Due to the closures caused by the COVID-19 crisis, musicians worldwide are worried over how long their careers will be on hold. However here in Atlantic Canada there has been good news.
Cases of COVID-19 are largely under control and live music has gradually started to resume. The Atlantic travel bubble means there could be bigger audiences for live music and also opens up the possibility of touring.
How are Atlantic Canada’s musicians responding to this news as the rest of the continent and much of the rest of the world still struggles with lockdown?
“It's been really nice getting back to playing shows again,” says popular Nova Scotia-based country music artist Willie Stratton. “The vibe is great, too. People are so stoked to be in a bar with people again and listening to some live tunes. Everyone I have seen has been really good about the social distancing rules and everything. It's a good vibe to come back to.
“It's also really nice to have places like New Scotland Brewing step up and bring live music back to their stage. It feels great as an artist to have that support.”
Emerging R&B singer Zamani says, “I am looking forward and eager to perform live again soon to regain the sense of excitement, the call and response, and the immediate audience feedback that all performers enjoy.
“I am not fearful at all about getting back out into community to perform even though we are still battling Covid-19. I trust that the truly appreciative audiences will respect health guidelines about social distancing in order to experience live music.”
Folk singer Kristen Martell, an emerging artist whose album this year was positively reviewed by local critics, says, “I performed my final online show on Thursday, June 25, for the time being. As summer is in full swing, restrictions are being released and the Atlantic Provinces are opening, I am transitioning to in-person shows.
“I have been able to salvage some of my formerly booked shows for July and August, but many have postponed due to uncertainty. Many venues are too small to meet current restrictions. But today I heard those restrictions are being lifted, so my bedrock from yesterday has already shifted. Things are moving so fast, it’s very hard to plan.”
Acclaimed Nova Scotia-based violinist Donald MacLennan says he has already started playing live music again “at a socially-distanced wedding in Dartmouth.”
Jason Szeto plays in several bands in Halifax, including heavy metal bands and a Chinese language cover band called Porcelain Lotus that performs for Halifax’s Chinese community.
“All my bands sorely miss the live performance aspect and even rehearsals,” says Szeto. “However, how many venues we will have by the end of this crisis to play at is also a major question. There has always been a critical shortage of good venues to play in Atlantic Canada and for the most part a lot of these venues have taken a critical hit on their bottom line.”
Szeto’s bandmate in Porcelain Lotus, Peter (Chih Yun) Lin, says, “We're considering rehearsing again soon to have some sets ready as soon as we can start playing shows. However, our gigs usually follow the school year with the international students coming back, so we’re not entirely sure how this summer is going to look.
“I am hopeful, though, at least with the Maritimes leading with the Atlantic bubble. We’ll need to be more creative going forward to keep people safe within venues or at outdoor shows so that everyone can enjoy the show without having to worry so much. Our band will be closely following government instructions on health and safety to ensure everyone is safe.”
However for the very major artists who have already seen great success in their careers, restarting live music is not worthwhile financially. Small venues and heavy restrictions on crowd sizes mean artists used to large audiences are less likely to return to live music.
Lisa LeBlanc is a hit indie rock musician, with music released in French and in English. Her songs have been listened to millions of times on Spotify and she has toured the French and English speaking world. Proud of her Acadian roots, LeBlanc is based between Montreal and Moncton, N.B. She speaks highly of Moncton’s unique music scene and considers herself an Atlantic Canada based artist despite her national and international success.
“To me Moncton is home,” says LeBlanc. “It’s an incredibly inspiring city to be an artist. You have to step up your game when you’re in Moncton because there’s some really cool unique stuff going on that’s totally different.”
LeBlanc has found a unique way to spend lockdown. Soon tiring of live performances on Facebook, she started hosting bingo games for Canada’s French language community. She created original music for this endeavor and it proved wildly popular.
LeBlanc said that while other artists were using lockdown to compose serious music, she felt more inspired by the escapist fun of her bingo project.
“I tried and I tried and I tried, and I really wasn’t motivated at all to write for Lisa LeBlanc and all of a sudden this dumb bingo music took over and all of a sudden sky’s the limit.
“My boyfriend Ben, he’s Franco Manitoban, so he’s got this persona of a woman called Joanne and she’s a bank teller by day and fortune teller by night.”
Leblanc says the project served the more serious purpose of building community during a difficult time.
“We ended up having a lot of Francophones from all across Canada.”
However due to the inability to gather a large audience, LeBlanc is not planning a live performance any time soon.
“If some people can get hired to do smaller shows, I’m super happy for them. For me I’m concentrating on doing other things.”