Arcade Fire, Drake, Serena Ryder and Tegan and Sara were among the early winners Saturday in a Juno Awards race that appears as wide open as a Prairie vista.
Only violin maestro James Ehnes was a double Juno winner — bringing the Brandon, Man., native's career tally up to nine — at an annual dinner gala where the bulk of trophies were handed out. But many of the presumed front-runners did claim a category.
Arcade Fire took alternative album of the year, Drake won rap recording of the year, Tegan and Sara won pop album of the year and Sunday's co-host Ryder triumphed in a stacked artist of the year category. All four acts still hold multiple nominations during Sunday night's telecast on CTV.
Major categories to be determined then included album, group, single and songwriter of the year, but Saturday's winners weren't waiting to celebrate.
"Wow, thank you ... this is great — I wanted to hug so many people and I was like, 'I gotta run,"' said visibly flustered Millbrook, Ont., native Ryder, who swore repeatedly as she tried to compose herself. "This is an amazing, amazing award. My mind is going blank. Look at all the amazing artists I was with.
"Stand up mom and dad," she said, pointing to her parents as they rose. "They've been so supportive of me for so long and they had the real jobs in the family ... and they let me stay at home while I wrote and recorded in my bedroom."
And Tegan and Sara actually sprinted to the stage together after finally winning their first Juno, following five previous losses.
"Oh my God — we haven't won anything since 1996," Sara Quin said. "We want to start with our piano teacher, which was the last time we were awarded something, in 1996."
"I'm so nervous," added sister Tegan. "It would literally take all the rest of tonight to say thank you to all the people who have supported us. In our case, it didn't take a village — it took an entire country. Thank you to everyone in Canada."
Tegan and Sara wasn't the only veteran act to secure a long-awaited first Juno. Toronto institution Downchild finally won for blues album of the year — their fifth nomination dating back to 1989 — while Dean Brody (country album of the year) and Justin Rutledge (roots & traditional album of the year: solo) both won their first Junos out of three career nominations apiece.
Matt Mays took his first Juno out of five nominations, for rock album of the year. Afterward, he paid tribute to his late guitarist Jay Smith, who died last year while the band was on tour in Edmonton.
"We lost a good friend and a brother this year," said the Cole Harbour, N.S., native. "It's been a really tough year for a lot of his friends and family so this goes out to his family, the Smith family. It goes out to my band, who played through a really tough time.
"I've never been more proud of anybody in my life than this bunch of guys right here."
Other first-time winners included fast-rising Halifax-reared producer Ryan Hemsworth for electronic album of the year, Whitby, Ont., prog-metal outfit Protest the Hero for metal/hard music album of the year and fresh-faced country crooner Brett Kissel for breakthrough artist of the year, seeming downright shocked as he wrapped his fingers around the heavy trophy.
"Oh my gosh, this is incredible," said the Flat Lake, Alta., native. "I'm very, very privileged. I look around at everybody here and I just feel very blessed to be a breakthrough artist.
"Thank you to my parents ... who took a little time off of calving season back on the farm to be here at the Junos.
"Thank you so much. I'll never forget this night."
On the other end of the experience spectrum, much-lauded singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith picked up his third Juno for his deeply bittersweet "Forever Endeavour" — winning for adult alternative album of the year. If there was an award for most honest speech, he might've claimed that one too.
"I was really proud of this record. It didn't do very well, truth be told, but I was really proud of the album," said the Toronto native. "I really didn't expect this. I love you all. This is just great to be invited to the ball."
Meanwhile, Johnny Reid's win for adult alternative album of the year gave him a four-Juno lifetime haul, Ryder and Drake have five apiece and the widely decorated Arcade Fire can lay claim to seven career Junos.
Of course, those numbers are almost certain to change Sunday. Arcade Fire will compete in five more categories after going 1-for-1 on Saturday while Ryder will have a shot at four more awards, Michael Buble — a loser in two categories contested Saturday — and Tegan and Sara have shots at three more and Drake, Hedley and Celine Dion are also still double nominees.
Saturday's gala did little to clarify who might emerge from this year's show with the longest haul. Still, the Junos proved willing to veer slightly from the script on several occasions.
Tegan and Sara's "Heartthrob," for instance, was a widely praised turn toward the sleek and polished for the Calgary-reared twins, but beating out perennial Juno favourite Buble — an 11-time winner who has thrice claimed the Junos' top overall category, album of the year — had to be considered at least a mild surprise. Similarly, Deadmau5 ceded dance recording of the year (a category he's won four times) to Dutch producer Armin van Buuren and former SoulDecision singer Trevor Guthrie while Ryder's win for artist of the year, over the likes of Dion, Drake and Buble, also looked like a coup.
Walk Off the Earth, Robin Thicke and Tegan and Sara are among the performers expected Sunday, when locally reared rock heroes Bachman-Turner Overdrive will be ushered into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame.
Also Saturday, married pair Chantal Kreviazuk and Raine Maida shared the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award after a video introduction that included a testimonial from Liberal leader Justin Trudeau. They also confirmed backstage that they were working on their first collaborative album, while also fielding questions about how they get along so well ("we fought right before we went onstage," Maida admitted with a laugh).
During an eloquent jointly delivered speech, the pair was far more circumspect.
"I think when we stand here tonight," said Maida, "it's really important to note or to make that distinction that we accept this award really on behalf on all of the people that actually wake up every day and try to do worthwhile and virtuous things."