Shaggy-haired Saskatoon southern-rock throwbacks the Sheepdogs were double winners at an upset-laden Juno Awards gala on Saturday where the bulk of the prizes were handed out, while Vancouver's Dan Mangan led a sizable group of first-time winners.
At a dinner ceremony in the nation's capital where 34 of 41 trophies were distributed ahead of Sunday's splashy TV broadcast, the Sheepdogs – whose blend of boogie rock and barfly blues took hold with listeners after they won a prominent Rolling Stone magazine cover contest – claimed trophies for new group of the year and rock album of the year.
The group was on tour in Australia with John Fogerty, but tweeted their delight about the pair of awards: "Very excited. Is 8am in Perth too early to start celebratory drinking?"
Mangan also achieved his first taste of Juno glory, winning alternative album of the year after the 28-year-old indie-folk singer/songwriter surprised many by claiming four total nominations, which tied him for the lead entering the weekend.
But if the personable Mangan was a front-runner, someone forgot to tell him.
"It's heavy," he said, holding the crystal statue in his hand with a look of awe on his face. "I really, really did not expect this. Every band in this category I'm a huge respecter and fan of.
"(I'm) so blown away."
The news was similarly positive for many of the other artists armed with a quartet of nods.
Toronto-based songstress Feist was the only other two-time winner, claiming awards for adult alternative album of the year for her contemplative fourth disc "Metals" and music DVD of the year for her intimate documentary "Look at What the Light Did Now."
And a year after he was shut out despite laying claim to six nominations as well as hosting duties, Toronto's Drake took rap recording of the year for his moody opus "Take Care."
Although Hedley also took four nominations into the weekend festivities, the Abbotsford, B.C., outfit's win for pop album of the year could have qualified as one of the evening's myriad surprises because the Junos had never shown much interest in rewarding the group. Prior to this year, Hedley had been nominated for 14 Junos and only won one – for video of the year, no less.
"Thank you so much – this is truly a surprise," said frontman Jacob Hoggard. "We didn't see this coming. It's been a long time coming."
And divisive hard-rockers Nickelback – also among the leaders with four nominations – were involved in one of the night's biggest upsets. In a decision that might not bode well for the Hanna, Alta., rockers' chances on Sunday, youthful Hamilton rock outfit the Arkells took the prize for group of the year, beating out a group that also included Sam Roberts Band, Down With Webster and Hedley.
"We're excited for all the vitriol from the Hedley fans on Twitter who are going to be angry," said Arkells singer Max Kerman.
"It's March Madness right now – we're like a 15 seed and we beat a second seed in the first round."
Well, Nickelback isn't licked yet – the 12-time Juno winners hold another three nominations heading into Sunday's telecast. Other marquee artists are in a similar position, with Drake, Deadmau5, City and Colour and Burnaby, B.C., crooner Michael Buble hanging on to three nominations apiece.
To the sure delight of his army of tween fans, 18-year-old pop sensation Justin Bieber will also see both of his nominations contested on Sunday – likely providing a sizable Bieber boost for the show's TV ratings.
The annual pre-telecast gala tends to be a lower-profile affair, but this year's ceremony compelled largely on the strength of its upsets.
The inaugural metal/hard music album of the year category, for instance, was won by Winnipeg noise-metal outfit KEN Mode, who topped more well-known outfits including Devin Townsend Project and Anvil – the venerable hard-luck metal outfit who might have been the favourite, or at least the sentimental choice.
"They've been a band longer than we've all been alive," said KEN Mode drummer Shane Matthewson backstage. "We're sorry to spoil the party but we respect them."
Producer of the year winner Brian Howes – who helmed tunes by Hedley and Nickelback – was similarly stunned to beat out Bob Rock, k.d. lang and especially David Foster, who presided over Michael Buble's yuletide smash "Christmas."
"Holy crap," Howes said as he claimed the trophy. "I thought for sure 'Jingle Bells' was going to kick my ass tonight – how do you compete with that?"
Other first-time winners included Montreal's Tim Hecker for electronic album of the year, hometown favourite MonkeyJunk for blues album of the year and Montreal indie-rockers Malajube for francophone album of the year.
Sultry Toronto singer Melanie Fiona, meanwhile, also claimed her first Juno, taking R&B/soul recording of the year for "Gone and Never Coming Back." The milestone came less than two months after Fiona claimed a pair of Grammy Awards.
On the opposite end of the experience spectrum, Montreal composer Marc-Andre Hamelin won his seventh career Juno for classical album of the year: solo or chamber ensemble, local folkie legend Bruce Cockburn won his 11th after taking solo roots & traditional album of the year and Feist brought her career Juno tally up to 10.
Country songstress Terri Clark, meanwhile, won her third Juno for country album of the year, a category she first won back in 1997. Toronto's Kiran Ahluwalia also won in a category she'd taken previously – world music album of the year – but lamented that the Junos weren't familiar enough with her to pronounce her name when announcing her victory.
"They didn't even attempt my name!" she said backstage, smiling.
"Ahluwalia – it's not that hard, is it? I would have even taken 'Hallelujah.'" Sunday's telecast – airing on CTV – will be hosted by William Shatner and will feature performances by Blue Rodeo, Deadmau5 and Feist.