From screen to stage, live music is making a slow and steady comeback in British Columbia

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Just days before giving her first live performance in over a year, jazz musician Bonnie Northgraves visited one of the stages of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

Workers install fences, lighting and sound equipment. But there was one thing that really caught his eye.

“I just walked in here and saw the seats – I had a swelling of the heart,” Northgraves said Wednesday. “When I got the email that this festival was going on, I was just jubilee, delighted.”

Before the pandemic, the vintage jazz-inspired artist performed up to five shows a week. But with concerts closed for over a year, she took the time to write. Much of the music has been inspired by feelings of isolation and confinement.

“One of the songs I wrote was called Whiskey won’t solve your problems, and there is another tune where it was a gray day in vancouver and i had my blinds drawn … so there is a new tune that i play called Let in the light,” she said.

Northgraves brought this music to the stage on Friday, marking one of the first live concerts in British Columbia as the province moves forward with its gradual reopening. The Vancouver International Jazz Festival is hosting virtual and live hybrid concerts with minimal crowds over the next week.

And with the easing of restrictions in the coming weeks, more venues are gearing up to welcome larger crowds.

The Commodore Ballroom on the popular Granville Strip has booked concerts starting in late August, while Rogers Arena recently announced that tickets will go on sale for shows in October.

Take time

Mo Tarmohamed, the owner of the Rickshaw Theater on East Hastings, says he received a flood of booking requests as soon as British Columbia announced its restart plan.

Mo Tarmohamed, owner of the Rickshaw Theater in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, has booked shows starting in September. (Jon Hernandez / CBC)

“Within minutes of this announcement my emails were going crazy with local bands wanting to play shows here,” he told CBC News.

He’s been recording virtual shows on his stage over the past few months, and that’s something he hopes to continue doing over the summer, instead of having shows with limited crowds, which doesn’t is not entirely economically feasible for the place.

That’s until September 7 (if all criteria are met), when British Columbia is expected to move to Step 4 of its restart plan. Under Stage 4, masks in indoor public places will be a personal choice, concerts will have increased capacity, and British Columbians can expect normal social contact.

The minimum requirement for this phase is currently 70 percent of adults with at least one dose of vaccine (as long as hospitalizations and the number of cases remain low).

As of this week, that number is 77%.

Bonnie Northgraves, a Vancouver-based jazz musician, has spent the past year writing songs as gigs ditched due to the pandemic. She is now performing at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival. (Jon Hernandez / CBC)

The trend has encouraged Tarmohamed to book a show for 9/11, and after that he says it’s full for weekends until December. But he wonders what the implications will be for unvaccinated participants.

“There is a question of whether we will have vaccine passports… but I cannot answer that question because I do not know the legality behind it,” he said. Tarmohamed says they’re taking a wait-and-see approach and see what health recommendations there might be.

Bigger shows to come

Other summer festivals, including the Vancouver Folk Festival, will continue to be virtual over the summer, largely because the degree of planning requires a number of months. Organizers are shooting digital concerts in venues across Vancouver.

“I know venues are struggling, as well as arts organizations and musicians,” said Vancouver Folk Music Festival Society artistic director Debbi Lynn Salmonsen. After the festival, Salmonsen says the group will be hosting small shows in person at the Firehall Arts Center.

The Arkells performing on a live stage ahead of the pandemic. (Andrew Chin / Getty Images)

But bigger shows are on the way. Most notably, Rogers Arena announced the sale of tickets to its first major show in over a year. Country star Eric Church will perform at the end of October.

CBC News has reached out to Rogers Arena for comment on how it plans to handle crowds. While BC’s restart plan says there will be an increase in capacity for concerts during Stage 4, it doesn’t say if arenas will be allowed to be full.

Health officials say they will assess throughout the summer.

Meanwhile, artists like Northgraves say even small crowds are a big inspiration.

“This tacit connection with the public and this tacit connection with your group, nothing replaces it.”


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