Live shows lift up local musicians

After a long hiatus, Ottawa musicians are back, busy and feeling the love.

Busy September schedules for musicians trying to perform in Ottawa, and abroad

Blair Michael Hogan, left, and Julie Corrigan took the stage at an outdoor concert presented by the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival in August. (Submitted by Julie Corrigan)

After a long hiatus, live performances have rekindled what singer-songwriter Julie Corrigan loves about making music, and this month has been full of gigs.

"I'd forgot how much I loved playing. ... The crowds are just so appreciative of the live shows," said the Ottawa native.

"I'm just trying to get as much stuff done and play as many shows as I can before we have to go into another lockdown."

You can't blame Corrigan for trying to maximize stage time. Before the pandemic, she hosted a monthly songwriters circle at Irene's Pub in the Glebe for local and touring female musicians to collaborate and perform new material. 

She grew frustrated over the past 18 months after repeatedly trying to schedule the event, only to be thwarted by the uncertainty of the pandemic.

With public health restrictions loosening at the end of summer, live music has returned inside several local establishments, as well as outdoor stages around the city.

Julie Corrigan says crowds have been very appreciative of seeing live music in person after a long hiatus. (Scott Doubt Photography)

Shot in the arm for local music scene

Band leader Ed Lister dusted off his toolbox last year and started building fences and decks when he wasn't composing or performing concerts online.

The one tool he had to leave in its case? His trumpet.

His hands are full now as he plays a string of gigs with a collection of local bands while running a small record label, managing artists, and curating Band Camp — an upcoming music festival to be held on the grounds of Camping Ange-Gardien just east of Gatineau, Que.

Lister says vaccination rates and the vaccine passport have helped revive the live music scene as people feel safer when they gather.

"There's nothing worse than kind of trying to enjoy something like live music, but having this thing on the back of your mind where you have to keep away, or maybe don't cheer too loud ... it kind of is a bit of a buzzkill," said Lister, who is also organizing a U.S. tour for an 11-piece tribute to Sly and the Family Stone. 

He also hopes the days of Plexiglas between himself and the audience are over.

"You look out of the stage and you basically see yourself ... and then you try and look at the audience and you look through five or six layers of Plexiglas to see who's clapping," he said.

Ed Lister plays the trumpet, leads bands, manages a record label, and during the pandemic he built decks and fences. ( Sean Sisk)

Online performances not the same

A cloud of uncertainty remains as a number of musical venues — Pressed, Babylon and Rainbow Bistro — have closed or are set to close, and another lockdown is still possible due to the fourth wave of COVID-19.

Electronic musician DJ Amber Long, who recently played her first live set of 2021, is determined to be optimistic.

Long used the time at home to be more experimental and brave with her music, she says.

"I figure if the pandemic taught me one thing, it's like, seize the moment, " said Long, who recently moved to Ottawa from Toronto.

Long has performed virtually, but she admitted those online performances never came close to replicating the charge of energy she received from a live audience on the dance floor.

DJ Amber Long tried to use the pandemic to experiment with music as she returns to perform in front of a live audience. (Tatiana Braude )

There were times in the past 18 months she questioned her future in music.

"I'm sure I'm not the only musician or artist who went into a place saying, 'What am I doing this for? Should I keep going? How long is this going to go for?'" said Long. 

Once she reconnected with the audience, Long says her commitment to music became stronger than ever.

"The people coming out of this, I think, are coming out stronger, more creative, more in tune with themselves, knowing what they need and putting out art."


Sandra Abma


Sandra Abma is a veteran CBC arts journalist. If you have an event or idea you want to share, please do at


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