A whirlwind trip to the 2011 Polaris Prize Gala

This year’s Polaris Prize Gala was especially neat for me. Not only was I able to correctly predict the winner after five years of failing miserably at playing fortune teller (congrats, Arcade Fire!), but I also got a chance to attend the grand affair for the first time on Monday.

Unlike the Toronto-based Polaris jurors, it’s not easy for us Westerners to join in the festivities each year (aside from being a Grand Juror and subsequently locked in a room the entire night). In some cases, many of us have never been at all. So what goes on at the Gala outside of the live stream frame was pure mystery to me. Would there be intense amounts of Pabst Beer? Secret handshakes? Bouncy castles? Seven minutes in heaven with Drake?

None of the above, unfortunately, but the Polaris event was still incredibly fun.

The reason for my being at the Gala was because I had been invited to introduce short list nominee Austra prior to their performance. I was the only non-Easterner to present. Not only was it a pleasure to get up, represent the West and speak to a crowded room about my thoughts on the band and one of the best albums of the year, but it was also great to connect with my fellow jurors who live on the other side of the country. Sure, we all communicate via the Intertubes, but sometimes us Westerners can feel a bit on the outskirts of the excitement, so it was great to actually be a part of the end product.

Don’t get me wrong; we’re loved like the rest of the Polaris children, but when you don’t live in the centre of the Polaris universe where all the fun goes down, it makes you want to cry in a corner.


No, the egos didn’t take up what little space existed betwee the crammed tables. Yes, there were a lot of obscure band t-shirts under vintage corduroy jackets. No, no one got belligerently trashed (not that I saw, anyway). Yes, we were fed a steady diet of pierogis, grilled cheese sandwiches, candy, and yummy “beverages” the entire night.

I got to meet many of the people I never really thought existed in corporeal form. After six years of talking via e-mail, I finally learned that Killbeat’s Ken Beattie is, in fact, a real live person and not just a digital entity.

I also had some really great conversations with my co-jurors. Jian Ghomeshi, for one, found me and then tried to steal my pierogis. OK, not really. But he did pluck me from the crowd to chat with me for a while.

Although I managed to not screw up my Austra speech, my true awkwardness emerged a short while later when I went to introduce myself to Katie Stelmanis. I gushed about her, her record, and told her I would cry if she didn’t win, all in one breath. Then I said, “OK bye” and ran away. She probably thinks I’m nuts, or at least completely socially awkward, with the latter being quite true.

Later that night, at the afterparty hosted by The Drake Hotel, I ran into Dan Mangan and we talked about weddings. A guy I’m pretty sure was K-Os photo bombed a really nice photo of my friend and I with his big hand. My old CBC Radio 3 boss woman Andrea Gin professed her current dislike for the librarian top knot. And Sarah Harmer is a sweet, sweet lady who later accidentally followed me to my room thinking I was hosting the after-afterparty. Too bad I was just pining for my pajamas and maybe five hours of sleep.

Much glee was had connecting and reconnecting with jurors and musician acquaintances, but the real Gala highlight was the performances. Every band that took the stage sounded amazing, and I was happy to see all the deliberating we do during the year paying off. Watching each group play, one after the other, made the job a reality.

The Gala was something that every Western juror should experience, and hopefully they will in time.

I could go on to write some cheesy prose about how every vote counts, how I was given a miraculous sense of belonging, or how the Polaris machine finally worked to pick the most worthy winner (although I’m still choked Austra didn’t win). But I won’t. Because right now I’m too sleep deprived to type, and I’m pretty sure there’s still vodka in my system.

One Response to “A whirlwind trip to the 2011 Polaris Prize Gala”
  1. NJM says:

    That paragraph about Dan Mangan, K-os, and Sarah Harmer is money.

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