Our resident party girl Jen Kirsch, headed out to Ottawa this past weekend with a packed suitcase, a handful of over-sized shades, a few tassel-jackets, and a lust for music. Her only intention was to have a good time by hitting up all the JUNO galas, award shows and after parties to give us the inside scope of what we missed out on.

“Who cares about the JUNOs?” is a sentence often uttered by Canadian music lovers and musicians alike. The Canadian version of the Grammys has a rap for being a total snooze-fest featuring many ‘meh’ artists, and lacking the glitz and glam of the American music awards.

But if this and last year are any indication, that’s all changed. With so many artists leading the international music charts (Drake! The Weeknd! Shawn Mendes! Alessia Cara! Ruth B!), Justin Trudeau being in attendance for the televised portion, and former winners and high-profile artists rolling into Ottawa to celebrate, our once overlooked award show is now catching the eyes of many, and the city was abuzz.

Here’s what you missed if you weren’t there:

  1. Justin Trudeau playing a mean air guitar during the televised JUNOs: The perks of sitting directly across from our Lord, the Prime Minister of our nation, Mr. Justin Trudeau, is getting to observe how he took in the night. We couldn’t help but wonder if he would be an air-guitarist or an air-drummer? And so we sat and waited, hoping his composure would break and he’d let the good ol’ tunes guide him. It wasn’t until the end of the show, when Bryan Adams came on stage to play a surprise performance (with a celebratory all-star performance that also included Sarah McLachlan, Alessia Cara and members of Billy Talent and the Arkells) that during the first tell-tale chord of  “Summer of ‘69,” we witnessed Trudeau strum a power-chord and just shred it. #airguitarforthewin
  2. The Strumbellas’ lead singer Simon Ward accepting the bands much-deserved win for Single of the Year (“Spirits”) without his shoes on: During his acceptance speech at the non-televised JUNO Gala Dinner and Award Show on Saturday night, Ward brought everyone’s attention to the fact that he wasn’t wearing shoes. After his speech, he and his band came straight to the press Q&A room and he filled us in on his fashion faux pas: They were up for song of the year against the likes of Drake and The Weeknd. Ward said they didn’t expect they could ever possibly win, so while eating the dinner during the sit-down show, he decided to get comfy and took of his shoes. When he won, he was so surprised, and it was so unexpected, that when he stood up, his chair fell on the floor, and he didn’t have enough time to put on his lace-up boots, so he went straight to the stage, sans shoes. This authentic and humble presence makes this band look as successful and loveable as they are. It’s no surprise that their hit single “Spirits,” was the most played song on the radio in Canada in 2016.

    Photo Credit: CARAS/iPhoto

  3. Arkells downright owned the entire weekend: The place to be Saturday night was the eOne/Last Gang After Party w/ surprise Motown by Arkells. The boys rocked out on stage to a full Motown set, with special guests Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo, Luke Bentham of The Dirty Nil, Ben & Ian from Billy Talent, Danny & Ian from July Talk, Zach from The Zolas, Jess Moskaluke, Dave Ritter from The Strumbellas, Sam Roberts, Tom Power, Meg from Repartee and Anik Jean. George Strombo was DJing and Kiefer Sutherland was spotted dancing in the house (along with everyone else who filled the room at this private event). The crescendo was no doubt when three-time JUNO nominee Ammoye went on stage with Sam Roberts and the Arkells to cover Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” The next night, Arkells returned to the JUNO stage with a high-energy version of fan-favourite track “Drake’s Dad,” with a full gospel choir in the background. If there’s one thing we can say with certainty about Arkells, it’s that they give a good live performance. Max’s on-stage energy and genuine passion shape-shifts the entire room in which he oh-so-playfully performs.

    Photo Credit: Ryan Bolton

  4. Artists being star-struck by Jack Bauer: Kiefer Sutherland made a cameo at the JUNOs this weekend to present The Walt Grealis Special Achievement Award to Bell Media President and music industry veteran Randy Lennox. After the gala and dinner, the actor made his way to the eOne JUNO after party, where he was noticeably inebriated. The next day – before hopping in their town cars to head to the JUNOs – some high-profile artists were all passing their phones around showing all the selfies they got with Kiefer. “The Kiefer Sutherland stuff was the funniest,” said the charming and hilarious lead singer of The Dirty Nils. “Did you see the other picture he forced me into?” he joked before getting fist bumps and proud head nods from the likes of TK and members of Sam Roberts Band.

    Photo credit: The Dirty Nils Instagram

  5. Canadian fashion house Greta Constantine getting a whole lotta love: Sophie Grégoire Trudeau rocked a red, off-the-shoulder jumpsuit at the awards, where she and Justin Trudeau paid tribute to Leonard Cohen.
  6. A full-fledged dance party at Warner’s JUNO after party on Sunday night: The who’s who of the music industry wrapped up the final night of JUNO weekend by letting loose on the dance floor at this private, open-bar event. The guest list was tight, and it was no doubt the place to be, now that everyone could finally just enjoy their time without worrying about having to be anywhere the next day. Near the end of the eve, Billy Talent joined The Tragically Hip’s Paul Langlois on stage to sing “Nautical Disaster.” Dancing in the crowd were members of Wintersleep, July Talk and Max of Arkells.