Saskatchewan

Live music will soon re-emerge in Sask., but industry proceeding with caution

Step 2 of Saskatchewan's reopening roadmap will pave the way for venues and musicians to get back to normal.

Venues, musicians preparing for a return to normal when Step 2 of Sask.'s reopening roadmap begins in June

Zubazz Read, front man of Dangerous Cheese, performs a show prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read said the loneliness of not performing in the past year has taken an emotional toll. (Neil Zeller Photography)

Hosting karaoke nights was Zubazz Read's bread and butter.

The Regina musician and frontman for Dangerous Cheese was forced to put his business, Zubazz Entertainment, on pause as the pandemic took centre stage. He started selling items on Facebook marketplace to bring in money.

"I thought I was pretty diversified being a DJ and having karaoke and having the band and basically anything else that involves sound and lights," Read said. 

"Who knew that they were going to take the entire music and entertainment industry away. There was no way I could have prepared for this at all."

Zubazz Read is the owner of Zubazz Entertainment, which provides DJ and karaoke services. He is also the front man of Regina band Dangerous Cheese. He says he is looking forward to performing once COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. (Zubazz Read/Facebook)

After relying on federal wage benefits for the past year, Read is ready to go back to what he loves.

Saskatchewan is expected to begin Step 2 of its reopening roadmap on June 20. This will allow venues to welcome up to 150 people indoors. Additionally, bars and restaurants will no longer have a seating capacity at tables. 

Most importantly, the step will allow musicians like Read, who already has a show booked in June, to get back to normal. 

"This year I probably medicated a little too much with Burger King," Read said. "The loneliness, it's a little bit much. I definitely don't want to have to go through this again."

No moshing, crowd surfing allowed

The easing of restrictions in Step 2 will pave the way for more concerts to pop up, but those in the industry say it will be a gradual process. 

"We're taking it slow, and doing the proper practices rather than getting too excited and jumping right in, which could actually backfire really fast, as we've learnt in the past two years," said Vince Geiger, who books shows at Saskatoon's Black Cat Tavern. 

Zubazz Read performs with his band Dangerous Cheese pre-pandemic. (Neil Zeller Photography)

Prior to the pandemic, about 90 per cent of the Black Cat Tavern's business revolved around events. When restrictions came in, it was forced to diversify by hosting punk rock bingo night and doing takeout. 

"Because we're all event-based businesses, relying solely on food and drink at a time when people aren't even going out and doing that was definitely our toughest part," Geiger said.

Even with concerts returning, dance floors will remain banned, so shows will be sit-down only until at least the end of July, when the province is expected to lift most of its remaining restrictions. Guidelines on masks and gathering sizes will remain. 

Vince Geiger books shows at Saskatoon’s Black Cat Tavern. He said a full return to normal is expected in the fall. (CBC)

Venues to return to normal fully in the fall

The Black Cat Tavern's stage sits behind Plexiglass, which Geiger says will probably remain for a while longer. No moshing is allowed, and forget about crowd surfing. 

Geiger said when concerts do start popping up, it'll likely be local artists at first.

"Saskatchewan's so far ahead of reopening, but for the music industry it's also about the other provinces," Geiger said. 

He said touring bands have to account for restrictions in other places which can limit concerts throughout the summer.

"We have to wait for those tours to be allowed to come through as well," Geiger said. 

The Black Cat Tavern in Saskatoon relied heavily on events prior to the pandemic. Although restrictions are easing in the coming months, dancefloors will remain banned until at least the end of July. (Black Cat Tavern/Facebook)

The pandemic hasn't been easy on venues. A full return to normal still isn't expected until the fall. On top of that, those in the industry worry about people's reluctance to gather again.

"I'm hoping people want to party, but I understand completely if they still want to stay home for a little while. So it's a double-edged sword," Read said. 

Geiger agreed there will likely be some anxiety for returning patrons. 

"I'm even hesitant to go back out a little bit, in a full going-out-all-the-time kind of thing. So it will take time for people," Geiger said. "Which is also another reason for going slow and taking it easy."

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