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Special Report: What's Happening At Live Venues Across Canada

There are no live performances in Toronto but other cities are starting to see stirrings of life return in pubs and clubs. Cam Carpenter explains.

Special Report: What's Happening At Live Venues Across Canada

By Cam Carpenter

The Legendary Horseshoe Tavern in downtown Toronto opened their Queen Street West patio last Friday and I was one of the first to enjoy a beer, along with The Lazys frontman Leon Harrison.


Space is limited, you needed to sign in with contact information and the staff were wearing their custom Horseshoe Tavern masks, but there was a sense of optimism that we might slowly be getting back to seeing live music again.

There are no live performances in Toronto yet but music venues such as The Rivoli, Relish, Sneaky Dee’s, the newly renovated Wheat Sheaf Tavern, the Tiki Bar above The Bovine Sex Club and The Supermarket have opened their patios as we await Phase 3 and see what new regulations it will bring.

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Across Canada, it is a different story.

In Vancouver, LanaLou’s Rock and Roll Eatery (362 Powell Street) is featuring live bands, under very strict health measures. The 100 capacity venue is now limited to 50 people, tables are separated by 6 feet, with some barriers in place, there are no more than 6 people allowed per table, and the stage is surrounded in plexiglass like a musical aquarium. Guests are required to sign in for contact tracing, there are sanitizer stations,  staff are in masks and there are lights on each table to signal servers to avoid unnecessary interactions with servers.

The venue is open Wednesday through Sunday with one music act (instead of the usual three) on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Venue owner Lana Ryma doesn’t know how long this will last but is guessing 18 months while hoping for sooner.

“Being a venue owner as well as the drummer in a Vancouver, BC band called The Furniture, I know first hand what it feels like from a business perspective and from an artist's perspective.  We need support on both sides, we work symbiotically together. Music heals and brings people together. There may be a few people in a dark lonely place right now and if I can help them have a sense of community while opening at half capacity I'll take it!”

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It was announced on June 30 that as of July 16 live entertainment and DJs will be allowed at venues in Saskatchewan. This is great news for the province that had to miss out on hosting the Juno Awards this year.

In Quebec, Karl-Emmanuel Picard, President of District 7 Productions and co-owner of the Quebec City venue L’Anti (251 Dorchester), has been a very busy man. Since May 9 he has presented virtual shows at L’Anti selling over 6000 tickets worldwide in 14 countries. The first show he presented was Saguenay band Orloge Simard for which he sold 900 tickets. On July 4, at 5 pm, he will present Canadian rock legends Anvil live from the venue, and he has virtual shows booked through the end of August. On July 25 he will fly Calgary band Belvedere to Quebec to perform at the club. 

On Saturday, June 27, he presented the first show in Quebec with a live audience when comedians Etienne Dano, Stephane Fallu and Pierre-Bruno Rivard performed at Palais Montcalm. With Quebec laws allowing for groups of 50, he sold 40 tickets per show and the other 10 were for performers and crews. Seats were spaced apart and all social distancing rules were in effect.

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Leaving no stone unturned, Quebec legend Marjo will be playing a drive-in concert (150 cars maximum) at the Jean-Talon market Charlesbourg on July 24.

Details for all upcoming shows can be found on the District 7 Facebook page @district7prod.

In Montreal Turbo Haus (2040 rue Saint-Denis) is getting ready to open its patio but live music is not in the cards yet. The venue will start by opening Fridays and Saturdays on their 50 seat patio. Turbo’s Sergio Da Silva doesn’t think they will be opening the indoors for a while. He fears “lots of spaces will be closed before they have the chance to get back to normal.' He added, “if we don’t accept personal responsibility for keeping ourselves and others safe during this period we won’t see live music in places like ours for a long, long time.”

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According to their Instagram page,  long-standing Montreal alternative club Foufounes Electriques (87 Sainte-Catharine East) is readying its patio for an opening in the very near future.

Things are looking brighter on the east coast as music is now allowed inside venues 

In Halifax, multiple award-winning venue The Carleton (1685 Argyle) opened their doors on June 25 with a limited capacity of 65, hand sanitizers on every table and staff wearing masks. They won’t be having any loud bands at this point, as venue booker Mike Campbell says that “the government is frowning on full-on-rock freak outs for a couple of reasons: singers singing over a loud back-up band tend to project more aerosol particles and customers yelling over a live band tend to do the same”.

For now, The Carleton will book acts for Thursday through Saturday and has been allowed to extend its hours until midnight.

Campbell adds “We’re still in the middle of a long, long tunnel - certainly for touring acts - but regionally we can see at least a glimmer of light at the far end and thankfully we’ve got a lot of local talent in our region. I’ll be looking to book as much as I can over the next couple of months”.

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Over at The Marquee (2037 Gottingen), which also houses The Local, the Seahorse Tavern and the soon to be unveiled Derby, owner Victor Syperek reports that only The Local, with a current patio capacity of 60, is operating at this point. Guests are greeted by a staff member, have their hands sanitized, enter their information into a guest book, and are escorted to their seats. Currently, they have jazz on Wednesday evenings and are starting Sunday afternoon music this weekend. Syperek quipped “Tough times but luckily I own the building and the landlord has been kind.” I am sure Victor can’t wait to have his son Jack and his band The Trews rocking the Marquee stage once again.

If you would like to know how you can support live music venues in Canada please visit https://www.supportcanadianvenues.ca/. Sign the petition, email your government representatives.

For Canadian venue owners and bookers, please let us know when you plan to open if you are able to book artists and any other activities you have planned.

Thanks to Lana Rayma (LanaLou’s), Stephane Drolet (Sony Music), Ken Kelley (The Monoxides), Marlon Harder (Autopilot), James Newton (Rat Silo), Mike Campbell (The Carleton), Karl-Emmanuel Picard (District 7), Sergio Da Silva (Turbo Haus) and Victor Syperek (Argyle Cobblers)  for their assistance in putting this piece together. And very special thanks to Darryl Fine (Bovine) and Tara King Cohen (Horseshoe Tavern) for keeping me, and you, safe with their masks.

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