Doug Cox is synonymous with the Vancouver Island musical arts community.
If he’s not performing, he’s writing. Or producing.
As an artistic director, he spends countless hours curating the Vancouver Island MusicFest, not to mention booking acts for the Old Church Theatre, in Courtenay.
There’s little wiggle room on a calendar that full, but when the Junos come calling, you make room.
Cox has been on the jury for the Junos in the past. This year he has been tasked as the co-chair of the steering committee for the contemporary roots and traditional roots categories. There are eight members on his committee.
“So what we do, we look at all of the submissions before they go to the jury, to make sure that they fit into the category, and if they don’t we make recommendations (to the submitter) that they move into a more appropriate category,” said Cox, from his Courternay studio. “We also decide whether the submissions are up to national standards… because the jury is a volunteer position as well, we try to remove those ones, to make their job a bit easier. There are a lot of submissions and it’s a big job, to be a jury member.”
Category committees will review hundreds of submissions as the initial screening process. There is no limit to the number of submissions that can proceed to the jury process, meaning it is not necessarily a weeding-out process. Committees are in place solely to assure the submissions are of national quality and are in the most suitable category.
Cox said committee members also make recommendations for new categories, removing old categories, defining categories, etc.
“It is quite an honour to be asked to do this,” said Cox. “It is really interesting to look at the categories and try to define them, and also to consider creating new categories as well.”
The roots categories are near and dear to Cox’s heart. As an established dobro player, he has written, produced, and collaborated with countless other musicians on many roots and blues albums throughout his storied career.
With that in mind, is it hard to remain unbiased, when it comes to such assignments as his Juno duties?
“I don’t find it difficult, because I have been doing it for so long,” he said. “I’ve been on the jury for the Junos, the Canada Council, the Canadian Folk Music Awards, the Western Canadian Music Awards - I’ve been on a lot of juries over the years, and I have learned to shut that off. If there is any direct conflict - if I played on an album, or if I produced an album, or if they are really good friends, or if I have a personal conflict with a person, then I step off the committee or the jury for those submissions.
“We get the full list of submissions before we start (evaluating) and we say, ‘I have a conflict with this one, or this one,’ and we just step out of the room for that discussion. So it’s not hard… and I am always very cautious with that. If I feel like there is going to be any conflict, or conceived conflict, I will just remove myself.”
In recent years, Cox has cut back on his touring and other commitments that take him away from his ever-growing family - he has four children and four grandchildren - but his deep connection with the music world means he is always willing to give back, in the hopes of making the community stronger. And in the case of a national awards program, there is an educational benefit as well.
“I do it because I care, and I do it because it is fun,” he said of the committee work. “And I do it because it introduces me to Canadian artists from across the country that I wouldn’t necessarily know about, or have heard, otherwise. So I get to hear a lot of emerging artists through this, and through the discussions I have with other artists who are on the committee as well. I learn a lot from them about what is going on all over Canada in their worlds, too. Those discussions are extremely valuable, because doing what we do with the (Vancouver Island MusicFest) festival is a fairly isolated activity in regards to being able to have those discussions with other people in other communities.
“It’s an honour to do it, and it’s a form of service - part of giving back. But it’s also a great education.”
This year there are 47 different categories for Junos. Finalists will be announced on Jan. 31. The awards will be presented in Edmonton, on March 13.