OTTAWA – Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked for it, Bryan Adams delivered.
Sunday night’s Juno Awards opened with a skit that had the prime minister phoning in a request for “Summer of ’69” and the show closed with a celebratory all-star performance that also included Sarah McLachlan, Alessia Cara and members of rock bands Billy Talent and the Arkells.
McLachlan, who took to the stage earlier as a new Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee, said she was immediately on board when they pitched her the idea.
“Of course me and my band were the first up on our feet going, ‘Absolutely,'” McLachlan said backstage, walking around bare feet with a glass of white wine.
“We all grew up listening to that song. It’s so nostalgic.”
In between banter from co-hosts Adams and Russell Peters and a slew of performances, the show occasionally veered into more sombre territory. Tributes to two of the year’s big winners, Gord Downie and the late Leonard Cohen, added a tinge of sadness to the ceremony.
Cohen’s “You Want It Darker” beat out international chart-toppers by Celine Dion, Drake, Shawn Mendes and the Weeknd for album of the year. It was the second posthumous Juno honour for Montreal’s poet laureate, who died in November. He also won artist of the year during a Juno gala dinner on Saturday.
Trudeau introduced a memorial performance of sorts for Cohen — who he called “one of the greatest artists Canada has ever produced” — by recalling how the poet-songwriter was an honorary pallbearer at his father Pierre Trudeau’s funeral.
“I remember a gathering the night before the funeral…. That was the night I learned Leonard — a great man — but not a big hugger,” he joked.
Feist, accompanied by two other singers, performed a cover of Cohen’s 1967 song “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” backed by a slideshow of black and white photos of the musician.
Downie did not attend the show but appeared in a pre-recorded acceptance speech after being named the winner of the songwriter of the year Juno for his “Secret Path” solo project. The album recounts the life of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 after running away from a residential school. “Secret Path” also picked up best adult alternative album and recording package of the year awards.
“Thank you for stepping into the wind, for following the sound you’ve been sort of hearing your entire life. For looking to see what has been bothering you a little bit,” Downie said in the video.
“For recognizing that we’re not completely Canada yet. For seeing we have friends, our fellow countrymen and women, who are in big trouble. For recognizing our friends who were here before us, at least for thousands of years.
“First Nations have many, many stories like this one,” he said in reference to Wenjack’s story. “My dream would be that this record with Jeff Lemire’s drawings might help people. Might give teachers something to help teach our young ones.”
Among the more surprising moments of the evening came when Tragically Hip member Paul Langois took the stage to accept the band’s win for group of the year. The guitarist launched into a lengthy speech thanking his family and crew before Juno producers started playing him off.
“Go to commercial, go ahead. This is my arena, not yours,” he said before turning his back to the cameras.
“I want to shout out to Gord Downie and I want —,” he continued before his microphone was cut.
Other winners included Cara, who won best pop album for “Know-It-All,” her breakout which includes hits singles like “Here” and “Wild Things.”
Clad in a black T-shirt and pants and silver platform shoes, Cara demonstrated a newfound maturity after winning last year’s breakthrough artist Juno. Cara said she’s already hard at work on her next album and will have a stronger hand in the songwriting process.
“I can be anywhere,” she said. “On a bus or a plane — or even in my room in the middle of the night. I’ll just wake up, sing something into my phone and get some time to flesh it out on my guitar.”
Ruth B took home breakthrough artist of the year after her song “Lost Boy” elevated her from a Vine star to a Billboard chart success.
Saskatchewan musician Jess Moskaluke’s “Kiss Me Quiet” won the country album award.
Peters opened the show with a somewhat off-colour monologue in which he proclaimed a group of young female fans near the stage was a “felony waiting to happen,” and gave a shout out to Canada’s sesquicentennial, calling the country “still sexy at 150.”
“The United States is 241 and they’re aging horribly — especially since January,” Peters said, in reference to U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration. “It’s almost like the U.S. has a really bad spray tan all over it.”
Peters also joked about the Canadian musical superstars who weren’t in attendance.
“Drake is on tour,” Peters noted, to groans from the audience. “The Weeknd is dating (Justin) Bieber’s ex, and the Biebs is in Brazil, probably punching a fan right now.”
Peters adopted a more serious tone for a moment to recognize that he was subbing in for Michael Buble, who bowed out of hosting duties last month to care for his young son Noah, who’s fighting cancer.
“My thoughts are with you Mikey and I love you buddy,” Peters said.
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