Junos should broadcast 2 nights and let people choose which one they want to watch.
    I loved Shania’s comment about “our bush” though 😉 Saw her on the backstage newsfeed squirming and trying to explain away to the press what she meant by that….

  8. avatar
    Steve Tennant 29 March, 2011 at 19:32

    Wonderfully written !!!! You put into words what I’ve been thinking for a long time. It is amazing how, if memory serves me correctly, just a few years ago we nearly lost the folk / roots catagory completely and only by a last minute scurry by the faithful was it saved. Yes, we love our roots and will continue to support the magic our own create … not for the statues but rather their desire to share their hearts & minds across this land. Bigger isn’t always better …. Enjoyed this stirring review. Thanks.

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