By Michael Wynn

It was late summer 2010, and my third week as a CBC Radio 3 employee. The indie and alternative wing of the CBC Radio network was going through one of its most colourful times in its devotion to promote new and emerging Canadian artists. I was hired as the main web developer at the time – I was the only one they had, as the previous developer left a few months earlier. There were only four of us who worked for Radio 3 out of Toronto: Host Craig Norris, producer Pedro Mendes, host Vish Khanna and myself.  Everyone else from Radio 3 was based in Vancouver. In later years, many staff left, or shifted to Toronto and worked under the CBC Music umbrella.

That Monday – September 20, 2010, was not a regular Monday: It was Polaris Music Prize Day. This was Radio 3’s Christmas.  The office was buzzing. That morning, it became clear that many more from Vancouver had joined us at CBC Toronto, such as Radio 3 Director Steve Pratt and a multitude of others for this day. Even Grant Lawrence, who would be hosting the gala beside Sarah Taylor of MuchMusic, dropped by before the show.

It was going to be a very special evening. All ten Polaris Prize finalists had confirmed to be playing at the gala. It was only the second time in Polaris history that all nominees had performed live, and it hasn’t happened since.

The 2010 Polaris Prize Finalists were Broken Social Scene for Forgiveness Rock Record; Dan Mangan for Nice, nice, very nice; Tegan & Sara for Sainthood; Owen Pallett for Heartland; The Sadies for Darker Circles; Radio Radio for Belmundo Regal; Shad for TSOLKarkwa for Les Chemins de Verre; The Besnard Lakes for The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night; Caribou for Swim.

Norris and Mendes were barely in the office as they were getting prepped for the show. As a media partner to Polaris, we were responsible for covering and broadcasting it.  By early afternoon, the CBC Mobile Truck was already set up, and the CBC/Radio3 crew were getting things together.

I didn’t even bother asking if I could go. I knew only those involved would get tickets; but once I was in the office, I started feeling the buzz and the fear of missing out.  Sometime around early afternoon, I ran into Steve Pratt, my boss. He looked at me with a smile and said, “Michael, would you like to go to Polaris tonight?”. It was a no-brainer. One of my CBC colleagues had come down with something and there was a ticket available.

At the gala, there was an air of excitement and anticipation. The broadcast was classic Radio 3. Khanna was roaming and interviewing bands, and Norris was the point person, with Pedro Mendes handling the producer role.  Some Radio 3 listeners were there, such as Monica Skorupski – who would win the Radio 3 Fan of the Year award, a prize the station used to hand out to the most devoted listener- , Dawn Hill, and John Teeter, the first person to ever win the Fan of the year title in 2006. They had volunteered to be ushers and couldn’t partake in the freebies. I remember sneaking beer to Skorupski’s boyfriend at the time.

The whole evening kicked off with Broken Social Scene performing the always intense “Meet me in the basement”, an instrumental anthem about the friendship between the members of the Toronto band.

I believe The Sadies were next.  They were great, if not laid back a bit.  My highlight musically though had to be Dan Mangan.  He started with “Sold”, which blew everyone away. He ended with the sing-a-long of”Robots”. I recall him standing on the tables in the middle of the venue getting us all to sing “Robots need love too…

Tegan & Sara played acoustically. Owen Pallett – who had already performed his two songs – joined them for a tune. Caribou played an amazing set. Radio Radio and Karkwa also delivered amazing performances. It all ended with Shad, who really got the room grooving.   

When Karkwa was announced as the winner everyone was very surprised. No one saw it coming, and it remains one of the most quizzing points in Polaris history. It was the first French language album to win the award, and also the last studio album by the Montreal band to date.

At the end of the evening, I went to check in on with my Radio 3 office mates.  I walked in all happy, and said “Wow, wasn’t that amazing?”  Everyone looked at me with tired eyes and groaned with exhaustion.  To me though, Polaris 2010 was amazing.  I was a fan boy at my musical comic-con. I’m still very thankful I was able to experience it.

Picture of Karkwa by Dustin Rabin Photography, FAL,