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Pandemic forcing inevitable change for live music industry

“If you look back 50, 60, 100 years ago, art and music and performance are wildly different, so I think that’s what we’re supposed to do as artists is adapt and bring people comfort throughout that transition and adaptation process."

BANFF – As the sun sets on summer, another local music festival’s name was chiseled into the gravestone of cancellations this year.

The Banff Mountain Music Festival (BMMF), formerly Harvest Fest, was scrapped this year due to COVID-19. The local favourite brings the town together at Central Park for two days and celebrates music and community at the end to summer.

“This year, it’s just a matter of circumstance,” said organizer Rene Geber. “We can’t have more than 500 people in Central Park and that’s sort of what we need to get the whole festival viable, really. This decision was made probably two months ago … and we just wanted to take the safe route.”

Ask around and it wasn’t unexpected the downtown festival would meet a fate like the Canmore Alternative, Metal and Punk Festival or the Banff Centre’s Summer Music Series.

It’s been a familiar tune around the world and many artists and performers have found live streaming and gotten creative with how to get their music to ears.

Six months have passed since the pandemic struck, and local musicians who’ve lost the ability to do live gigs think a consistent return to the stage is more likely in 2021 than 2020.

One thing is for certain, for the time being, live music will be consumed in a different way, which is part of the “continuous change” music has always undergone.

Garry Gonis of Banff’s Ramblin’ Hey Ho Ha’s and BMMF co-organizer recently stepped into the realm of digital performance in a Facebook livestream with his band after losing over 100 gigs this year in a heartbeat.

Gonis said one reaction the pandemic has caused is the industry entering into an “exploratory” phase with musicians performing in fishbowls, elevated stages and six-foot social distancing booths for the audience.

“I think in the next two years we’re going to see great developments for performers with some ingenuity on playing and production,” he said.

“This would be another thing brought in the with continuous change.”

It’s modifying with the world around us, said folk artist Caitlin Connelly, and as artists, part of their role is to help usher it in.

“If you look back 50, 60, 100 years ago, art and music and performance are wildly different, so I think that’s what we’re supposed to do as artists is adapt and bring people comfort throughout that transition and adaptation process,” Connelly said. “If we can look at it as a step towards going back to a healthy normal.”

However, one step still remains a challenge throughout the industry.

“As a musician or band, everyone can get music out there, but where’s the payback?” asked Gonis.

For artists like Connelly who rely on live shows and busking for income, the pandemic forces reconsideration as a full-time musician. Because of this, Connelly is leaving to Vancouver Island to live with friends until it starts to feel a bit more normal in Banff.

“I have a realist optimism to me,” Connelly said. “I don’t want to live in a dream world because I think to imagine live performance and live music is going to go back to the way it was, it’s not going to anytime soon.”

For other artists, the pandemic has made way for a lot more rehearsing and songwriting in the absence of performing.

Human Stain’s guitarist Nick Christou said the local two-piece metal band is pushing forward with positives in trying times.

“Well, on the one hand it’s been difficult to have lost gigs that we had lined up and the uncertainty of whether or not we’ll be able to play or even go see any live shows in the foreseeable future,” Christou said. “Trying to look on the positive side though, it’s given us a lot of free time to practice and write some new material.”

Human Stain was booked for the Canmore Alternative, Metal and Punk fest in July, which was being put on by co-organizer Kasey Suchowersky of Beauty In Chaos Productions.

Suchowersky, who’s also a musician known as Kasey Nolan, was choked to cancel the July festival after lining up 10 bands for one night.

“It’s been different seeing everything in this situation,” Suchowersky said. “In terms of my own music, I’ve been performing less but writing more, so allowing my creativity to flourish is one positive thing that’s come from this."

How things will look when the smoke clears is unknown, and when it disperses is an even bigger question. One thing that is for certain is that change is inevitable and a massive one is happening right now in the music industry. Although, history has a way of repeating itself.


Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

Jordan Small joined the Outlook in 2014 and covers the vast world of sports in the Bow Valley. A Barrie, Ont. native, he also wrote for RMO's Mountain Guide section and the MD of Bighorn beat.
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