With the province announcing that all COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted July 11, many in Saskatchewan’s live music community are optimistic that the public appetite for live music will quickly return, bringing with it a quick recovery for the industry.
“Music is a medicine, and I think people are really hungry for that medicine,” said Regina-based musician Jeffery Straker.
With initial uncertainty around when indoor venues could again welcome patrons in Saskatchewan, Straker decided to offer backyard concerts for the summer. He said the response has been huge.
“This summer I’ve booked about 50 of these between June 12 and September 12, so it’s keeping me hopping,” Straker said.
While some major Saskatchewan music festivals, like the Regina Folk Festival and Country Thunder, announced cancellations of their 2021 dates, other live music events are going ahead this summer.
Earlier this month, Regina Exhibition Association Limited (REAL) announced that they’d be including a full lineup of live music as part of the 2021 Queen City Ex in August.
“We’ve been consistently saying that when we come back, our industry will be stronger, bolder and better than ever before,” said REAL CEO Tim Reid.
“There’s enthusiasm around the live event industry. There’s optimism and there’s people who want to get back to those experiences. I’m sure that we’re in for the best decade that we’ve ever had.”
Meanwhile, the operators of the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon are hoping for a full house this October when country music’s Eric Church comes to town.
Before then, the organization is also producing the Rock the River classic rock festival, which will take place in August at the Delta Bessborough Gardens.
“Once the health restrictions are lifted, our plan is to go full steam ahead and start getting fans to all these events, we hope,” said SaskTel Centre Executive Director Scott Ford.
“The strategy now is to open. We’re following that plan and we’re excited about it. We’ve done a number of things, like going to mobile ticketing, and we also installed a new touchless point-of-sale system.”
Ford said his team is even getting ready to welcome fans as early as July 12, when the Saskatchewan Rattlers will take on the Edmonton Stingers on the hardcourt.
“When the doors open, our plan is to be open. If fans still wish to wear a mask, they’re certainly welcome to, and if they don’t want to wear a mask, they won’t have to. We won’t be doing physical distancing,” he said.
“That’s been consistent with what’s happened in the United States with their buildings’ reopening. And what we’re finding from what’s happening in the United States is that the big shows are selling fantastic. People are antsy to get back to live events. We think there’s going to be a boom.”
Ford added that with the Canadian/US border still partially closed, it has been challenging to secure acts that regularly tour the United State, but says that Saskatchewan’s aggressive reopening strategy has generated optimism in the industry.
“We’ve had a nice little surge of people placing holds to bring events into the SaskTel Centre. We’re very excited about the future and getting back to normal.”
According to SaskMusic, the live music industry employed around 3,000 people in Saskatchewan before the pandemic.
“We know there’s been drastic impacts on live music income, which is the biggest part of revenue in the music industry,” said SaskMusic Communications Manager Lorena Kelly.
“Live music is the primary generator for all kinds of things, not only music income, but all of the venues and associated services, like hotels and restaurants.”
A study conducted by the consulting firm Nordicity estimated that the Canadian live performance industry saw a 79 per cent decline in revenue compared to 2019. The study estimated that the Canadian music industry as a whole would see a 57 per cent employment decline compared to its 2020 potential.
“About a year ago, the sense from early polls was that maybe 60 per cent of music fans would jump right back in where they left off. We’ve seen that the longer the pandemic has gone on, the bigger the appetite has been for live music, so we figure that about 80 per cent of music fans will be ready to go back to listen to live music as soon as things have reopened again,” Kelly said.
SaskMusic estimates, though, that the live music industry won’t see a full rebound until at least 2023.
“The challenge is going to be getting tours and major events actually off the ground and running again, because that kind of thing can take quite a few months to a year or more,” Kelly added.
Straker said that while he has been lucky enough to get by on his backyard concerts and events like live-streamed shows, he’s seen first-hand that some of his peers and colleagues haven’t been so fortunate.
“Personally, I know agents and even a couple publicists who have moved back in with their parents. I know musicians who have moved back in with their parents. I know musicians who have given up on a home in Regina and moved elsewhere. It’s been really hard,” said Straker.