Fredericton music scene remains optimistic through COVID-19

Stephen Lewis (above) had to cancel his tours across Canada and the United States and multiple festival appearances in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. (Johnny James/AQ)

The spread of COVID-19 has affected many job sectors including the music industry.

Gatherings in New Brunswick are limited to 10 people and as a result, festivals like Paddlefest and FLOURISH Festival have been put on hold along with the income of the artists scheduled to play them.

Fredericton artists such as Stephen Lewis are feeling the impact of these mass cancellations. His jam band, Stephen Lewis & The Big Band of Fun, has cancelled their upcoming tours across Canada and the United States and their festival appearances at New York’s Mountain Jam and the iconic Glastonbury Festival in the United Kingdom.

“We were booked for 70 plus dates from May until the end of August and that’s our main source of our yearly income,” said Lewis.

Ahead of the potential financial loss is Lewis’ concern about his own mental health from not being able to perform.

“You get used to a certain way of life and you get used to how you get fed emotionally as well,” he said.

“I love bringing music to people and in a lot of ways that’s more scary than the loss of income.”

However, Lewis is maintaining a strong, positive approach in the wake of the cancellations and said he is holding on and is grateful to have those opportunities in the first place.

He also said the positive response to the COVID-19 pandemic from the rest of Fredericton’s artists, such as moving to performing via live stream, is making it easier to stay optimistic.

“We are still here and we want to share music and I think it’s been really incredible,” said Lewis.

Tim Yerxa, director of the Fredericton Playhouse, echoed similar praise. The Playhouse has had to cancel 33 events.

He said those who work within the arts community are creative, resilient and adaptable enough to survive the current situation.

“If there is any sector who can find their way through such a devastating period financially it’s the art sector.” 

The Playhouse, one of Fredericton’s longest standing venues, has had to cancel 33 shows due to COVID-19 precautions. (Submitted by The Playhouse)

Local festivals, venues forced to cancel, postpone and shutdown

The Fredericton area has already seen two festival cancellations due to the pandemic.

FLOURISH Festival, which was set to take place in multiple venues in the city’s downtown area from April 23 to 26, has postponed and is currently looking to reschedule for the fall.

Paddlefest, which takes place in St. Andrews, has cancelled their festivities that were set for May 14 to 17 of this year.

Eva George, who sits on the board of directors for Paddlefest, said while the decision was tough to make, it’s more crucial to uphold these kinds of events as safe places to be, even if it means not having them at all.

“I’m really proud of the measures that have been taken in New Brunswick, particularly around protecting our spaces and making sure that they are going to be navigable for the future,” said George.

“This is going to be really difficult for our little babies to be postponed for now … But the greater good and the long-term objective is that we all come through this healthier and more connected to each other.”

George is also on the board of directors for Music New Brunswick and is the artreach program director at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre, a venue that has had to postpone a “full calendar” of shows for March and April.

She said Music NB is doing its best to reach out to artists in need of financial support during this time by turning them towards programs like the Unison Benevolent Fund, a non-profit charity that provides counselling and emergency relief services to the Canadian music community.

However, she said the best and quickest way the public can help is by investing in these artists

“Go to their websites or their Bandcamp, buy their records, buy their merchandise, stream their music if they’re on Spotify or iTunes … all that sort of stuff will add up.”

East Coast Music Awards cancelled

The ECMAs, an annual gathering and award ceremony for Atlantic Canadian artists and industry professionals, is also cancelled.

The annual event, which was supposed to be held in St. John’s, Newfoundland from April 29 to May 3, is one of the most important events on the industry calendar. It’s a massive week of networking and showcases for East Coast artists that allow them to make connections to land potential festival opportunities in other countries and meet delegates that can help push their careers forward.

Emma Chevarie, a live music columnist for CBC Information Morning Fredericton and founder of Fredericton music blog Music Runs Through It, said it’s a valuable event to lose that has provided growth for artists and music industry professionals, like herself, in previous years.

“We bring in a lot of delegates from around the world to showcase what we have to offer [on the East Coast] … So that’s a hard one not to be able to attend this year,” said Chevarie.

Emma Chevarie (above) has to reschedule 10 shows she has booked through her music blog and promotion Music Runs Through It. (Submitted by Emma Chevarie)

With the coronavirus outbreak throwing a wrench into the gears of all aspects of the arts industry in Fredericton and across the globe, Chevarie said those within it are leaning on one another to keep what momentum they can going.

“We know the importance of why this is all going on, so as disappointed and as frustrating as it might be, I don’t feel that there’s a lot of anger,” said Chevarie.

“I think together, we will all make our way out. It’s just going to be a challenging time.”