Nightlife and live music make gradual return in Yellowknife

Last modified: July 12, 2021 at 4:47pm

Yellowknife businesses and venues are seeking approval to bring back live music performances and open dance floors – but some musicians aren’t holding their breath. 

Even as restrictions are lifted, Karen Novak, lead vocalist for the NWT band Welders Daughter, says the music scene doesn’t include them.

The latest update to Covid-19 public health restrictions allows for indoor gatherings of up to 200 people but certain high-risk activities, such as indoor dancing, wind instrument performances, and live singing, require additional approval. 


Novak saw her touring and performing career evaporate 16 months ago as pandemic restrictions cancelled gigs and closed venues. 

“Nothing has changed for us,” Novak told Cabin Radio in an email. 

Welders Daughter perform at Warm the Rocks 2019
Welders Daughter perform at Warm the Rocks 2019. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Welders Daughter was a familiar presence at the Gold Range bar in downtown Yellowknife, performing most nights of the week.

Novak says despite space for 250 people at the Gold Range, the venue now has a 105-person capacity with specific live performance protocols that allow for “three 30-minute sets with 30 minutes in between for only two days out of the week.”

“With these restrictions, we can’t expect the bars to hire a full band full-time,” she wrote.


“Even though they wanted us to open it up for them again, we can’t afford to return until there is enough work for us to justify the heavy costs involved.”

Novak says she misses performing in the NWT “immensely.” 

Until the band makes a return to a physical stage, Novak says its members are keeping busy “writing, recording, and learning new material” while participating in live-streamed performances.  

Cabin Radio made multiple attempts to reach the Gold Range for comment but was not able to contact the venue.

In a Facebook post on Monday, July 12, the Gold Range confirmed that live music would be returning on July 16 with new Covid-19 restrictions in place.

‘Good to be back’

Another Yellowknife pub, The Monkey Tree, has returned to live music. Performances from local artists are taking place on the pub’s patio every Thursday from 6pm to 8pm. 

Jennifer Vornbrock, co-owner of The Monkey Tree, said the establishment submitted a request for a public health exemption to reopen its dance floor. The owners planned to reopen it as of last Friday. 

“It’s good to be back,” said Vornbrock. 

The Raven Pub in downtown Yellowknife plans to have its dance floor open “at full capacity” as soon as possible, according to Toni Enns, general manager of the pub. 

Enns told Cabin Radio the Raven had submitted a public health exemption request and was awaiting approval. 

“We are anxious to get things going again,” she said. 

New festival rules

The Folk on the Rocks festival, set to take place in Yellowknife this coming weekend, has received two health exemptions according to executive director Carly McFadden. One applies to the Emerging Wildly event on July 13 at Somba K’e Park and the other is for the festival itself.

McFadden says organizers will encourage people to wear a mask while dancing, maintain their distance, travel in small groups, and limit seating to groups of no more than 10 people.

Leela Gilday performs at Folk on the Rocks in July 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Leela Gilday performs at Folk on the Rocks in July 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio

As of Friday, a full list of the festival’s Covid-19 rules can be found on its website, including mandatory contact tracing protocols for everyone who enters the festival site. 

In accordance with the territory’s Emerging Wisely plan, businesses and organizations looking to host a high-risk event must submit an exposure control plan and an application to vary from public health order requirements. 

“The exposure control plan must identify how the performer/venue will mitigate or reduce the risk to participants and audience members,” the territorial government told Cabin Radio in an email. 

The plan must include how the venue will address crowding, ensure a three-metre distance between the audience and performers, and increase ventilation, among other mitigation measures. 

The territorial government says it hopes to lift all restrictions by mid-fall.