Sunday night’s Juno Awards opened with a skit that had the prime minister phoning in a request for “Summer of ’69” and the show closed with an all-star performance that also included Sarah McLachlan, Alessia Cara and members of rock bands Billy Talent and the Arkells.
Cohen won album of the year for “You Want It Darker,” making it the second posthumous Juno honour for Montreal’s poet laureate. Cohen, who died in November, also won artist of the year during a Juno gala dinner on Saturday.
Trudeau introduced a tribute performance for Cohen – who he called “one of the greatest artists Canada has ever produced” – by recalling when the Montreal poet-songwriter was an honorary pallbearer for his father Pierre Trudeau’s funeral.
“I remember a gathering the night before the funeral…. That was the night I learned Leonard – a great man – but not a big hugger.”
Feist, accompanied by two other singers, performed a cover of Cohen’s 1967 song “Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye,” backed by a slideshow of black and white photos of the musician.
Downie did not attend the show but appeared in a pre-recorded acceptance speech after being named the winner of the songwriter of the year Juno for his “Secret Path” solo project, which recounts the life of 12-year-old Chanie Wenjack, who died in 1966 after running away from a residential school. “Secret Path” also won the best adult alternative album and recording package of the year awards.
“Thank you for stepping into the wind, for following the sound you’ve been sort of hearing your entire life. For looking to see what has been bothering you a little bit,” Downie said in a pre-recorded acceptance speech for the songwriter award.
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“For recognizing that we’re not completely Canada yet. For seeing we have friends, our fellow countrymen and women, who are in big trouble. For recognizing our friends who were here before us, at least for thousands of years.
“First Nations have many, many stories like this one,” he said in reference to Chanie’s story. “My dream would be that this record with Jeff Lemire’s drawings might help people. Might give teachers something to help teach our young ones.”
Among the more surprising moments of the evening came when Tragically Hip member Paul Langois took the stage to accept the band’s win for group of the year. The guitarist launched into a lengthy speech thanking his family and crew before Juno producers started playing him off.
“Go to commercial, go ahead. This is my arena, not yours,” he said before turning his back to the cameras.
“I want to shout out to Gord Downie and I want -” he continued before his microphone was cut.
Other winners included Ruth B who took home breakthrough artist of the year after her song “Lost Boy” elevated her from a Vine star to a Billboard chart success.
Cara won pop album for “Know-It-All,” her breakout which includes hits singles like “Here” and “Wild Things.”
Saskatchewan musician Jess Moskaluke’s “Kiss Me Quiet” won the country album award.
Peters opened the show with a somewhat off-colour monologue in which he proclaimed the audience of young girls was a “felony waiting to happen,” and gave a shout out to Canada’s sesquicentennial, calling the country “still sexy at 150.”
“The United States is 241 and they’re aging horribly – especially since January,” Peters said, in reference to U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration. “It’s almost like the U.S. has a really bad spray tan all over it.”
Peters also joked about the Canadian musical superstars who weren’t in attendance.
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“Drake is on tour,” Peters noted, to groans from the audience. “The Weeknd is dating (Justin) Bieber’s ex, and the Biebs is in Brazil, probably punching a fan right now.”
Peters adopted a more serious tone for a moment to recognize that he was subbing in for Michael Buble, who bowed out of hosting duties last month to care for his young son Noah, who’s fighting cancer.
“My thoughts are with you Mikey and I love you buddy,” Peters said.