‘It just feels different’: People of Fredericton reflect on nightlife during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the nightlife in Fredericton. (Submitted: J.W. Deveaux Photography)

With the lights dimmed, focusing on the artist on stage and their tune flowing through the seats, the audience at The Cap seems engaged. There’s no dance floor at The Cap during the pandemic and there are fewer people allowed in the building but the atmosphere is still vibrant.

Plexiglass divides people between the booths and tables. Sean Hutchins, the manager at The Cap, said there’s at least one positive coming from COVID-19 — the people are listening to the music. Everybody in the room is in the moment.

“I think a lot of people are just happy to be at a show,” Hutchins, 31, said. “I don’t feel like anything is missing, it just feels different.”

These bands aren’t the typical bands with a sound that would make someone swing their hips. The heavy rock, punk, metal bands, haven’t been playing. Hutchins said they seemed horrified to play in such an environment and he said he understands because people cannot get up and dance. 

But more settled artists have swung by The Cap, such as The Hypochondriacs and Motherhood, both Fredericton-based bands. Usually, bands from Ontario come down every so often but COVID-19 has disallowed this. Everything has since been local, including time-to-time appearances from Hutchins as well.

As a performer, Hutchins has felt the same impact as bands whose music is targeted to dancers. (Submitted: Sean Hutchins)

As a performer, Hutchins has felt the same impact as bands whose music is targeted to dancers. The biggest difference for him is no feeding off of the energy from the crowd, where all customers must be seated now.

“It’s not necessarily all bad but it’s different for sure,” he said. “Performers feed off of this energy, so I’ve personally missed this.”

On a positive note, Hutchins said it shows who really wants to be there, though they might not be able to signal it. 

“There’s an attentiveness I haven’t seen before … when the applause comes at the end, you know everyone there was still there with you for the ride.”

He’s worked at The Cap for seven years, after hearing about a job opening as a doorman while he was performing — he’s never left since. He’s been the manager for three and a half years now. It’s his first job in a bar but he was comfortable with the scenery beforehand, having been a musician since high school.

Before the pandemic, he described nightlife as having a floor packed with people dancing and singing along to music. But now the only commotion that is heard is chattering at the tables where everyone sits down for a drink. People don’t arrive until 8 p.m when the show typically starts. The Cap has seen fewer 10 p.m. to 12 p.m start times for shows. Hutchins said there is a slow build-up until everyone is ready to dance. 

“You’re always waiting for the people to show up,” he said. 

Jared Nolan, a St. Thomas University student, has a non-existent nightlife besides the usual drink or two when places are actually open. He described the pandemic as a universal tolerance break when it comes to going out and having drinks. He said there’s an eerie feeling, making Fredericton seem much smaller than what it is.

Nolan said he feels the mental effects COVID-19 has had are especially bad to those who use social events to unwind and destress. He said the days blend together when there’s nothing to look forward to.

“There’s not much excitement in the weekend rolling around when it’s just another day.”

Jared Nolan, a St. Thomas University student, described the pandemic as a universal tolerance break when it comes to going out and having drinks. (Submitted: Jared Nolan)

Hutchins experiences the same when he’s away from his duties at The Cap and plays the role of a customer at other pubs. He said he’s able to have fun with his friends despite the measurements put in place.

A lot of his experience is the same for him where he is quite familiar with the business around Fredericton. Working in the local industry means a lot of people who work in the Fredericton bars know each other.

“I’ll go to a place like Graystone, I’ll know the staff … I don’t go stick my elbow on the bar and chat with them for 10 minutes anymore.”

Another difference Hutchins noticed is the restaurant approach, with sheet service more common rather than going to the bar and ordering. But it doesn’t make a difference to him.

“[Going out] is not a waste of time just because it’s different. I still have fun going and meeting friends at a place.”