From March 24 to 30, the eyes and ears of Canadian music lovers will be tuned to Winnipeg, Manitoba, which hosts JUNO Week for the second time in under a decade (the first was 2005).
It’s no secret that Winnipeg is a hotbed for new music, new media, and other expressions of cultural creativity. In honour of Winnipeg’s infinite coolness – and no, we don’t mean the weather – TD Live Music delves into this year’s JUNO host city, with help from four people involved in its music community.
Here, these Peg City music ambassadors let us in on the city they love, including hot spots, vital venues, and so much more. Tour the City with us through the Infographic below, and pick up insider tips along the way.
Jolene Higgins a.k.a. Little Miss Higgins
Singer-songwriter and powerhouse country-blues vocalist Little Miss Higgins was born in Alberta, raised in Kansas, briefly called Saskatchewan home, and is now based in the Peg. It’s here she teamed up with a quintet of Manitoba musicians now dubbed The Winnipeg Five to record the highly acclaimed Bison Ranch Recording Sessions, nominated for the 2014 Roots Traditional Album of the Year Group Award (sponsored by the Winnipeg Folk Festival). Little Miss Higgins & The Winnipeg Five perform as part of JUNOfest (presented by SiriusXM Canada), Friday, March 28 at Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club.
Sara Stasiuk, Executive Director of Manitoba Music
Winnipeg resident and enthusiast Sara Stasiuk is the exec director of Manitoba Music, an industry association representing over 750 members involved in all facets of the music industry, including artists, studios, agents, venues, producers, and others. Manitoba Music serves all genres of music, providing programs and services that help nurture, develop and promote the growth and sustainability of Manitoba’s music industry. The organization recently launched concert-finding app Manitoba Live, featuring a comprehensive list of shows and venues throughout the province.
Odario Williams of Grand Analog
Born in Guyana and raised in Winnipeg, musician and actor Odario Williams fronted hip-hop act Mood Ruff and created the Peg City Holla Hip-Hop Festival in the early 2000s. By 2006, Williams re-located to Toronto and launched Grand Analog, a hip-hop project rinsed in reggae, soul, R&B and rock. The band’s third album, 2013’s Modern Thunder, is now set for release in the U.S. and multiple European countries this April. Grand Analog performs at the Exchange Event Centre as part of JUNOfest (presented by SiriusXM Canada) on Friday, March 28.
Nathan Zahn, Festival Director of MEME
Native Winnipegger Nathan Zahn studied music (trumpet), and turned his focus toward electronic music from 1996, when he began to organize events as part of Winnipeg’s Symptom Technologies techno collective. Inspired heavily by Montreal’s MUTEK, Nathan created MEMETIC (Manitoba Electronic Music Exhibition of Technology, Innovation & Creativity) in 2009, and debuted the MEME festival in June, 2010. Respected internationally, MEME now attracts more than 10,000 people annually. Nathan takes part in an evening of electronic music as part of JUNOfest (presented by SiriusXM Canada), Friday, March 28 at The Metropolitan Entertainment Centre.
Odario Williams, Photo taken by Kevin Jones
TD Live Music: Introduce us to your city; what are your favourite things to do in Winnipeg?
Odario Williams: My number one thing to do in Peg City, hands down, is to eat mom's homemade rum cake. My mother was a popular baker in our home country of Guyana; today, her famous cake is often commissioned to various Caribbean weddings in Winnipeg. My other things, are to listen to CKUW [95.9FM] and UMFM [101.5FM] because they have some of the best community radio programming in the country; check out Big Dave McLean's Blues Jam every Sunday at Times Change(d) High & Lonesome Club; catch a performance at the Prairie Theater Exchange any chance I get, and to enjoy a little pizza heaven by, well, a quaint little joint called A Little Pizza Heaven, located in the infamous and always thriving Osborne Village.
Little Miss Higgins: Yoga at Yoga North; have a salmon burger at Stella’s; catch a band and some Mexican food at the Times Change(d), and go to Deluca's Italian food store.
Sara Stasiuk: Right now, everything I'm thinking about is set in the summer! [I love] sitting on the Peasant Cookery patio while there's a band playing on the peculiar and beautiful Old Market Square stage; riding my bike on our river trails to and from shows, and hanging out with visitors to Winnipeg while showing it off!
Nathan Zahn: Enjoy the multiple free concerts and events that take place at The Cube at Old Market Square from June until September, with some of the festivals there including the Jazz Festival [TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival] Fringe Festival, and MEME. I love eating at many of our fantastic and diverse restaurants; Winnipeg is a hotbed for great cuisine right now. Recently opened and noteworthy restaurants include Segovia in Osborne Village and Chew on Corydon. I like to spend time exploring the gorgeous one-hundred-plus-year-old Chicago-style architecture in the Exchange District, and enjoying The Forks, which is a great spot to check out in the summer, and now also features a winter wonderland of skating trails, snow sculptures, music events and temporary restaurants on the frozen river! Winnipeg Folk Festival also deserves a mention as it’s not only a great summer music festival, but organizes great concerts year-round.
What should everyone know about Winnipeg's music scene?
Little Miss Higgins: It's filled with amazingly talented players. Last fall, I got to see Brent Parkin at the Pembina Hotel two nights in a row. He's the tastiest guitar player I have ever seen - and heard.
Nathan Zahn: Although Winnipeg has a relatively small population, it manages to maintain many different scenes and sub-cultures. There are exceptional artists representing genres including jazz, electronic, folk, World fusion, hip-hop, classical, experimental, and much more. I love the number of diverse festivals Winnipeg can support given our isolation and population.
Sara Stasiuk: We have strong socialist roots here, and that shows in many ways, including our collaborative, rather than competitive, spirit. We are a real centre of creation, and our music scene interacts collaboratively with other creative disciplines, like dance, visual art, new media, and film. We're big enough to have one of everything, but small enough that collaborations have to happen to keep stuff fresh.
Nathan Zahn: I think a few factors have combined to make Winnipeg a hotbed for innovation: the Exchange District is full of warehouse space that is relatively cheap to rent, allowing for lots of really amazing creative spaces to make music and multi-media art. These same spaces were also perfect for underground events all through the 1990s. More recently, several places for great artistic events have opened, including FRAME Arts Warehouse and The Media Hub. Also, our isolation has driven a lot of DIY projects and self-sufficiency. Cold winters literally keep people inside, working on their creative output!
Odario Williams: Winnipeg musicians have an abundance of practice facilities, old warehouses and family homes, perfect for jamming in and honing their craft. My very first jam space was a deserted warehouse in the legendary Exchange District. The building had no heat or running water, but at least we still had electricity! Also, Winnipeg musicians are quite promiscuous, musically speaking of course. We simply can’t play in one band and be content.
What are some of the city’s top spots where emerging musicians might get noticed?
Nathan Zahn: The Pyramid Cabaret is one of the best venues of its size (500 capacity) for finding a wide variety of music. Union Sound Hall is a recently renovated and opened venue inside a classic 100-year-old warehouse [that has a] great sound system. Both feature emerging talent alongside more established acts.
Odario Williams: Union Sound Hall has become the go-to spot for hot talent in Winnipeg. The history of the venue is so great because the men that own and operate it have been in the industry together since their teenage years, which makes it quite a family affair. Another venue close to my heart is the community driven West End Cultural Center. As a young rapper, my first successful show was at the WECC. It was an all-ages show, and the staff and volunteers gave me a pat on the back, and told me ‘I done good.’ Musicians are still getting their careers started at the WECC.
Little Miss Higgins: I haven't actually lived in Winnipeg that long, but I do know that Times Change(d) is the best little honky tonk I've ever been to, and is very important to this city's music scene. There are some venues that are a little more under the radar, and are so great to see local and touring acts at, like the Bella Vista, which also has great pizza, and the Royal George, where you can play shuffle board, drink cheap beer, and, on Sundays, take part in a meat draw.
Little Miss Higgins & The Winnipeg Five
Are venues really varied in their programming?
Sara Stasiuk: Most venues are pretty diverse, and are run by people who love music so you're likely to see a punk band one night and a quiet songwriter the next in many of our spaces.
Odario Williams: Not only are the live venues diverse in programming, the local record labels push genre diversity in their rosters as well. Labels such as Balanced Records and Disintegration Records carry a no-holds-barred approach to releasing music. That, in turn, opens up the doors to most Peg City venues, regarding musical genre. Venues such as the Pyramid Cabaret and Park Theater have always been good for that.
JUNO Week returns to Winnipeg for the first time since 2005; in honour of this, what’s your own favourite JUNOs moment to date?
Odario Williams: Back in 2005, I was the host and headline performer for Winnipeg's Urban Music Showcase at JUNOfest. It was a monumental moment for me because I had a chance to show Canada that Winnipeg is not just a rock ‘n’ roll town. Also, it was Grand Analog's very first performance. Other performers included Canadian Idol Top 25 finalist Lisa Bell, and Maiko Watson of Popstars fame. Our soul champion, Remy Shand, was also in attendance. All of our parents were there too!
Little Miss Higgins: The JUNOs 2008 in Calgary, at the Saturday night gala. It was the end of the official party, and security was literally shoulder to shoulder, subtly getting people to leave by slowly moving across the room. I grabbed a carnation from a centrepiece, went up to one of the security guards and tucked the flower into the lapel of his coat. I'm pretty sure Holger Petersen has a picture of this event.
JUNOfest (presented by SiriusXM Canada) also returns, with roughly half of the performers booked being locals. How else does Manitoba’s music community benefit?
Sara Stasiuk: There are so many benefits to this kind of festival. First, our local music fans have a chance to see so many great and varied Canadian bands at a low wristband price. Our local bands have a really unique opportunity to connect with people who can help in their careers - maybe a visiting agent happens across them, or perhaps they meet a band from another region who they can tour with. Overall, JUNOfest is another exciting weekend to help hammer home to Winnipeggers the importance and uniqueness of the live music experience.