Edmonton - The Canadian music industry is heading out on its annual Junos road trip for its biggest party of the year, but an airplaneful of record execs and rock stars are pulling long faces despite the imminent fun. Faces that will soon be glazed by too much booze and not enough sleep are now glassy-eyed as they pore through newspapers announcing a Canadian judge's ruling that basically OKs music downloading, often cited as the reason for the global industry's decline. The ruling forms the sober subtext to a fun weekend, like a crappy song you can't get out of your head.
Through many boozy late-night chats, I'm struck by how little imagination is being brought to this issue. Too many people want to turn back the clock on a revolution that's already happened. And it may just be that record company execs and musicians, yet again, don't actually have the same interests.
The industry wants to preserve the model that has served it for decades. It's a model that hasn't worked so reliably for musicians. Record companies as we know them may disappear, but a creative embrace of the unstoppable downloading technology might still create a way for musicians to get their music to fans - and get paid for it. In the United States, iTunes, which charges 99 cents per song, is actually generating serious revenue for U.S. acts. But Canadian labels that are supposed to represent their artists still haven't worked out a licensing deal with iTunes, depriving them of this market.
Labels could also enhance CDs so fans would think twice about a less satisfying download. Neil Young packed his Greendale disc with a must-have booklet and a bonus DVD.
In contrast to this industry funk, there's no shortage of smiles Friday morning, April 2, at Edmonton's AgriCom hockey rink, just a slapshot away from the Coliseum where the Oilers play. Some of Canada's best musical talents have started gathering early for a charity game, the first-ever Juno Cup, that pits musicians against former NHL greats. I've snagged a spot on the squad and join the excited and nervous players, who busy themselves taping and re-taping sticks and trying to decide if 11 am is too early to start dressing for a 1 pm game.
Trashy-talking Kathleen Edwards puts the tits in "titular coach" when she bursts into the dressing room to give us our pre-game pep talk clutching a bottle of bourbon. Her eyes are wide as she catches Sam Roberts, Jim Cuddy, Andrew Cash, Barney Bentall and Our Lady Peace's Jeremy Taggart, among others, in various states of undress and delivers a rousing speech. In the NHLers' dressing room, Nickelback coaches a team that includes Lanny McDonald, Tiger Williams, Jamie Macoun, Russ Courtnall and Brad Dalgarno.
And it must be said, probably because I'm a shameless braggart, that the first goal in Juno Cup history is scored by, um, me - on a rebound off a Luke Doucet shot that caps an excellent rush by the Veal frontman and Sarah McLachlan guitarist.
The NHLers good-spiritedly toy with us like benign cats not really intent on eating the mouse. And while swift-skating Roberts is kept off the scoreboard and Nickelback's NHLers win 12 to 8, the Montreal rocker scores the most awards at the Junos, beating the Alberta favourites in that contest 3 to 2.
This year's Junos feature more fans and fewer politicians, although the federal Liberals are still annoyingly present. PM Paul Martin inexplicably shows up for a launch event early in the weekend but doesn't hang around for the awards show.
Cagey Jack Layton's on the scene, furtively making his way up the red carpet on Juno night and hanging at the post-show label parties. It's fun watching the NDP chief and Roberts meet for the first time, the two of them quickly flipping into French to share tales of their Montreal roots.
Impressive Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray also parties, warming up to host the event next year. Working a hotel bar, he asks a hunky hockey player, "Are you really straight?" After the disappointing answer, he declares, "What a waste of a great body!"
And while Juno-bashing is as sure a sign of spring as the smell of melting dog shit, the Roberts wins bode well. New bands made it onto the show and into nominations. Now, if the bands Roberts refers to in his shout-out after his last award, including Broken Social Scene, the Dears and the Constantines,become part of the Junos, and if the industry finds a way to get them money for their music through sales or inventive downloading, the hand- wringing can stop and the hand-clapping take over.