Touring music artists set to return in 2022, but industry remains uneasy

While Edmonton musicians and concert hall operators are optimistic about touring in the New Year, they are less certain for the next three or four months.

Over the past 20 months, Lauren Gillis, who goes by name Lucette, has only played 20 to 30 times. She has performed in backyards and parks, on live broadcasts and behind plastic barriers in indoor venues.

Just over two weeks ago, Gillis, whose music is described as country-infused dream-pop, performed at the King Eddy in Calgary, the closest she’s played to a normal show in a decade. time.

“I think it’s coming back,” said Gillis. “There’s that silver lining, and yes, it’s been two years, so it’s not the end of the world. I think we’ll come back stronger and more enjoying live music.”

BadBadNotGood performed at Midway in Edmonton on December 9 as the band toured across Canada. (Travis McEwan / CBC)

The concert listings show international artists, from Celine Dion to Dierks Bentley, returning to Edmonton in 2022. Smaller venues like The Starlite Room and Union Hall have booked shows in the New Year with the majority of Canadian artists. .

Tyson Boyd, owner and operator of The Starlite Room, says the venue currently only hosts two shows per week, with many performers in town and elsewhere in Alberta.

Even though the Canadian border opened to international visitors and the province adopted a restriction exemption program in the fall, many acts have not resumed their tour.

Boyd says he expects some touring artists to hit the road in the second quarter of 2022, stopping in Edmonton along the way.

But he is concerned about the emergence of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, highway closures in British Columbia and inconsistencies between provinces on restrictions on general admission indoor events.

“With these provincial issues and everyone being on different pages, it really affects the very big picture of what touring across Canada looks like,” Boyd said. “We’re optimistic that we can continue to do shows, but we’re certainly not out of the woods yet.”

Lauren Gillis, who goes by Lucette on stage, is recording her new album at Riverdale Recorders after having more time to write during the pandemic. (Travis McEwan / CBC)

Union Hall owners are banking on a slow few months as they close for renovations, move the stage, and adapt the building from a nightclub to a concert hall. It should reopen before the artists start to parade in the spring.

“This is the best time to shut it down for a bit, take advantage of that time and do the renovations we need to move forward to get over the edge of most of the sites in town.” , said Greg Bechard. , owner, operator and buyer of talent.

The dates in March are already filling up, with concerts booked until June. Bechard expects a good year for live music and cites the restriction exemption program as one of the reasons the industry is rebounding.

“Things speed up as long as vaccinations keep going up and people get used to the idea of ​​coming back in large crowds. I have confidence in our industry,” he said.

Local artists see a positive side

The pandemic has not affected all artists and music venues in the same way.

Local DJs have managed to fill seats at local venues, wary of crowded stages.

Joses Martin, managing director of the Grindstone Theater and DJ / promoter, hosted outdoor DJ shows over the summer before hosting weekly on-site dance parties with several DJs playing.

He offered local independent DJs the chance to headline these shows instead of opening for an international artist.

“We were really able to support the locals in this way and celebrate some of the great talent that we have here by putting on shows and dancing,” said Martin.

He looks forward to welcoming DJs from New York and Los Angeles and lining up the headliners at the upcoming Disco In The Park festival this summer.

Union Hall, which was once a nightclub, recently closed for renovations and plans to reopen when bands resume touring in March. (Travis McEwan / CBC)

Some artists have used the pandemic as a much-needed break between touring and a musician’s busy lifestyle.

“I’ve written more songs in the last two years than I have done, probably in the last 10,” said Gillis. “So there is something to be gained from that, just being able to take advantage of the downtime.”

The pandemic has also given her more time to discover other local artists in the city as there are fewer shows competing on the same night.

“It just reminded me that we have such a rich and vibrant arts community, and it’s a great place to live.”