One year later, remembering when the world hit pause on live music

With tours cancelled, album releases postponed, and any live performances done behind plexiglass, musicians have spent the past 12 months finding ways to make up lost income.

Musicians spent past 12 months applying their skills to new enterprises, finding time to rest

Ehren "Bear Witness" Thomas and Tim "2oolman" Hill are The Halluci Nation, formerly known as A Tribe Called Red. Bear Witness said the duo turned to scoring films and television shows during the pandemic. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

With tours cancelled, album releases postponed, and any live performances done behind plexiglass, musicians have spent the past 12 months finding ways to make up lost income. 

While the pandemic was financially devastating for some, 2020 was also a year of discovery and learning how to continue performing — knowing the show must go on. 

"My team and I, we really learned a new skill and it was the ability to pivot pretty much on the dime," said Ottawa-based pop artist Andrew Cassara. 

The musician was supposed to go on tour through Japan and Korea but had to put those plans on hold.

Instead of touring countries half-way around the world, Cassara and his team looked at what they could accomplish much closer to home.

"We recorded music videos and just really tried to engage the fans and just be honest about what's happening," he told CBC Radio's All In A Day. "Everyone's pretty understanding." 

Main sources of income dried up

On Friday, the Ontario government announced $2.5 million to help musicians struggling during the pandemic and assist the industry's recovery after COVID-19.

For many musicians, the pandemic meant a direct hit to their wallets, with the loss of in-person  performances corresponding to a significant drop in their primary source of income.

The effect was significant, said Jazz bassist Brandi Disterheft.

"We have publishing income." she said. "Your day-in-day-out grind of playing gigs every night, you know, we rely on that."

Brandi Disterheft, based in New York, said she’ll be grateful once restrictions loosen further and larger venues can welcome bigger crowds.

Ehren "Bear Witness" Thomas, one-half of The Halluci Nation — formerly A Tribe Called Red — said the group was left in an awkward position last year. 

When the world hit pause on the music industry, the duo had just finished recording a new album but could not promote it by touring. 

"We've definitely spent the year trying to adapt and figure out how we are able to operate, not being able to tour and get out in the world," he said. Instead, they began to score music for the film and television industry.

We hear from jazz bassist, Brandi Disterheft, Ottawa-based pop artist, Andrew Cassara and Ottawa's Bear Witness from the Halluci Nation hip hop duo. 15:29

It was only when Bear Witness was forced to stop performing five nights a week – allowing him to wake up in the same bed each day – that he realized how hard he had been working for the past decade. 

"Now I'm like, 'I don't even know how I can [return]'. I've been talking about how I will have to train to get myself ready to go." 

Disterheft, based in New York, said she'll be grateful once restrictions are further loosened and venues can welcome larger crowds. 

"We might even have stage fright again. Who knows?"


Joe Tunney reports for CBC News in Ottawa. He can be reached at

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