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Saskatchewan musicians play on during COVID-19 uncertainty

Saskatchewan musicians play on during COVID-19 uncertainty
WATCH: Saskatchewan musicians have had to cancel shows and tours amid the pandemic. But as Daniella Ponticelli explains, some have found ways to play on.

Music brings people together — which is why COVID-19 restrictions on crowds, venues and travel have dealt the industry a significant blow.

In Saskatchewan, more than 150 individuals applied for help through the one-time SaskMusic COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund last month.

“We knew we wanted to respond quickly and do what we could to support artists,” said Mike Dawson, the executive director of SaskMusic.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Ottawa earmarks $500M for arts and culture, with details to be determined

Dawson said his work now is focused on how the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit will help artists and the impact of upcoming festival cancellations.

On Friday, the federal government announced early plans to give $500 million to Canada’s arts, sports and cultural sectors as they weather the COVID-19 pandemic — but exactly who will benefit remains to be determined.

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Dawson said the SaskMusic fund has its limits and will be distributed to recipients in the coming days.

“I know we should be expecting it, but I’m hoping we don’t lose the summer. It’s just the best time to be playing.”

He noted while artists are a primary focus, the current situation impacts all facets of the industry.

“The way that that whole net weaves itself together, all of the sound techs … the impact it has on music venues, you know, most of them are open just for those events,” he said, adding the inability to tour is delivering a double hit.

“That’s where musicians sell the bulk of their merchandise, the bulk of their music.”

Dawson said people wanting to support musicians can buy directly from them online, through platforms like Bandcamp, and by attending live shows once the opportunity returns.

Musicians turn to live streams, post-pandemic plans

While members of Regina folk-bluegrass band The Dead South have been isolated from each other, the group shared some welcome news with fans with week.

Their single In Hell I’ll be Good Company certified gold in the US last week, after earning the claim in Canada last fall.

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READ MORE: Juno Awards 2020 cancelled due to coronavirus concerns

“Any good news is very welcome right now,” said banjo player Colton Crawford from his home in Regina.

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“It would be nice to be celebrating out on tour in Europe, which is where we’re supposed to be, but you make do with what you can.”

The Dead South wrapped up a UK leg of their world tour at the end of February.

They returned to Canada for what they expected to be a few weeks for a performance at the televised Juno Awards in Saskatoon.

“Since then it’s kinda just been one thing after another,” said Crawford.

The group has postponed all its European dates, originally slated for May, and Crawford said it’s likely plans will be pushed back a year with the uncertainty of international travel.

“It’s a bummer for sure, but it’s completely out of our control,” Crawford said.

READ MORE: Big-name music artists taking performances online during coronavirus pandemic

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“We’re sort of just trying to enjoy a little bit of downtime at home and we’re getting excited to kick back up when things get back to normal again.”

On Friday, The Dead South released a video showing the musicians, individually isolated, playing Little Light of Mine together.

Crawford said he’s personally trying to maintain a routine of practice and fitness, so he’s ready to jump back into performing when the time comes.

Canadian music group The Steadies had to sideline tour plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Canadian music group The Steadies had to sideline tour plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic. thesteadies.com

He noted the forced downtime has brought financial hardship to people in all facets of the industry.

“I’ve been chatting with a few people and the story is kind of the same just, ‘what do you do?’ You just kind of wait and hope it gets better soon,” he said.

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Canadian group The Steadies also had to sideline their tour plans, which included playing at events around the 2020 Memorial Cup in Kelowna.

READ MORE: Lawyer by day, One Bad Son drummer by night

Frontman Earl Pereira said he’s now working on an online store for band merchandise, while also playing some virtual solo acoustic shows.

“It’s a different world and totally different situation and scenario in performing, but I think everyone is kind of learning,” he said.

Pereira said bands are still figuring out how to have isolated musicians play a live show over a stream. He noted with even the slightest internet delay, the group can’t even practice all at once.

Pereira said he’s been able to continue producing for another group during the downtime but is eager to secure gigs. Right now, the group still has dates set for July and August.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan singers learn from ‘The Voice’ TV show vocal coach

“I know we should be expecting it, but I’m hoping we don’t lose the summer. It’s just the best time to be playing, festivals are my favourite type of show,” he said.

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“To not do any would be heartbreaking.”

The SaskTel Jazz Festival in Saskatoon announced Friday this year’s event has been postponed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was originally scheduled for July 3-12.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.

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