For Manitoba musicians, the COVID-19 pandemic means not only cancelled gigs, missed festival opportunities, and financial woes. For many, it also means a lack of platform to do what they do best — performing live.
Thankfully, there’s always social media. From local legends like Fred Penner — who will be streaming a live concert on Facebook and Instgram Sunday afternoon — to up-and-coming singer-songwriters, local artists are making the best of a bad situation and taking their talents to the web to entertain their fans — and themselves.
“I had four shows cancelled, and I had just released a single,” said folk singer Nic Dyson, who went live on Tuesday evening. “I wanted to commemorate it in some way.
“Even though we weren’t in the same room, it was almost more intimate, because of the way the audience could interact with me and each other during and after each song.
“Also, I could see exactly who was in the room and I could interact and adapt accordingly. I was able to play certain songs on the fly directly for a certain person who tuned in … all things you can’t do in a traditional live setting.”
Dyson’s experience was echoed by Joshua Letkeman, a singer and guitarist currently performing with soul/R&B revival act Last Chance Gang, among other projects.
“I decided to do a livestream. Mostly to share some music with others who may also be feeling the quarantine blues. Bring a little bit of joy, keep the community vibes alive,” said Letkeman.
“Weirdly enough, I was a little nervous right before going live. I can play in front of a lot of people and be comfortable and in the zone … but when it’s a more intimate show I tend to get the butterflies in my stomach.
“I like that I can still feel that way though. (It’s) kind of like how it felt when I first started performing and would get stage fright.”
In addition to the DIY likes of Dyson and Letkeman, the Winnipeg-based Home Routes/Chemin Chez Nous program — a not-for-profit that connects touring folk acts with intimate, home-based concerts — launched its own ‘National Online Folk Festival’ with a daily schedule to keep music fans entertained during isolation.
Winnipeg group Casati performed on the second night of the digital festival, and vocalist/ukulele player Grace Hrabi said the experience prompted the band to launch its own weekly YouTube show, Pajama Party.
“Since we were only their second show, we weren’t sure how many people would tune in, but within the first few minutes of our 30-minute show, we had over a hundred people watching, sharing and commenting,” said Hrabi.
“It felt sort of like a live show…that feeling that someone was choosing to spend their time with you, but while playing songs that energy that you can usually feed off of in a live scenario was a little different.”
Although livestreaming tends to result in little no direct money for the artists, it has the fringe benefits of attracting potential new listeners — who may go on to purchase albums or other merchandise online — as well as giving the artists the chance to share their craft.
“I live to sing and sing to live, so moving my business online is the only option right now,” said singer-songwriter Skylar Bouchard, who will be hosting his own live streamed concert Sunday evening.
“The pandemic has completely cleared my schedule and made it impossible to plan future tours or performances which are my biggest breadwinner.”