I was one of the very lucky people who got to attend the Juno awards this past Sunday night at the Canadian Tire Centre. These awards honour the greatest musicians in Canada in a glamorous affair rivaled (arguably) only by the Oscars and possibly Grammy’s. This event filled the stadium and drew hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of viewers from all over Canada and the rest of North America.
Since “Covert Ottawa Guy” is still relatively new and growing, I don’t yet compete with the major networks and newspaper publications so I was not granted a media pass. What I did instead was volunteer at the event as a seat filler. Since I did not witness the full event (perhaps only 75% of it), I wasn’t sure how to complete this review. Additionally, much of my experience of that night came from the perspective of a volunteer seat filler, and not necessarily a blogger, so I’ve decided to categorize this post as a review as well as a “random thought” to demonstrate both my impression of the event itself as well as my experience as a seat filler. So I have to apologize in advance, since I was a Seat Filler, the location and quality of pictures is a bit poor (not my finest moments).
The Seat Filler Experience
With the 150th birthday celebrations hitting all over Ottawa at various events throughout the year, the need for volunteers has never been greater. All of the major events that are being planned in Ottawa are only possible due to the dedicated team in place to help out when needed and The Juno Awards was one of those events that required over a thousand volunteers for various jobs. As a seat filler, the task, as described, is fairly simple; you hang around in a staging area and then get directions to go and sit in an empty seat until the assigned occupant returns. At that point, you find another empty seat or return to the staging area for onward deployment. It seemed simple enough. Myself and two others signed up together and after an efficient sign-up process and a police background check, we were good to go for the Junos. The instructions we received were to be in attendance at the CTC between 3:00pm and 5:30pm OR, as indicated in the same letter, 3:00pm sharp. So as good little volunteers, we showed up early and went through the check in process at 3:00pm sharp. We then sat on the concrete stairs by the front door, you know, those intimidating sets of stairs that you must have climbed if you’ve ever sat in the 200 or 300 levels of the CTC. We sat there with very little updates as to what was going on next, no food, and no water even for nearly two hours. Eventually, we were all lead into the arena where the event would take place and were told to sit in a specific section located directly adjacent to the stage where the Zamboni entrance is located when the Sens are playing. There we sat around waiting again. At least here, we had proper seating and we were able to watch the technical crew prepare for the upcoming show. It was interesting to watch so many people scrambling to get everything just right!
Once the doors opened and the crowds started joining us in the arena, we could people watch. The many screens set up throughout the arena showed the red carpet activities for each of the celebrities and people oouu’d and awww’d quietly over the various celebs until the screeching started when Shawn Mendes showed up. With only minutes to show time, many of the 500 (or so) seat fillers were pulled from their seats to be ushered off to other places, but we were not selected just yet. With a great vantage point already achieved in the staging area, we weren’t upset if we stayed put. Eventually though, after the show started, we were requested with 37 of our closest friends to head to a specific section on the other end of the arena. Once there, nobody knew what we were supposed to do nor could we see any significant number of empty seats so back to the staging area we went. Then a second time, we were called upon but this time it was just five of us. We went to the adjacent section to where we were before and filled in some empty seats with the likes of Mariana’s Trench and several other bands.
We were with the celebs now!!! I however, lost two seats quickly while the Strumbella’s were playing on stage and was forced back to the staging area while my two companions remained front row. I was then pulled to the original section and waited for 15 minutes in a concrete tunnel while the coordinators scrambled for something. There were people everywhere in and out of the awards area as expected in any event where people need drinks, food and bathrooms. Eventually, after missing two awards and two performances, I was lead down to nearly the front row in the other celebrity filled area close to the stages. I was sitting directly behind a Tribe Called Red for about five minutes and then when the Strumbellas returned, I had to move. My next seat was about ten rows back where my supervisor told me “just sit here” because she had no plan for me. I sat beside a guy whom I didn’t recognize (but that doesn’t surprise me, I don’t recognize people). And he turned and said “oh, you’re not Sam”…I explained to him that I was a seat filler and just holding the spot. A gentleman returned to the section but told me to stay where I was and he sat further in and then asked if I could pass him his drink which was at the seat I was sitting at so I passed “Sam” his drink. About an hour later, I found myself watching that same person being introduced as Sam Roberts on one of the stages to announce an award…..ugh! I wish I could recognize people! Haha….so that’s my celebrity story and apart from seeing celebs walking the halls on many occasions, nothing overly exciting materialized.
After that, the three of us reunited and were tasked with watching a pile of jackets for the final 45 minutes of the show. These seats were in direct line of site with the stage so we had no complaints. The people running the seat fillers group were never again seen or heard from.
As I mentioned in the previous section, there are a huge number of people working to put this event together, as to be expected I suppose. This small army of technicians was working like crazy the whole night from before the doors opened until after everyone was cleared out. I have to give props not only to the people involved with the Juno’s but also with the stadium itself. That place hosts the Juno’s, a Sens game, Jeff Foxworthy and Larry the Cable Guy and then the Harlem Globetrotters all this week! Set up and tear down must be done so efficiently!!
The stage area was amazing. There was a main stage located at one end of the “ice” where the larger bands would play and then a winding walkway leading from stage right (facing the crowd) through the crowd to about where centre ice would be. In addition, there were two other platforms that were used to host presenters throughout the night. The “floor” of the event around the stage and walkway was full of fans loving every second of the event and cheering on each band like the “superfans” that they should be with those seats.
With the evening starting off with A Tribe Called Red pounding the bass and celebrating their aboriginal culture, the energy in the room was amazing. See the CBC article on a Tribe Called Red here.
There were many more fantastic performances throughout the night including, Billy Talent, July Talk, Shawn Mendes, Alessia Cara, Bryan Adams, Sarah McLaughlin, Dallas Smith, The Arkells, The Strumbellas, Ruth B, and of course the Feist tribute to Leonard Cohen (I’m sorry if I missed any, it was a lot to take in). The line up was outstanding and each performance was brilliant!! This was better than any concert or music festival I’ve been to.
The award presentations of the evening were very fast as if they were trying to rush through it and get on to the next concert. The whole show was 2.5 hours long but flew by like it was only mere minutes. There were of course the awards and concerts but also great celebrity guest speakers/presenters including Canada’s pretty boy, Justin Trudeau, and Ottawa Mayor, Jim Watson, who took part in the “passing of the key” ceremony to the Mayor of Vancouver for next year’s event. This was all a very nice touch.
The entire performance went off without a hitch from my point of view. Hosts, Russel Peters and Bryan Adams, were both hilarious and worked together flawlessly. The only “headline making” issue was when the Tragically Hip gave their acceptance speech, Paul Langlois ran out of time and made some hilarious comments about it being their arena so they’d keep talking. I was sitting beside the sound booth at the time and the reaction of the guys trying to keep on schedule was hilarious!! You can read the CBC article discussing the speeches here. As a grand finale to the night, many of the artists got up on stage and collectively sang Summer of 69 and it was so amazing hearing it. I doubt there was a single person of any age NOT singing along while feeling a shiver down their spine. We all left with a huge smile on our faces to have heard and seen the coordination of such a great song while realizing that we’re probably never going to see such a high caliber of superstars live and personal again….at least until the next time the Juno’s come back. ?
My overall thoughts on the event was that it was brilliant. I loved everything about it from the quality of acts, to the amazing stage and set ups for each individual concert and presentation, to the quality of sound and the one thing that can’t be beat is seeing all these celebrities walking around you and standing with you while waiting for a beer or popcorn. With all my experience working with celebrities at music festivals, I don’t get star struck very often, but I have to admit that this put me in awe and inspired me to do more and see more.
My overall thoughts on the seat filling experience was pretty much neutral. The job allowed me to have this wonderful experience that I truly loved, however the lack of organization was almost unbearable at the times and tested my strong value of integrity. Twenty cases of water for the volunteers would have gone a long way right at the beginning, especially since you can’t bring your own into the stadium. Nobody seemed to be the clear “boss” and the communication breakdowns between the supervisors was evident to the point of frustration. Also, I wouldn’t have done this as I value my integrity, but there was no control over the seat fillers once we entered the facility. We got our bracelet, wrote down our name (no ID or verification on a master list required) and we were effectively set free. Once the general public entered the stadium, there was no control over who went where and with 1000 seat fillers (about 500 showed up), there’s no way to keep track of everyone. I’m sure the supervisors were doing their best with a broken system, but it was scary to think that it was so unorganized for such an important event.
Finally, I just want to say that despite the hours of waiting for what appeared to be nothing, the evening was fantastic and I loved every minute of it once it started. Great music, great people and a great night out!! #covertinattendance