Nicole Byblow’s Juno gala fairy tale

Manitoba-born indie-pop songstress Nicole Byblow won a 2010 Fred Sherrat Award and scholarship from MusicCounts. A week ago, she found herself showcasing her talents at the gala celebration that precedes the televised Juno Awards show. Nicole may not be a “roots” artist per se  – but her personal perspective on her first taste of the big time is as grass-roots as it gets.

“Start at the beginning. And when you get to the end, stop.”
-Mad Hatter

I firmly believe that if we are honest with ourselves about what we truly desire in our lives and aggressively pursue these desires with the utmost integrity, we can not only hope for great things but expect them.

But when these things happen to me I’m always stunned.

On Saturday March 26th 2011 I performed at the Juno Awards Dinner and Gala at the Allstream Centre in Toronto.

You know the announcements they make during the Junos? “Last night (blank) won the Juno for (blank).” This is the non televised awards ceremony the night before the televised one. It is the industry event, and there were 2000+ members of the Canadian music industry in attendance.

I sang k.d. lang‘s “Constant Craving” and accompanied myself on piano.

At 4:00 that afternoon I fell down the entire flight of stairs in my basement apartment. At 4:45 I turned around on those same stairs because I had forgotten the tickets.

Security in dark suits have my sister and I flash our gala passes like at the gates of a royal tea. We check our coats and enter a roaring world of diamonds, stilettos, expensive suits, and waiters carrying trays of hors d’oeuvres. An occasional band guy in button down plaid, chucks, and Versace sunglasses. There are probably close to a thousand people mingling and talking with champagne and cocktails in that lobby. I can’t help but feel a certain satisfaction when I realise how many of them I recognize from my post at the other side of the hostess stand at Nota Bene.

Spring rolls and salad across from a very amiable Matt Dusk. Beef tenderloin, mashed potatoes and red peppers and asparagus beside a columnist for the Globe and Mail.

Sarah Slean is the next table over. Neil Young is across the room. Arcade Fire is a few tables down. The former senior VP of Universal Music and current executive director of MusiCounts, CARAS, and the Junos is pouring my champagne and leading a toast.

I don’t start feeling that familiar dread until I see the keyboard is set up and ready for me.

The five minutes in the holding area are the worst of my life, quite literally. I’m not feeling nauseated, but still glad to see water glasses lining the wall so that if I have to throw up, I can.

They lead me onstage and I sit in the dark (yes, shoes removed), look at the 88 keys and remind myself that I know how to play them. I’d been squeezing a paper towel the last 30 minutes in the green room so my hands aren’t clammy. I look around at the massive hall and remember not to glance at myself in the jumbo screen across from me (there are four more above me, broadcasting my face to every corner of the room).

I’m introduced, I breathe, I put the first chord underneath my fingers and I own the song with more confidence than I’ve ever owned any song in my life.

It’s like when I was 12 and spectators at the Red River Exhibition Youth Talent Show so couldn’t believe that I sang so well for such a young child that they just had to approach me to say how impressed they were. But this time it’s record executives, agents, and other musicians rather than middle aged women whose own children are in the show. The feeling is amazing either way.

Later on I meet Sarah Slean, an absolutely brilliant musician and poet and the artist who inspired me with Night Bugs at 16 to start trying to write my own music. This woman was my absolute hero; for  years, I wanted to be her. I gush and blabber like a moron. She smiles and patiently listens. And the most amazing part: she then tells me how much she enjoyed my performance.

Seamus O’Regan of Canada AM hosted the show, and he is a Nota Bene regular. Since he is the type of person who actually looks waitresses and coat check people in the eye, he recognizes me when I approach him later. He flatters me with kind praise about my performance, but the best compliment he could have given me is his response to my good bye: “I’ll see you at the coat check.” He laughs and says “Yeah right. Not for very much longer.”

Mike Hurley, the man to whom I owe a small piece of my life and whom I can never repay for the opportunities he’s been able to present to me, offers my sister and I rehearsal passes to the Junos for the next afternoon. I decide to break my afternoon date with my big bag of chips and DVD rental to go. (Seriously. That’s what I’d had planned to do that afternoon.)

On Saturday March 26th 2011 I performed at the Juno Awards Dinner and Gala at the Allstream Centre in Toronto. I was honoured to perform on behalf of MusiCounts. Thanks with all my heart to MusiCounts, Steve Cranwell, and Mike Hurley. They made sure it happened.

It was a freaking fairy tale.

Photo credit: Scott Dempsey

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