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2014 JUNO Awards, Festival Preview, Music

Preview: 5 Can’t-Miss Bands During 2014 JUNOfest

By: Kevan Hannah –

With the Grammys in the rear view mirror and the Polaris Music Prize a lifetime away, Canadian music fans will have their eyes on Winnipeg as the JUNO Awards descend upon the city next week.

Now in its 43rd year, the JUNO Awards will once again bring an ambitiously wide range of artists together under their shared heritage, from grand indie heroes Arcade Fire (who lead this year’s nominations with six nods for last year’s Reflektor) to pop megastar Justin Bieber to permanent JUNO fixture Blue Rodeo. This year’s hosting triad of Serena Ryder, Johnny Reid and Classified, who appeal to so many audiences between them that just about anyone tuning in will find something to like reflects this diverse assembly.

This year’s show will air live from the MTS Centre, but venues all around Winnipeg will receive a turn in the JUNO spotlight as the host committee prepares an array of concerts, workshops and fan activities in the days leading up to the awards broadcast on March 30. Winnipeggers won’t be able to cross the street without running into a JUNO-sponsored event, but the main draw for music fans will certainly be the JUNOfest concert series, which runs from March 28-29 and will host a slough of artists that don’t always get a chance to play the ‘Peg.

Organizers have wrangled a healthy mix of more than 100 local, regional, and national acts, with even more to be announced in the coming weeks. There’s no way to see them all, but to help you get started we’ve put together a list of some of the weekend’s can’t-miss sets.

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ATLAAS
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Pure pop acts are a rare kind in Winnipeg’s local scene, so there’s an inherent novelty in watching ATLAAS operate apart from the typical guitar-and-drums template. Sampled beats and gossamer pads give this duo a distinct voice among their peers, but Heather Thomas’ actual, very lovely vocals makes ATLAAS stand out more than anything, offering a refreshing taste of something light and dreamy.

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The Darcys
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Aside from going up against Arcade Fire and local heroes Royal Canoe for alternative album of the year, The Darcys will be bringing tunes from their breakout release Warring to Winnipeg for the first time. The third studio album from the Toronto quartet has catapulted them into the upper echelons of Canadian indie stardom, and since then the band carved its gradual, hoary burn into something more robust and stirring, like watching an explosion play out in slow motion.

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July Talk
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July Talk balances the saccharine with the austere, and that duality has earned the band a respectably wide audience a bit quicker than other acts in its weight class (not to mention an early nomination for breakthrough group of the year). When it’s firing on all cylinders, the friction between honeyed pop and snarling, Waitsian blues is kinetic and arresting, and will easily resonate with Winnipeg’s many roots-rock fans.

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Mounties
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Perhaps the most intriguing act to grace this year’s JUNOfest is Mounties, a trio of Can-rock veterans (Hawksley Workman, Limblifter’s Ryan Dahle and Hot Hot Heat’s Steve Bays) that, despite their collective pedigree, remains something of an unknown quantity. The band’s debut full-length, Thrash Rock Legacy, is one of the weirdest releases of 2014 so far: a smirking, flippant jumble of style that goes out of its way to avoid categorization. It’s goofy for the sake of it, but the sheer joy these three talented friends get out of jamming together means that the music is never not fun, and should translate into something exceptional on stage.

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Rich Aucoin
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Living confetti cannon Rich Aucoin is always a sure bet; the perpetual crowd-pleaser carries a live show that leaves people buzzing for days about witnessing the best show ever. His recorded material doesn’t always reveal it, but Aucoin’s sheer enthusiasm has a way of electrifying every person in a room. From the balloons to the YouTube cat videos to the parachute finale, the exuberant, feel-good vibes are inescapable.

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