Live music could soon return to the NWT

Yellowknife-based band The Housemen. Trevor Sinclair, executive director of Music NWT, is the drummer. Photo: Ray Chiasson

Once thought an impossibility in a Covid-19 world, live music may soon return to NWT venues following a campaign by local musicians.

Discussion about the absence of live music in the territory during the pandemic reached a crescendo in early March, when Yellowknife musician Patrick Jacobson started an online petition calling for the NWT government to reconsider its restrictions.

Both Jacobson and Music NWT president Trevor Sinclair told Cabin Radio they have since met with the territory’s chief environmental health officer, Peter Workman, to determine how musicians can get back on stage in venues.

Sinclair described the meeting as a “very good, productive chat.”



“At the end, we all agree that yes, of course we’re worried about the safety of everybody,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair and Jacobson are now working with individual venues to put together applications for variance permits that would allow them to host live music events, addressing issues such as air ventilation, physical distancing, and other safety protocols.

Those protocols include ensuring a distance of three metres between performers and the audience, keeping performances under 30 minutes, screening audience members upon arrival to the venue, and potentially using barriers or Plexiglass shields where necessary.

Applications will be made on a venue-by-venue basis. If approved, the variances will allow regular performances as long as they follow the safety protocols outlined.



While he called this development “an initial conversation,” Jacobson said it marked a win for artists in the territory.

“I think it’s opening a lot of doors again because now, suddenly, we have the opportunity to figure out those next steps,” he said.

Sinclair added: “It’s a good start but the proof is in the pudding, as they say, and we’ll see where it goes from here once we can actually submit the proposal.”

Backed by business

So far, Jacobson has been in contact with the Gold Range bar and Monkey Tree Pub and is currently working with the Top Knight to put together a proposal.

Terry Hartwright, Top Knight’s general manager, said the business supports bringing live music back to its venue as long as it’s done in a safe way.

“We definitely love having live music up here,” he said. “We host the jam night, we’re putting on semi-regular concert series, so we definitely look forward to a day where we can get back to that.”

Sinclair said there is no definitive timeline for the return of shows but the organization hopes to have at least one venue proposal ready for GNWT review this week.

In a written response, the territorial Department of Health and Social Services confirmed the process but said it “is not new,” stating that venues could always apply for variance permits if they could prove they had safety protocols in place.



Sinclair took exception to this.

“Through their phase one, phase two stuff, there is a blanket statement there that just says no live music, period,” he said, referring to the phase two public health order that expressly prohibits live music in bars and restaurants.

Jacobson said he’s just happy the conversation was able to move forward.

Patrick Jacobson is a Yellowknife musician and creator of the petition. Photo: Submitted

“If they’ve always had it in place … and they want all the credit for it, that’s great – I don’t care,” he joked. “As long as we put musicians on stage again, that’s all that matters to me.”

Protecting pay cheques

After establishing safety protocols, Jacobson said the next hurdle will be ensuring musicians are adequately compensated for performances.  

Reduced capacities mean less room for audiences and less money coming in for venues, which could impact their ability to pay the performers.

“For a lot of musicians … being able to play in the bar is great,” Jacobson said, “but if the bar doesn’t have that option to put forward money right now, then we need to figure out whether it’s going to be something that Music NWT might be able to help with, or the Creative Collective, or something like that.

“We don’t want to tell people live music is back and then there’s no way to pay the musicians, and then they start playing gigs for nothing. It’s a job for people, so we can’t have that happen.”