Musicians in the Foothills have been hit hard as social distancing and isolation become the norm in Alberta.
Okotoks country musician Michela Sheedy has had a dozen shows cancelled over the next two months as restrictions tighten around public gatherings.
The Province restricted attendance at public recreation facilities and private entertainment facilities earlier this week and, by Tuesday, reduced mass gatherings to 50 people in its social distancing initiative to help combat the growing cases of COVID-19 in Alberta.
“It is difficult because entertainment was the first thing to go and I’m scared that it’s the last thing that’s going to come back,” said Sheedy. “They’re not going to rush things like gathering people into a giant room, which is really difficult because that’s literally the way we make a living.”
The singer/songwriter said the gigs she had planned over the next two months was how she had expected to make ends meet before the summer, which is the busiest time of her career.
Among the gigs was the Women of Okotoks concert scheduled for Friday at the Rotary Performing Arts Centre.
“Summertime is when things pick up and that’s where musicians make a bulk of our income for the year,” she said.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced funding for residents in various financial situations Wednesday morning, including those who are self-employed, Sheedy said she doesn’t yet know what that means for professional musicians.
“What’s really difficult for us is, as much as the government is announcing a lot of support, there’s still a fear that us musicians won’t be able to access that support or won’t be eligible,” she said. “We don’t know all the details yet. We’ve still got to pay our bills somehow.”
Lyndsay Butler, a country music singer/songwriter in High River, is feeling the financial crunch.
All of the performances she had scheduled for the next two weeks have been cancelled or postponed.
“I’m still in just a little bit of a shock that we’re in this much of a lockdown,” she said. “I have had confirmation that for sure everything up until April 1 is postponed or cancelled. It’s hard to say when we can start having shows again. It’s all up in the air right now.”
With plans to release a new album this year, Butler said the cancellations will hit her hard.
“Albums are not cheap so that’s something that is in the back of my mind,” she said. “I’ve got monthly bills plus this giant album bill. When your whole income is playing live and you’re self-employed you don’t have a lot of backup and benefits. There’s not a whole lot of rainy day funds going into that.”
In an effort to keep in touch with fans, Butler said many musicians are getting creative by hosting virtual concerts.
Butler has her own planned for Thursday evening at 7 p.m. at https://www.facebook.com/lyndsaybutlermusic/
“Because I’m planning on releasing an album soon I’m hoping that fans will tune in, hear the new songs and help me pick some for the album,” she said.
With plans in the works for a western Canadian tour this summer, Butler hopes social distancing will be short-lived.
So does Maddison Krebs, who was scheduled to return to Nashville before borders closed and non-essential air travel was cancelled.
The Okotoks singer/songwriter has been traveling between Okotoks and Nashville in month-long stretches since last spring.
“I was supposed to go to Nashville next week and had to cancel the trip because of this craziness that’s going on,” she said. “Me not going to Nashville sucks because I don’t get to keep chipping away and write and network and do shows down there. I was going to write for my next record.”
Krebs was also scheduled to perform at Friday’s Women of Okotoks concert.
“Musicians’ lives rely on live events and our jobs are performing in front of people,” she said. “This is taking a huge toll on anybody that’s a touring artist or musician. I can’t imagine what some artists are going through right now who are living paycheque to paycheque.”
Krebs is lucky. She has the support of her family.
“I’m in a position where I can sustain myself for a bit of time,” she said. “If it’s longer than four months we’re looking at a different situation.”
After performing nine shows since the start of the year, Krebs only had one show cancelled. She hopes those planned for the summer will still be a go.
“It’s a really tough time for artists,” she said.
Anyone wishing to support local artists can do so personally or through initiatives like MusiCares and the Unison Benevolent Fund.
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