Ron Sakamoto yodelled, Ian Tyson was remembered and 40 Juno awards were handed our Saturday night at the opening awards gala at the Edmonton Convention Centre

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“Abel isn’t able to be here,” Andrew Phung joked after announcing The Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, had won the 2023 Juno Award for songwriter of the year.

By the time The Weeknd had also won artist of the year, single of the year for Sacrifice and pop album of the year for his latest release, Dawn FM, Phung was reaching.

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“You will not believe this. The Weeknd is stuck in traffic,” Phung deadpanned. “Calgary Trail — really dicey right now.”

These were four of 40 awards handed out at the Juno’s opening night awards on Saturday ahead of Monday’s ceremony, which will be televised and broadcast from Rogers Place.

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Early on, The Bearhead Sisters from Paul First Nation, less than an hour west of Edmonton, gave a powerful performance. The sisters were at the awards with their first-ever Juno nomination in the category of traditional Indigenous artist of the year, which they won. Yvonne Bearhead, mother to Allie, Trina and Carly, was in the crowd, her tear-streaked face beaming with pride as she watched her daughters take the podium to accept their award, which they dedicated to the youth of their community.

Run the Burbs actor Phung shared hosting duties with CBC’s Angeline Tetteh-Wayoe and the long parade of winners was led by Grand Prairie’s Tenille Townes who took country album of the year for Masquerades.

Tenille Townes won the 2023 Juno for country album of the year.
Tenille Townes won the 2023 Juno for country album of the year. Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia

Adult alternative album of the year went to The Sadies for last year’s release, Colder Streams. The band acknowledged it was a bittersweet moment accepting the award without Dallas Good who died of a heart condition last February just months before the critically-acclaimed album was released.

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Pop recording of the year went to Rêve for her single Ctrl+Alt+Del, which was co-written and produced by the duo Banx & Ranx, later named 2023’s breakthrough group of the year. While accepting the latter award Yannick Rastogi, a.k.a. KNY Factory claimed Zacharie Raymond, a.k.a. Soké, as the best partner in the world before telling the crowd, “I’m from a small island called Guadeloupe and came to Canada 14 years ago — this is a win for me.”

Sakamoto yodels

One of the night’s most enjoyable moments came from Ron Sakamoto. Talent manager Bruce Allen took the stage to present Sakamoto with the Walt Grealis Award. Sakamoto has endured as a promoter for more than five decades in an ever-changing industry, a near-unparalleled achievement. Allen introduced Sakamoto as “the Japanese cowboy” and insisted “there is no one who has done more for more for country music in Canada.”

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In his acceptance speech, Sakamoto thanked his wife for her support while he was away on tours, and joked about how she insists “we’ve been married for 40 years but you’ve only been around for 20,” before giving the audience an unforgettable performance.

“I don’t have a band behind me but I have the entire music industry ahead of me. And I know you can all clap in the key of E. If you start clapping, I’ll start singing,” Sakamoto promised the crowd before breaking into a spectacular demonstration of freestyle yodelling.

Another significant honour went to Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew who received the MusiCounts Inspired Minds Ambassador Award. He approached the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (CARAS) with the idea of a charitable, community-based music education program for kids. In a touching twist, Drew brought Sanaaj Mirrie on the stage with him and said they’d met nine years ago when she worked for TD bank. She left her career to start Afiwi Groove, an African drumming organization helping kids through music as it helped her when she arrived from Jamaica at the age of 15. Recognizing the positive impact of her efforts, Drew turned and presented her with the award saying, “She is the one who deserves this.”

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Corb Lund, The Sadies and Shannon Johnson of The McDades performed Four Strong Winds during the in-memorium video recounting those in the Canadian music industry who’d died in the last year. Among the many names and faces was Ian Tyson, who wrote Found Strong Winds, CKUA’s long-time broadcaster David Ward, Edmonton musicians Brett Miles and Shane Yellowbird and Edmonton Journal writer Roger Levesque.

Kairo McLean, who made history last year as the youngest Juno winner when he picked up reggae recording of the year at the age of 13, won the title again for Reggae Party, his single with Kirk Diamond and Finn. Alvvays played Edmonton’s Midway the night before the awards and was in Calgary for a concert when the band’s latest album, Blue Rev, was named alternative album of the year. Alexisonfire’s Otherness, the band’s first release since 2009, won rock album of the year and Voivod took metal album of the year for Synchro Anarchy. The Bros. Landreth won contemporary roots album, the comedy album award went to Jon Dore while Akeel Henry was named producer of the year. Anderson Paak and Kaytranada landed rap single of the year for Twin Flame, Harry’s House by Harry Styles won international album of the year and group of the year went to Arkells.

Arkells got the honour of group of the year at the 2023 opening night Juno awards.
Arkells got the honour of group of the year at the 2023 opening night Juno awards. Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia

The last handful of awards, including Nickelback’s lifetime achievement award, and performances along with a special tribute celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip hop, will go live on CBC at 6 p.m. MST Monday from Rogers Place in Edmonton.


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