The rest of April has felt like January, because coming down from the experience that was the 2016 JUNO Awards was like Christmas. Every other day has felt like Boxing Day or New Years, occasions that are just slightly less exciting than the adrenaline rush of Christmas morning. It’s taken me a while to write this because the day after the JUNOs, I went on a road trip to see Twenty One Pilots, and then saw them in Calgary, and the day after that, I started a new, “real” job, which kept me really busy. I thought maybe it would be too late or irrelevant to share this, but it’s relevant to me. My experience at the JUNOs definitely wasn’t what I thought it would be - it was basically everything I’d hoped for and more.
The day I found out that Under The Rockies would be covering the JUNOs was a pinch me moment. I was 12 the last time the JUNOs were in Calgary, and I didn’t go. I remember thinking to myself, “next time, I’ll definitely go!” Little did I know that I’d be going as more than a fan - I’d be working, taking photos and meeting amazing new people.
March 29th was the first day of the JUNOs for me. We went on a little backstage tour of the Saddledome. Starting things off with a bang, I forgot my camera battery at home. Oops, definitely learned my lesson. We got to see the stage being set up, as well as one of the dressing rooms. It was cool, and just enough to whet my appetite. I really wish it would have been possible to set a camera up and do a time lapse of them building the stage, but I’m sure someone did that (and has like over 20 hours of footage - the stage design and set up was so intricate and amazing).
March 30th wasn’t anything JUNOs specific, but I got to photograph Metric and Death Cab for Cutie. I was actually shocked that I got approval, to be honest, but was happy nonetheless. Death Cab are really mellow, so it didn’t make for a lot of mind blowing shots - but their lighting was so good and I had fun playing around with it. I saw Metric over a year ago with Imagine Dragons and their light show was insane. I remember thinking how I’d never want to photograph them. But I did. It was definitely a challenge - if you haven’t seen Metric before, they have a really backlit light show (at least for the first few songs) which makes it impossible to shoot. I got like, maybe one shot from the first song. They had some nicer light during their second and third song, but still, it was challenging. It was lots of fun though, despite the release we signed being really confusing and limiting what I published. Oh well... I wish I would’ve stayed for the whole set but I was really tired, so at least I got to see Death Cab’s full set. Hearing "I Will Follow You Into The Dark" sung live in Calgary will never lose its magic.
March 31st, I went back to high school. Not my high school, a different one, because Alessia Cara was performing and MusiCounts gave $30,000 for instruments and equipment for four schools in Calgary. It was a great event, but personally I felt super awkward. I get really anxious in situations like that, I don’t know why. I think what it is is that I always worry that someone is going to correct me or tell me what I’m doing is wrong when I shoot. That’s why I like shooting at shows, because it really gives me a sense of total freedom. Walking around high school with a camera is really not my thing, it honestly never was. Even with my tattoos people still thought I was a student. All that mattered though is that it was a great event, and all the kids were really stoked which was cool to see - I expected people to be a bit more apathetic, just given that when I was 15 I thought everything was lame, but in that kinda punk way that I really thought it was cool and not entirely lame. I wish my high school would have had an event like that. For the rest of the day, I just chilled, and then I went to photograph Alessia’s concert at MacEwan Ballroom. It felt like old times. I haven’t shot at the Ballroom in AGES. I forgot how small it is. It was definitely the most relaxed concert I’ve done in a while too - I literally sat down on the step of the barrier for the 3 songs. The show was packed too, I didn’t expect it to be as busy as it was, which is awesome. I didn’t really know much about her before the Junos, except some of her songs, but she’s definitely one to watch.
April 1st was officially the first day of the JUNOs, but so much happened before it that I wanted to document. I went downtown for my media pass, and then we went to the set reveal. This was a personal highlight of mine. We got to walk down and see where the artists would be sitting. We then got to watch Shawn Hook rehearsing, which was great because this was the only “performance” I would actually get to see. Next were photo ops up in the second level of the stands at the Saddledome, and the media scrum. A bright emergency light was turned on to provide lighting for the shot - necessity is the mother of invention. I took photos of Shawn Hook who is possibly one of the most photogenic people ever, and then Jann Arden and Jon Montgomery. They’re so nice and so funny, really down to earth people. I talked with Jon for a bit too which was rad. He asked to see the photos, which I was taken aback at - in a good way. I basically told him I was just winging it, but it helped when I had two very attractive people like him and Jann to take photos of. He told me something along the lines of, “if you’re already bullshitting people, you’ll go far!”
I went home for a bit to edit and freshen up, because later on was the Welcome Reception at the National Music Centre. We were instructed to show up early for “red carpet arrivals,” however, the red carpet wasn’t really official so we were basically standing there for almost an hour and a half. It was awkward because we couldn’t leave - we could, but it was that trade off of we could’ve wandered upstairs, but then might have missed someone walking the red carpet. The worst part was that it was staggered - you’d take someone’s photo, but then be waiting for upwards of 20 minutes for the next person to walk by. I think there was media stuff going on upstairs, so everyone just funnelled down and eventually, people like Scott Helman and Burton Cummings stood for photos, so that made the wait worth it. We just wandered around and mingled, and had some wine and snacks. The food was so amazing - shoutout to Whitehall Restaurant for having the most amazing appetizers I’ve ever tasted. The National Music Centre put on quite the party, but by the end of the night, I was dead tired.
April 2nd, I went down to FanFare, which was organized chaos. I’ve learned that schools and malls are two places I should never go to take photos again until I’m a lot more confident in those settings. I got some photos and video that I was excited about, because I like candids a lot. I only stayed for the first autograph session. The disappointing thing was just that they approved too many photographers. It was the smallest space in the world so it just stressed me out. A highlight was definitely watching Ian Casselman (the drummer for Marianas Trench) give a little girl in a wheelchair tickets to the award show. It was a real, authentic moment amidst the craziness of people screaming for other people, better known as the bizarre concept of fame.
Later that night was the Gala Dinner & Awards. I got there and kinda waited around, and I should’ve eaten right away but I didn’t, and then didn’t have time to eat later either. Lesson learned: take advantage of catering! It’s there for a reason. The red carpet for it was kind of similar to the one the night before, except there were people constantly, which helped. Then we were shoved back into the media room, which was a taste of what was to come. I didn’t expect to be in the photo pit or sitting in a seat at the award show, but I guess I didn’t expect the media room either. I’d never done this before. Media rooms are actually not as bad as they sound, maybe it’s cause I’m not burnt out like some of the people that were in there. We just chilled, I had tea to keep myself awake because I was off to shoot Marianas Trench at the Corral after. People got really nitpicky in the media room, but the light was great in my opinion. I was happy with the photos I took of Pomo, Dear Rouge, and Braids - to name a few. Then I hopped on the train and ran down to the Corral to photograph Marianas Trench. It was surreal because I saw them over 3 years ago at the Corral, and I “shot” from the crowd with my little digital camera. The fact that I was finally on the other side of the barrier was amazing, I felt pretty proud. They put on a good set, and I wish I would’ve applied for a reviewer’s ticket as well, because as I was walking out, I could feel nostalgia trying to pull me back in.
April 3rd was the big day, but it wasn’t as busy as I thought it would be. We had a tour of the new National Music Centre, it was rad. It’s such a clean building and I’m so excited for it to open. We got some free swag too, and the best part is we got a 7” single with it, pressed at Calgary's own Canada Boy Vinyl. I went home to drink coffee and get ready. I honestly thought I’d be more dressy but no one really cared because we’re just photographers. I went down to the Saddledome nice and early, got escorted into the media room, and ate dinner. It was so boring at first, I won’t lie. I thought artists would win, do their speech, and then come right back into the media room, and it would be continuous, but we had to wait around for ages. The first person to be brought back into the room was none other than The Weeknd. So, no big deal. Just kidding, it was the coolest moment of the Junos for me. I was so stoked and I still am. Walk Off The Earth, Alessia Cara, Burton Cummings all came back shortly after and I took their photos. It was surreal and passed by in a flash. I really wished I was shooting the actual show, but it was limited capacity and I totally understand why. Honestly, I wouldn’t have been well enough equipped, and where I was in the media room was perfect. When the show was over, and no more celebrities were being brought back, it felt weird. It felt like I was just getting started, or I’d wake up now, and it was just a dream. Walking out of the Saddledome was the weirdest feeling.
It’s now the end of April, and the whole experience feels like it was a dream. Like I was just knocked out for a week and someone else had the experience and I lived vicariously through them, and it wasn't actually me. I learned a lot in terms of what I can expect an award show to look like, and a lot about improvisation and seizing the moment. Some other people had complained about not liking award shows, but despite the exhaustion, the adrenaline rush and ever changing nature of the day to day routine was exhilarating. So, see you next year in Ottawa?