On Saturday evening Katrina and I had a chance to attend the Juno Awards Gala and Dinner. This was a very special evening for Canadian music, as it allowed artists and other industry professionals to celebrate each other’s accomplishments on a little bit of a lower scale and public pressure level than the following night would bring. We had a chance to sit in the media room and hear what the winners had to say.

One of the biggest moments of the night would have to be The Strumbellas winning Single of the Year. Arguably the biggest upset of the weekend, the six-piece indie rock group beat out Drake, The Weeknd, Alessia Cara, and Shawn Mendes with their single, “Spirits”. When being asked questions back in the media room, it was clear that the group were surprised to have won, given that they were the underdogs of the category. The level of humility and respect for the other artists in the category was clear, as they stated, “The nominees we were up against we so exceptional, and huge and enormous” and joking that, “When you beat, Drake, you become Drake”. Despite being up against such big names, I think The Strumbellas had an excellent year of growth and absolutely deserved this win.

Another big winner for the night was the one and only Gord Downie, frontman for The Tragically Hip. Although he was not present for the event, He won three awards over the span of the night. These included Adult Alternative Album of the Year and Recording Package of the Year for his solo project Secret Path, and Rock album of the year for the Hip’s Man Machine Poem.

Another important moment of the night was the recognition of Buffy Sainte Marie’s humanitarian efforts and her winning of the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award. Buffy was an important figure for the whole weekend, being presented this award, encouraging a recognition of the importance of indigenous arts, and presenting A Tribe Called Red as the opening act during the awards broadcast on Sunday. In the media room, she acknowledged Gord Downie’s efforts in social activism for indigenous rights with his most recent project and talked about her own experience with activism through music at a young age. Reflecting upon this she said, “I always felt, that if I presented ideas that people didn’t know about, that they’d might help try to change things”. She was proud Canada has embraced indigenous music more within the last few years, acknowledging the work that has been put in to get where it is now.

Perhaps the most touching moment of the night was Adam Cohen’s acceptance of the Artist of the Year award on behalf of his father, Leonard Cohen. When hearing what he had to say in the media room, it was clear the level of grief he held, all the while speaking with eloquence on behalf Leonard Cohen. When referring to his late father, he stated, “I think one of the chief defining characteristics of the guy was how hard he worked”.

I think everyone else at the event, both in the gala room and the media room could agree with this statement. Losing Leonard Cohen this past year was losing an icon who was incredibly influential for Canadian music. And in saying that, he is most definitely deserving of this recognition.