Jeff Sinnott would normally have live music playing at all of his P.E.I. bars this summer.
But with COVID-19 and social distancing rules, he is only going to have live music at the Charlottetown Beer Garden and Seafood Patio, which opens Friday.
For the other bars – Hunter's Ale House, the Factory Downtown and John Brown Richmond Street Grille (all in Charlottetown) and Hunter's at the Fox (at Fox Meadow Golf Course in Stratford) – it doesn't make sense to have live music given the available indoor space, said Sinnott, co-owner (with Chad MacDonald) of Red Island Hospitality Group Inc.
Social distancing requires tables to be six feet (or two metres) apart. But musicians on stage in P.E.I. are required to be twice that distance from each other if they are singing or playing a so-called wind instrument, such as a saxophone, that can possibly emit a spray. A duo playing a piano and a guitar, for example, would only need to be six feet apart. Regardless, musicians must be 12 feet from customers, according to the province's regulations.
For a bar like Hunter's Ale House with an indoor dining capacity of 50 people, live music would mean losing two tables with seating for six people each to meet requirements.
"The math doesn't make sense to have a band or an acoustic act, even for 50 people," Sinnott said.
The Beer Garden has a larger outdoor area with a seating capacity of 150 people and can accommodate live music. The first music act of the season at the Beer Garden is P.E.I.'s Kim Albert and the Faces on Friday evening.
Bars on P.E.I. were allowed to reopen to indoor dining and patio service on June 1. In Nova Scotia, it was June 5. The only social distancing requirements for live music performers in Nova Scotia is the same as it is for everyone else – six feet. A spokesperson with the Department of Health and Wellness said in an email that it is known that some activities and environments can increase the potential of risk for COVID-19. So, the department is developing some guidance around festivals and events to help businesses offering live music.
Phil Dubinsky, who co-owns the Old Triangle Irish Alehouse in Sydney with his wife, Dianne MacPhee, brought back live music last week with solo acts performing on Friday and Saturday evening. When it was announced that bars and pubs would be reopening to in-person dining and patio service, he started getting calls from musicians who haven't been able to play shows for three months or so.
The majority of the musicians who play at the pub are local, such as Andrew Doyle and Taylor Burton, so travel restrictions between provinces isn't an issue. Similar to other pubs and restaurants, Dubinsky has had to reduce seating capacity to meet social distancing requirements, and musicians will follow social distancing rules.
Even though the pub isn't hosting as many shows as it normally would, bringing music back is a way to give customers a familiar experience.
"Part of it was to help musicians a little bit," Dubinsky said.
"The other part was we thought it would be nice to bring back some sort of normality in a very abnormal situation."
Liam Dolan, owner of Peakes Quay in Charlottetown, has one musician playing Friday and Saturday evenings. He's hoping to add dual performers over the summer.
Like other bar owners, he had to reduce the number of tables to meet the 50-person capacity requirement, but he didn't have to remove any additional tables to accommodate distancing between customers and performers.
"We're fortunate we had that large space at Peakes," he said.
Dolan doesn't hesitate when asked how business has been this summer.
"Terrible," he said.
So far on P.E.I., the weather hasn't always been good enough to draw customers, and more people are working from home and aren't going out as much, he said.
"We have an infrastructure here to handle many thousands and thousands of people in downtown Charlottetown on a daily basis. And, if they're not downtown, we're not doing well. We need to get people back downtown."
Dolan is also advocating for border restrictions in the Maritimes to be eased and a travel bubble put in place.
"We definitely need that. It's a survival for a lot of businesses. If we don't get that, it's going to be a tough summer.”
Sinnott's bars have been busy so far, but he said it's "the new busy" compared to past summers.
"We're maximizing our space, so you get to 50 people pretty quick. But it's good to have 50. It's better than zero; that's what we had a month ago," he said.
"It actually has been busy. It's been good."
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