“We’ve been struggling for so long. This is killing us.”
This is what Karen Novak, lead singer for well-known Yellowknife band Welder’s Daughter, had to say about the Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on the NWT music scene.
“We’re going lose a lot of talent,” Novak continued, “And a lot of those people are just going to give up and they’re not even going to pursue it. I’m afraid … all of the hard work that we’ve been doing to build up this industry in the North is just going to collapse.”
Since the territory’s first round of Covid-19 lockdowns last March, live music performances in bars, coffee shops, and restaurants have been banned.
Many artists have had to find different ways of showcasing their work; some have turned to livestreams and online shows, while others have rented out larger spaces such as the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre to perform.
However, Novak and other local musicians say artists without the connections or financial means to explore these avenues have fallen through the cracks and are left in limbo, waiting for answers on how to proceed.
In an effort to address this, a petition has been started and is now circulating across online platforms, calling for the return of live music to NWT venues.
‘Get the conversation started’
Patrick Jacobson, a Yellowknife musician and owner of YK Rocks Productions, is the driving force behind the petition.
He told Cabin Radio his purpose for creating it was to “get the conversation started.”
“I feel that the performing arts have been neglected within this whole thing,” he said. “There’s a lot of businesses that are open right now … and they’ve all had to find their own ways of overcoming the challenges with operating safely, and protocols have been put in place in order for them to open and bring in business.
“That hasn’t been done for the performing arts, and I’m hoping to change that.”
Before creating the petition, Jacobson said he reached out to the office of the chief public health officer, and was answered by the chief environmental health officer Peter Workman, who listed a variety of protocols that would need to be in place for such performances to be possible.
These included a distance of 3 metres between performers and the audience, performances less than 30 minutes long, contact tracing, and screening of audience members upon entry – all of which are possible, Jacobson added.
“They sell plexiglass shields that go around mic stands, or maybe even like a plexiglass wall or divider that you can put up,” he said.
“The way the venues are set up right now as well, having that extra spacing between tables and chairs, reduced capacity, none of that’s going to change. There’s already people shouting over each other in the bars anyways, so I just don’t see that it’s adding any more danger.”
Music NWT, an organization that advocates for and promotes the territory’s music industry, has recently put its weight behind the petition.
It shared an open letter to Dr Kami Kandola on the matter Monday, calling for her to consider its requests and exempt musicians from having to apply for event permits for every performance.
“The standards that have been set out by the GNWT is just simply, ‘There shall be no live music, and we cannot see any justification for this whatsoever,” Music NWT president Trevor Sinclair said.
“We’re prepared, as Music NWT, to work directly with the chief public health officer, … musicians, and venues to develop standards so that musicians can get back to work.”
Jacobson informed Cabin Radio that he and Sinclair have since been contacted by the office of the chief public health officer to schedule a meeting. A time and date have yet to be confirmed.
Sinclair, who is also a musician, said there are a number of reasons to bring live music back to the territory – first and foremost is how many artists have lost a significant amount of income throughout the course of the pandemic.
Novak herself said she and her husband, who is also in the Welder’s Daughter, have had no income for an entire year without being able to perform live.
“As you can imagine, we’re struggling right now,” she said. “I’m selling clothes right now. I sold my jeep…The next thing is going to be the stuff off the stage, and then in that case, there’s no more band.
“If I have to get to the point of selling our equipment, then I can no longer do what I’ve done my entire life.”
For younger artists, the obstacles are slightly different.
Nara Dapilos is an up-and-coming musician in Yellowknife, and sits on the Music NWT board. She released her debut single Miss Too Good with One North Recordings, and is in the process of writing and recording more.
Without live performances, she said, it’s been difficult to promote her work and grow an audience base.
“Especially now since my career is slowly starting to pick up, not having that ability to plan a tour or plan different gigs around town or across the North or what have you, it definitely kind of hinders and slows it back down a bit,” she said.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things that I enjoy about being an artist and being a musician … is just being able to create that connection with an audience and share the music that I’ve created with them in a shared space. If the opportunity arises, and we’re able to find a work around it with the public health, then I would definitely be open to performing more live music again.”
Preserving the arts
Welder’s Daughter has been performing as a band full-time for 24 years. Right now, the band is in all different parts of the world: Novak and her husband are in Hungary with family, while the drummer and the bass player are in Vancouver pursuing alternative means of generating income.
Alongside providing income, Novak said bringing live music back to the NWT will have positive impacts for residents during this time, too.
She even went as far as to argue that the arts should be a part of the territory’s health strategy.
“Music like hand drums, throat singing, all of that is a huge cultural thing … and I think very important element in the North that we can’t let go,” she said. “It’s a vital necessity for mental health.”
“Art forms in general – whether it be music, or paintings or spoken word – collectively, those things form part of our culture, our identity, who we are,” he said. “We are all relatively isolated from one another, so our culture is taking an impact.”
He added: “We don’t want anybody contracting Covid … but we think the risk is extremely low, and we can put reasonable measures in place to make that happen so we can happily be back up on the stage and hang out with our audiences once again.”