“It’s been an interesting few months, to say the least.”
Coming from Allan Reid, that could be the understatement of the year in terms of the hand he was forced to deal with concerning the 2020 Juno Awards.
Reid, president and CEO of CARAS, MusiCounts and the Juno Awards, had the unenviable task of pulling the plug on this year's broadcast just 72 hours from its intended March 15 broadcast from Saskatoon's SaskTel Centre due to the pandemic.
“It’s funny, it was an incredibly difficult decision but an extremely easy one at the same time,” Reid declares. “And I’ve got to say, it wasn’t my decision: through this whole thing we were talking with local, municipal, provincial and federal health authorities every single day."
Reid said the consistent message from officials - including Public Health Canada - was that everything was fine.
But after the pandemic was declared on March 11 and US President Donald Trump moved to shut down travel from Europe to the US, Reid said things escalated dramatically.
“It was amazing how quickly things moved," he notes. "We were making all sorts of adjustments on the fly and making sure we could still continue, and then Wednesday night I got a call from the local health authorities saying they had their first case of Covid-(19) in Saskatoon. Immediately, I knew that was it."
Conversations with Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark and the province followed and everyone was in agreement.
"By Thursday night, the whole world had changed. So, it was the right decision and in retrospect, it’s the only one that could have been made. By Sunday, I don’t know if anybody would have come.”
While Reid is breathing a sigh of relief that the 2020 Juno Award winners will be announced on June 29th through a virtual ceremony held on numerous CBC digital platforms, he said discussions had been held about announcing the victors earlier.
“We had initially talked about trying to announce earlier, but the Board all felt like it was the wrong time for a celebration," he admits.
The Juno Awards ceremony isn't the only event affected by the pandemic; the Canadian Music Hall of Fame ceremony, launched last year at the National Music Centre in an effort to bring more worthy recipients into the Hall, has also been delayed.
“The new Canadian Music Hall of Fame ceremony was such an incredible moment last year at the National Music Centre," says Reid. "We got such great feedback, and it’s something we’ve been working towards for a number of years, trying to figure out how we could honour more of our incredible artists.
"We had begun planning a new ceremony for 2020 in the fall, but all the uncertainties around live events just made it impossible to plan."
Reid said the Hall of Fame committee had already selected the artists to be inducted, "but we had not yet informed them."
"We had to put everything on hold," he said, adding that the ceremony has been shifted to an unspecified date in 2021.
"Trying to plan an event right now is laying plans out and sort of watching as governments lift restrictions," he explains. "Unfortunately, as we know, both sports and music gatherings are going to be part of phase three, when things will be allowed to return.
"Can we go back to the National Music Centre and fill that 300-capacity room? Or are there going to be restrictions around that? There are a lot of unknowns still to sort through, obviously. But we’re definitely committed to this, as are our partners Music Canada, who came on board and really helped us bring this to life. There’s certainly a will there to keep doing it.”
Reid says a similar "wait and see" situation applies to the 50th Juno Awards celebration, initially earmarked for Toronto's Scotiabank Arena for March 28 in 2021.
‘Again, it’s in a similar situation where yeah, the 50th is an incredible opportunity for CARAS to celebrate our history as an organization," says Reid. "It’s also the anniversary of 50 years of Canadian content, so there’s a lot to talk about. And obviously, there are some incredible artists that we want to honour over those five decades. and obviously in the current state as well. But like the Hall of Fame and like all major events, we are closely working with the city and the province to figure out how we can best do that.
"The thing we can do is look at all different kinds of scenarios, from the big celebration to alternate ideas, in case we’re still under some kind of restrictions as to how we gather."
As far as returning to Saskatoon for the 51st Junos, Reid said that is unlikely.
"Obviously, we were at that stage in Saskatoon, working closely with the city and tourism and the province to mount that – and it was all happening: stages were built, the Gala Dinner was set up – food was delivered – everything had happened. The money had been spent.
"Certainly, it’s something we’d look at, to go back to Saskatoon or back to Saskatchewan at some point, but it’s going to require additional investment to make it happen. Every city we travel to – it’s part of it. And we were devastated, as was the city of Saskatoon. As much as the industry and the artists lost out, they lost out on the economic impact of having the Junos in their marketplace as well. But it takes a substantial investment by the city, the province and by all of our partners to make all that happen again. So, it’s undetermined if we’ll go back anytime in the near future; certainly we’ll honour Saskatoon with the 2020 Junos as well as what we do in the Songwriters Circle - any chance we get to acknowledge the contribution they’ve made."
Although this unprecedented move to cancel the Juno Awards for the first time in 49 years took an emotional and financial toll out of the industry, but Allan Reid says he's been heartened by sponsor loyalty.
“In all honesty, it’s been incredibly challenging," Reid admits. "But we’re so fortunate, at the same time, that so many of our sponsors stood by us, at what, again, was a devastating moment for this organization.
"We’ve never had to cancel the Junos in 49 years. To be literally three days out from broadcast - the entire team was there and the industry was about to get on a plane – having to cancel was very, very difficult for the organization. So, we’ve been really fortunate that whether it’s FACTOR or Music Canada or Radio Starmaker Fund or our lead partner in TD or any number of sponsors, it has been really heartwarming to have conversations with our sponsors and say, ‘we believe in this institution and it’s too important. We want to make sure that it continues on and keep our investment and let’s work towards the future.'
" So I feel incredibly grateful to both our partners and our funders that we’ve been able have a few moments to basically get the organization on is feet as we work to the 2020 Junos and also towards the 50th.”