As capacity limits are lifted northeastern Ontario music venues look ahead

Capacity limits for concert venues and theatres in Ontario are lifting today, and some northeastern Ontario venues are already planning ahead.

On March 1 Ontario businesses are no longer required to ask customers for their proof of vaccination

Sudbury's Townehouse Tavern has started to book live bands as Ontario lifts capacity restrictions for concert and theatre venues on March 1. (Olivia Stefanovich/CBC)

Capacity limits for concert venues and theatres in Ontario are lifting today, and some northeastern Ontario venues are already planning ahead.

"I think we're pretty excited to kind of make a comeback and to bring music back to the city in full force," said Veronica Desjardins, the general manager of the Townehouse Tavern in Sudbury.

"We started booking bands, you know, from March onwards and we have so many bands that are reaching out now to play shows again."

Throughout its 35-year history the Townehouse has become a mainstay for bands touring across Canada, and has hosted the likes of Nickelback, Alexisonfire, The Weakerthans and the Tea Party.

Desjardins said the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for the Townehouse, which also operates as a bar and restaurant. When live music was allowed, it was often just for a limited time before capacity restrictions returned.

"We've had pretty limited shows, I would say, over the past two years," she said.

The Townehouse has booked a number of musicians over the next few months, including Toronto indie rock band Casper Skulls on March 25, Hamilton's B.A. Johnston on April 23, and the Toronto-based hardcore punk band Cancer Bats on May 19.

Desjardins said she hopes they get good crowds for those shows but added it could take a bit of time for audiences to adjust to live concerts again.

"From what I'm experiencing so far, it seems like people are ready, but I think it will obviously take a bit of time for people to remember why they appreciate it [live music] or why they need it," she said.

"And then you also have a whole generation of kids or young adults who haven't actually been able to experience live music in person for years."

Comedian Steve Patterson performs at the Capitol Centre in North Bay on April 1 as the venue plans to return to full capacity. (steve patterson )

Katina Connolly, executive director of North Bay's Capitol Centre, said the venue will allow 75 per cent capacity for the month of March and see how patrons adjust to larger crowds.

"We just feel that jumping to 75 percent will kind of help us ease into the full house and give staff and volunteers and patrons an opportunity to kind of get comfortable with where things are headed," she said.

As of March 1, Ontario businesses will also no longer be required to request proof of vaccination from their customers.

Connolly said the Capitol Centre will no longer ask for vaccine passports at the door in March.

If things go well, she said the theatre will transition to full capacity in April.

"There's something about the atmosphere when you're in a theatre that's packed full with a bunch of other individuals that are all kind of there appreciating whether it's the music or the show or whatever form of entertainment it might be," Connolly said.

 "It's just really nice to have that buzz and that energy all in one room."

Guy Fortier, the owner of the Lavigne Tavern, said he started hosting some smaller concerts in February, when capacity limits were lifted for bars and restaurants, and concert venues were allowed 50 per cent capacity.

On Feb. 26 he said the tavern hosted its first full band in quite some time.

"One of our cornerstones at the tavern is live performers," he said. "And they [the audience] were happy to see it back."

Live performance

Jim Houston is the singer, songwriter and guitarist with the J Houston Band, which performed at the Lavigne Tavern on Saturday.

He said the concert was his first time performing with the band in about five months.

"Because people haven't had the opportunity to go out and see live music, I found the audience very appreciative of the music," Houston said. 

He said the band was able to spend more time in the studio throughout the pandemic, and recorded its latest album in 2020.

Houston said he remains cautiously optimistic as restrictions are lifted and bands like his are able to perform in front of live audiences again.

"But of course, we all hope that, you know, another [COVID-19] variant doesn't come along because I guess that could be a game changer in that regard," he said.


Jonathan Migneault

Digital reporter/editor

Jonathan Migneault is a CBC digital reporter/editor based in Sudbury. He is always looking for good stories about northeastern Ontario. Send story ideas to


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