What it's like to run a live music venue during Windsor's 4th wave

After two weeks of new restrictions, including eye protection for staff and a closing time of midnight, music venues in Windsor are rallying around each other to keep their doors open.

New restrictions for Windsor-Essex restaurants, bars and clubs started on Sept. 3

Live music venues forced to make changes during fourth wave

14 days ago
The Backstage and Phog Lounge have had to pivot from previous pandemic shifts to keep the doors open during the fourth wave. 1:34

Bar stools and tables fill out the dance floor at the Player's Sports Club in Windsor, a sign of how things have changed under increasing regulations levied against an industry that is trying to survive a fourth wave of the pandemic in Windsor-Essex. 

"There's a lot of chair dancing," said Stephanie Farrugia. She co-owns the Player's Sports Club, which operates The Backstage in the rear of the building. 

Music venues and bars have faced a new blast of restrictions since early September as cases of COVID-19 surged locally. 

People can't dance and customers must be out of the establishment before midnight. Staff must also wear eye protection.

The Backstage has continued to book live music acts, but the club is now limiting how far in advance they're securing artists. 

"We had bands booked until the end of the year and into the following year. We've always tried to keep that schedule filled," said sound engineer Brynn Kimble, recalling the days leading up to the pandemic. 

The Backstage at the Player's Sports Club in Windsor said they're happy to have live performances back but are hesitant to book too far ahead. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Now they're booking artists just weeks in advance. 

"It's just really tough to go full booking because you're still on that edge of 'Are we going to shut down again?"

Medical professionals and politicians have said that a vaccine passport is one way to prevent a shutdown that left businesses reeling during the previous waves of the pandemic. 

Ron Leary has been preforming across southwestern Ontario for decades. Hear how he's survived and what he fears about the fall.

Live music is back. Venues hosting bands say they're making it work with new restrictions for indoor settings. But booking shows is tough when things change so much, and so quickly. Windsor folk singer Ron Leary has had to make one adjustment after another over the past 18 months. CBC Windsor's Chris Ensing talked to him about that. 8:06

"The hardest thing is just having people sit," said Tom Lucier, who operates Phog Loung and Meteor, a pair of live music venues in downtown Windsor. 

Lucier said bands loved coming to Windsor; the city had a reputation of being a lively crowd, something the new rules stomp out. 

Booking acts a week, not a year, ahead

"Now it's like we're coaching people to sit down. It's like being a kindergarten teacher, it's just so unnatural."

He said booking acts has been difficult because not all bands are touring or bookable."There's an adjustment for everyone. Being compassionate, thinking about what the musicians are having to go through for their adjustments and why they're not booking shows and also trying to put yourself in the shoes of the customer."

Lucier's put up Plexiglass on stages and spaced out tables.

"You don't want people having to come out and think about restrictions so you have to try to be one step ahead."

But Lucier isn't sure how to pull that off when he keeps getting surprised by the latest regulations, saying he's still waiting for more information on the previously-announced vaccine passports, expected to come in place on Sept. 22.

"It's really unbelievably inconsiderate of the province to not have their act together to put this information out at least three weeks before something like this is implemented." 

Phog Lounge in Windsor has been hosting shows with new safety measures in place and reduced capacity. (Chris Ensing/CBC)

Lucier said that the service industry has rallied around each other in the absence of clear and direct information on new regulations. 

"The bars that are acting responsibly are helping to protect each other," said Farrugia, calling it the best part of the pandemic. 

"Our customers, they come here, they might go to the next bar. We want to make sure they're as safe there as they are here."


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