Late last week I was channel surfing and came across etalk, the CTV entertainment program. They were doing a Juno Awards preview, and decided to look back 15 years at ‘their’ first appearance at the Juno Awards, which was 2003 in Ottawa. The reason they didn’t look back to CTV’s ‘first’ Juno awards show, a year earlier in St. John’s, is because they weren’t there. But I was.
CTV grabbed the Juno broadcast rights from CBC beginning in 2002. Of the previous 27 telecasts, 20 were in Toronto, 5 in Hamilton and 2 were in Vancouver. CTV wisely said, let’s get this party on the road, and what better place to start than St. John’s Newfoundland! The network didn’t have an ‘entertainment’ division at the time, per say, etalk wouldn’t begin until later that year, but the plan was to get as many CTV people to St. John’s as possible and to use as many CTV properties as they could to promote the show.
Much to my delight, I was tapped to head to St. John’s to do several things. First, to do a Canada AM remote broadcast on the Friday before the Juno’s and the Monday after, and also to be part of the Juno’s first ever ‘red carpet’ show. Yes, the ‘first ever’ CTV ‘red carpet’ show of any kind. My co-hosts for the ‘red carpet’ show were Seamus O’Regan, who at the time was a part of CTV’s fledgling ‘Talk TV’ channel, and singer Kim Stockwood. Of course both Seamus and Kim were born and raised in Newfoundland.
What this meant for me, was five nights and six days in St. John’s at the biggest music party ever thrown. It took me a long time afterwards to piece the whole thing together but to this day it remains a highlight of my broadcast career. I left for St. John’s after doing Canada AM on Wednesday April 10th, 2002. I arrived in the early evening and Seamus had invited Kim and me over for dinner at his parent’s place in St. John’s. I walked into Seamus Sr. and Janet’s place, and there, standing in the living room, was a very close friend of Seamus, and future Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. After dinner, Kim played some new music she had just recorded, and that music would later be heard by everyone courtesy of her new band ‘Shaye’. I remember we had a great beef stew prepared by Seamus’ dad, and then it was off to downtown for the first night of what would be five straight nights of Newfoundland hospitality. If you’ve ever partied in Newfoundland, you know what that means.
I didn’t have to do a show on Thursday April 11th, so we partied a bit into the night, and that turned out to be a mistake, thanks to Michael Landsberg and his TSN show “Off the Record”. It was also being produced and coming from St. John’s to allow CTV another vehicle to promote the Juno’s. I had been on the show several times and Michael had asked if I could be on ‘stand by’ for a morning taping in case one of the guests, who were mainly musicians, had to back out at the last minute. I agreed, and wouldn’t you know it, a guest backed out at the last minute, likely for the same reason I had a tough time getting to the location…I remember being ‘just a little’ hung over. Thank you George Street, day one. I don’t remember much about the show, but I do remember one of the other guests was late Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Frank Moores. After the morning taping, I met up with Seamus and Kim to shoot a promo for our ‘red carpet’ show from The Battery area of St. John’s. The location was an old armament site that overlooked the magnificent harbour with a stunning city view. We banged off the promos and took some photos as we were dressed to the nines, with Seamus and I in tuxes and Kim in a long black dress. Justin didn’t have formal clothes on, but we let him in the photo anyway. A photo, I still have, somewhere.
Thursday was another party night for our gang, more of whom were arriving from Toronto by the minute, including my AM show producer Karen Barzilay, who was in charge of putting together our Friday morning show. One of the great things about doing a show in Newfoundland, at least from my standpoint, was that the show did not start until 7.30am local time. Which was great, because, well, that allowed me to stay out a little longer on Thursday night. Which I did. Karen, being the great producer that she was, convinced Justin to come on the show the next morning. Keep in mind, Justin had just returned to public life after teaching in Vancouver and was less than two years removed from delivering the memorable eulogy at his father’s funeral. He also hadn’t done much media, so it was a coup for us to get him. The next morning, we did our show from the ballroom of what was then The Battery Hotel. It provided a stunning view of the harbour and was also the location for “Off the Record. ( by the way, the hotel closed in 2012, and is now Memorial University office space). We had quite a show that day. The Barenaked Ladies had been tapped to host the Juno telecast, and Ed Robertson came in to talk about that. Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea, came in to talk about the opening number the band would perform on the telecast. We had the Ennis Sisters perform, and this Newfoundland trio would go on to win Best New Country Group/Artist at the show two days later, and we had Justin. Since Justin didn’t want to do ‘too much’ we got to him to be my partner in a table hockey game. You see, the guys from the Barenaked Ladies and Great Big Sea had planned road hockey game for the Saturday, and to promote that, Justin and me, played against Ed and Alan. I ‘think’ we won, but other’s may remember a different outcome! The video of Justin and me playing that match was rerun on my ‘farewell tour’ show from Quidi Vidi last May.
After the show, we had meetings about the ‘red carpet’ special, and I remember taking a nap. I was staying at the Hotel Newfoundland and it was certainly the centre of much of the action. International recording artist ‘Shaggy’ was staying there, and on Friday night, a local high school was having a prom at the hotel. Shaggy, who was one of the biggest acts going at the time, decided to do an impromptu ‘drop in’ at the dance. You can only imagine the reaction. But the dance also revealed another ‘slight’ problem. Many of the big stars in town for the awards were supposed to be able to get a limo to go where they were going, but, there were only so many limos in town, and on this night, the kids from the school had most of them booked.
Friday was (yet) another party night. I don’t remember much about this night except going upstairs at a venue and meeting the guys from Sum 41 and talking, at length for some time apparently, to Ryan Peake of Nickleback, who was there with his wife. Another thing I can remember is visiting ‘several’ parties at various places and getting back to my room very, very late.
On Saturday, April 13th, it was up an at it, with rehearsals and meetings concerning the ‘red carpet’ show the next day. Spent quite a bit of time at Mile One Centre, and Saturday night I attended the Juno Awards banquet, which was hosted with great aplomb by Seamus. And we needed to be entertained. They gave out about 28 awards, and with acceptance speeches and breaks, this was a very long banquet, and many could see it cutting into party time. I recall a lot of people getting ‘antsy’. I remember leaving the banquet and heading to George Street. During my time out and about in St. John’s, a reporter from the National Post had been trying to track me down to get a ‘comment’ on Justin Trudeau, since, well, I had been seen on a few occasions with him at a few different parties. I was hesitant to say anything, but she cornered me at a bar and asked me what I thought about Justin. To this day, I remember exactly what I said. “He’s a lot taller than I thought he was.” With that, I exited. A rumor had been circulating that renowned producer and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee Daniel Lanois was going to be playing a solo set at the Ship Inn at 2am..Yep, 2am! So, seeing this as a once in a lifetime chance, and it was already 1.45am, I made my way there, and sure enough Lanois was playing his heart out to me and about 70 others lucky enough to get in. It was about 3 am when I headed up the stairs to Duckworth Street to walk back to the hotel.
I have told the following story many, many times, and to me, it represents what Newfoundlanders are all about. So, it’s 3am, I’m admittedly fairly loaded, and am
on my way back to the hotel. All of a sudden a blue car pulls up beside me and starts to drive at the same speed I am walking, which was not too fast. There was one guy alone in the car driving beside me as I walked. All of a sudden, on the other side of the street, four guys in their late teens showed up out of nowhere and began to follow me as well. Oh boy, I thought. I’m about to get stopped by the guy in the car, and these other guys are going to rob me or worse. My heart was pounding and all of a sudden the car served into the sidewalk in front of me and the guy jumped out of the car.. I thought, here we go….then, all of a sudden the man says ” Hey, Jeff, you need a ride to the hotel by’?” At the same time as this was happening, the four guys on the other side of the street rushed over and wanted to know if everything was all right, and was this guy bothering me.. Stunned and relieved I assured everyone that all was great (now) and the four guys and I walked back to the hotel after I thanked the other guy for offering a ride. Pretty sure this kind of thing only happens in Newfoundland!
Sunday was show day for Seamus, Kim and me. I was assigned a dressing room which was converted to a studio for the purposes of doing interviews and would present the view from inside the Mile One Centre pre-show. Seamus was stationed at Greensleeves, a popular bar on George Street for local reaction, and Kim Stockwood was on the red carpet to greet the bands as they came in. Keep in mind, this wasn’t on the scale of red carpet shows you see today, it was much much smaller, but still the lead in to the CTV Juno telecast, their first ever. Sitting in the remote truck, along with producer Mark McInnis, was CTV President Ivan Fecan. About 5 minutes into the show, our scripted version of events was thrown out the window when Mr. Fecan literally took over the reigns and focused the entire show on the red carpet arrivals and little else. As frustrating as it was at the time, he was right on of course. With our plan out the window, we had lots of problems because those on the red carpet, cameramen and producers, weren’t ready, or prepared for a constant barrage from the truck ordering them to get this person or that person. While it wasn’t CTV’s finest hour in terms of what made it to air, it was laying the groundwork for all future CTV red carpet shows to come. And if the pre-show wasn’t the finest hour, the Juno Awards show itself was a stunner.
After the show, there were several after parties to attend, and I was facing another Canada AM remote broadcast on Monday April 15th, the morning after the night before and my birthday. The plan for this show was pretty simple compared to Friday, we would recap events from the night before, show highlights and do a live interview or two. By the time 7.30 local time rolled around and Canada AM began, I had absolutely no voice left, I ‘might’ have had a pounding headache too. I remember Lisa LaFlamme, our host at the time, asking me if I was a bit under the weather with a cold. I was under the weather all right, but a cold had nothing to do with it!
On Twitter: @jeffhutcheson
Representation: Dan Champagne