The Oshawa Music Hall, a starting ground for several local bands that have since made it big, is closing after four years.
“It’s been tough,” said Maggie Maybee, who owned the venue with her husband Ed.
“An extreme sense of loss; I mean, we knew it was coming. The writing was really on the wall.”
The couple had one of their last concerts there when they hosted Matthew Good in March before the coronavirus pandemic forced non-essential businesses to shut down. But Ed says that after mounting costs of up to $13,000 monthly, operating the venue just got to be too much to handle.
“When our hard costs here are so high, we don’t have a chance to survive with zero income,” Ed said.
“The way the pandemic is going, it could be Christmas, it could be springtime before we could reopen.”
The music hall hosted more than 150 shows a year and has a capacity of at least 600 people. Earlier this year, it hosted the first-ever Oshawa Music Awards recognizing Durham’s musical talent.
Ed says that although it’s been a rough few days, the support from the community has helped them through it.
“We did get a lot of calls from fans, friends, artists and family,” Ed said. “We had over 100,000 people reach out to us in less than 24 hours to say how sad this is that Oshawa is losing such a location.”
In the short time the venue has been in the city, it’s seen a lot of action. The music hall has hosted bands like The Standstills and Crown Lands, both local bands. Many such acts are calling the closure a devastating blow to the local music scene.
“Other than local bars and a stadium, there’s nothing left,” says Kevin Comeau, guitarist for Crown Lands. The 26-year-old has played the music hall a few times and previously worked there as a sound technician. He says what he loved the most about the owners was that they took care of everyone.
“They were amazing people,” says Comeau. “They really ran a clean venue. They did right by everyone. They tried to do right by their community and they did right by their touring artists.”
The same thought was echoed by Will McGuirk, an employee at Kops Records.
“It was a pretty vital part of Durham Region’s music infrastructure and it’s gone,” says McGuirk.
The Oshawa store often hosts musicians and bands on its upper floors and has worked with a number of musicians, including Crown Lands and other groups from the region. McGuirk says he hopes the government will step up and help the live music industry survive.
“What I’m kinda hoping that we get out of it is this possibility of elevating culture as an economic tool and get us through this revitalization,” says McGuirk.
But some experts say this is just a ripple effect and more change could come as the shutdowns continue.
“This is not unique to Durham, this is happening across the country,” said Ongoing History of New Music host Alan Cross (102.1 The Edge, Q107), who is also a commentator for Global News.
In fact, Cross says it could be several months before we see any sort of change for the music entertainment industry, making a huge impact on the economy as a whole.
“The Canadian Music Festival would have had 1,000 bands in Toronto in May, and that was all cancelled,” he said.
Cross says it’s hard to say what the industry could look like when restrictions are lifted, as a number of protocols would have to be taken to ensure everyone is safe.
“You’re going to have to worry about social distancing, physical distancing within the club, worry about things like sanitizing,” he said. “But what about the psychological aspects? How many people are willing to go to a show knowing the sweaty stranger next to them could be infected with something that would get them sick?”
He says venues like Oshawa Music Hall are crucial for up-and-coming bands to grow.
“Without the small venues that allow new bands to get into the ecosystem, where are they going to learn their chops?” he said.
Although the Oshawa Music Hall’s owners have shut the doors, they say people shouldn’t give up hope.
“Not to say we’re going to disappear forever,” said the owners. “We did this before, we could do it again,” Ed said.