The Globe and Mail

People dance to Arkells as they perform at the Budweiser Stage in Toronto on August 13, 2021. The concert was the band’s first live event since the pandemic.

Tijana Martin / The Canadian Press

This week, the Ontario government announced that starting September 22nd, people will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and demonstrate their vaccination status in order to gain access to certain indoor shops and facilities, including concerts, music festivals, theaters and Cinemas.

Across the board, live music industry representatives such as managers, event organizers, venue owners and booking agents contacted by The Globe and Mail applauded the move. They also had this to say: It is not enough. As long as the number of crowds is limited to a reduced capacity to allow physical distance, Ontario’s live music industry is at best on hold.

“We all support the vaccination mandate, we think that’s great,” said Jeff Cohen, concert promoter and co-owner of indie rock venues Horseshoe Tavern and Lee’s Palace in Toronto. “But I’m currently busy with 23 percent, that makes no sense.”

The story continues under the advertisement

Jack Ross, an APA Agency Canada Toronto agent who represents Hamilton rock band Arkells along with other notable acts, believes the venues need to be at full volume. “The industry may never be the same again,” he said. “The people have lost their livelihood. I laid off half of my employees last summer.

“We have to get 100 percent capacity to have a healthy industry and get people back to work. The vaccination certificate is necessary for this. “

Under Tier 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan, outdoor music events are limited to 75 percent of capacity. The shows by Blue Rodeo, Arkells and Sam Roberts at the Budweiser Stage amphitheater in Toronto each drew more than 10,000 fans in August.

“It was incredibly exciting for these artists to get back on stage and perform and do what they love to do,” said Ross, who was involved in the Budweiser Stage concerts.

This fall, however, concerts will be moved indoors, where Ontario capacities range from 25 percent for clubs and 50 percent for larger venues, to a maximum of 1,000 people for events with seats. At these numbers, we’ll see local bands in the hometown, but it’s not feasible for touring acts to play in front of such small crowds.

“When you’re out and about, every show counts,” says Bernie Finkelstein, longtime manager of singer and guitarist Bruce Cockburn. “With a load of 50 percent, ticket sales are halved, but the expenses for the bus, crew and equipment remain the same.”

The margins have always been tight. For example, on a 30-show tour, the profit comes from the last concerts. “If we lose two concerts due to COVID-19 restrictions, we would probably decide to cancel the entire tour,” said Finkelstein. “We have already canceled two tours. In order for it to be worthwhile, the tour has to be worthwhile. “

The story continues under the advertisement

The industry is hoping that Ontario’s new vaccine mandate will allow the province to move to Stage 4 of its reopening plan earlier and move to full capacity indoor events.

While many in the industry believe a quick return to full capacity shows in Ontario is imperative, some venues can survive better than others with sparse, physically distant audiences. For example, non-profit performing arts centers and other charities have foundations and are supported by governments and private and private donors.

“We have different revenues and are not dependent on cash sales,” said Mervon Mehta, Executive Director of Performing Arts at the Telus Center for Performance and Learning at the Royal Conservatory. He is responsible for the operation and programming of the 1,135-seat Koerner Hall in Toronto. “We can drive past a little 35 percent full.”

Like many presenters, Koerner Hall expects to livestream a number of performances in order to reach a larger audience.

“We started and stopped, slewed and pirouetted, just like everyone else,” said Mehta. “But we’ve been selling tickets like crazy for the past two days. No question about it, people are ready to see live music. “

Sign up for The Globe’s arts and lifestyle newsletter for more news, columns and advice in your inbox.