Home Feature Corby’s Juno Journal: A recap of Halifax 2024

Corby’s Juno Journal: A recap of Halifax 2024

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Reeny. Photo by Paul Corby.

The Juno Awards celebrations – with their complex delights of chunky beats, blues, rock, and hip hop, together with storm tones and church chords, threaded throughout with jazz scales, fiddle bits and Mi’kmaq melodies – came gusting into Halifax harbour on the first day of spring this year, swept along by two chaotic 20-minute blizzards and the excited influx of a current of musicians from all over the country that gave North America its first name.

As cables and craft service tables spread out within the downtown clubs, convention centers and public pavilions, squadrons of security guards and a revolving cast of volunteers, deejays, and politicians prepared to welcome fans, artists, and facilitators by the thousands to the city that might, in one full-moon-lit weekend, allow their long-accumulated hopes for significant fame, fortune and fun to come true.

photo by Nick Maclean

A gigantic tent at the edge of the water began to fill up on the first evening of the festivities as FACTOR’s Juno Block Party, a free-but-ticketed event, invited the public to participate in the national bacchanale with performances by selected nominees and local heroes in a cavernous sub-zero space without heaters, seating, in-house food or lavvies, while consuming copious amounts of iced beverages.

To keep warm, revelers were obliged to dance or die trying, and, fortunately, the talent at hand was more than qualified to keep a radiant rhythmic glow ablaze all night, starting with a culturally resonant drum chant from Eastern Eagles that transitioned into the fiery synthetic beats and triple lyrical currents of local Indigenous hip hop royalty City Natives. They stalked the stage with bravado and ebullience while 15 vertical video screens pulsed with their magnified images and the inner dome of the tent lit up with astro-floral projections.

Eastern Eagles and City Natives

By the time they finished, audience receptors were boosted to the max and remained attuned to a set of intense, original blues frequencies by a tight P.E.I. band, led by bass blaster Joce Reyome (above). The state of high alert was maintained for the long-time empress of Halifax soul, Reeny Smith, who now bills herself simply as Reeny. On a first-name basis with her adoring public, she deployed her compelling voice, personality, and multi-instrumental skills to control the room casually and intimately. Her sister, Hayley, even got her chance to shine in the spotlight for a song that notched the fervor up several more degrees. “She’s got mix,” Reeny bragged, and closed off the set with some keytar jamming. When she left the stage, a sudden vacuum seemed to fill the frigid space.

Classified. Photo by Paul Corby.

But crowd favourite, Haligonian rapper Classified soon brought in ample noise to warm the frozen flock, along with the groove of smooth special guest singer, JRDN, a former Juno nom in his own right. Classified would help present the Hall Of Fame Award to Maestro Fresh Wes at the Junos on Sunday. Internationally acclaimed turntablist Skratch Bastid finished the night while the refrigerated crowd cheered and persevered. For me, it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Although the Block Party event continued on for two more nights, I counted myself lucky to have escaped a frosty fate for one night in the big tent with all of my toes still intact.

Friday brought bright sunshine and a chance to explore the town. I took in a bit of the north side of Halifax where crafts and public workshops thrive, and the arts and niche cultures prevail. Reactions to homeless encampment evictions a month earlier still dominated the graffiti and political postering in the neighbourhood. A good meal and cheerful company at The Brown Hound was a welcome happenstance to end the afternoon.

Posters in north Halifax. Photo by Paul Corby.

By sunset, jazz and R&B showcases around town were already under way. The popular stage at The Carleton, which had hosted Jim Cuddy, Julian Taylor, and the cream of the East Coast scene in a kick-off concert the night before, boasted a generous slate of Juno-affiliated performances, beginning with the wise and witty Terra Spencer, who confessed up front to not knowing all the words to “Barrett’s Privateers.” David Francey was there to listen to his friend, and ended up thanking her from the stage the following night, when he accepted the winning trophy for his album The Breath Between, which was named Traditional Roots Album of the Year.

Newfoundland’s prize-winning duo Quote The Raven (above) followed Terra with sweet harmonies and contagious enthusiasm. Then a Halifax quintet led by Leanne Hoffman brought an updated perspective into lyrical play with original takes on sensitive subjects. Contemporary Roots and Adult Contemporary nominees Logan Staats and Josh Sahunta displayed their exemplary contemporary songwriting qualifications as the night continued.
But at Pacifico, a grand venue just down the hill, reggae rhythms were beckoning with a double barrel program of Omega Mighty, radiating energy and flinging spirited lyrics, occasionally in duet with her celebrated sister, Haviah Mighty, and Halifax reggae/soul powerhouse Jah’mila with an all-star band including T.O.’s Andru Branch on percussion and harmonies. Both Reggae Recording of the Year nominees would attend the opening Juno broadcast the following evening in sparkling splendour.

Top Ranking Reggae Ladies Jah’mila Ammoyé and Omega Mighty.

Saturday began with the Indigenous Honouring Ceremony at a packed special event that recognized the record number of Indigenous nominees represented in this year’s Juno contingent. Hosted by the Eskasoni First Nations, which contains the largest Mi’kmaq population in the country, the demonstration of respect and gratitude was highlighted by the M.C.’s fabulous solo chanting, dances, splendorous wardrobe, and musical performances from Morgan Toney and Red River Ramblers (below), along with a presentation of gifts to all of the honorees.

The Honouring Ceremony. Photo by Paul Corby.

On Saturday night, Argyle Street was blockaded, as the CBC-produced opening awards show at the Halifax Convention Center became the Juno nexus, and limos and fans were kept separated by barriers and dayglo vests. Since The Carleton was directly across the street, it was easy for Blues Recording of the Year winners Blue Moon Marquee (A.W. Cardinal pictured, above) to skirt the barricades immediately after their victory and win over the audience there with a triumphant firestorm set of raging vocals, heartfelt songs and their abundant instrumental talents, all bolstered by that shiny statuette sitting nearby. The ovation that followed was electric with Atlantic depths of appreciation.

The effusive spirits of The Good Lovelies came washing over the room next.“We are proud losers tonight,” they announced, referring to their loss in the Adult Contemporary category to the eminently worthy William Prince. They proceeded to alternate their crystalline harmonies with bold unison singing on selections from their latest album We Will Never Be The Same.

Down the hill at Pacifico, Reggae Recording champ Kirk Diamond was partying at the showcase for Juno contender Ammoyé, who came on haloed with an Afro avalanche, and wearing a black leather fetish fantasy. She aggressively lured her audience into submission with her Motown-level singing, vibrant charisma and soulful preaching. And then the rains came thundering down.


Reggae champ Kirk Diamond and Andru Branch

Sunday saw early morning cabs whisking everyone into position at the Scotiabank Arena in preparation for the big night. Headsets and walkie talkies gargled instructions, and the backstage and front of house multitudes were tangibly charged with the good humour and electricity of mutual anticipation.

Yung Trybez of Snotty Nose Rez Kids, Morgan Toney and Jeremy Dutcher with an elder. Photo by Paul Corby.

 

Break for dinner was finally announced at around six o’clock.
Then the sun went down.

And then it all went down.

It was Halifax to the max, beamed across Canada by the CBC.

If you missed it, everyone can watch The JUNO Awards broadcast (for free) online at CBC Gem — and they can choose to watch the ASL version on Gem too! (Look under Music.)

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