Concert halls dealt another blow as Ontario’s COVID-19 rules ban live broadcasts
TORONTO – Ontario concert hall owners face yet another setback after the provincial government banned live streaming broadcasts for the second time this year under the latest COVID-19 restrictions.
Doug Ford’s “emergency brake” plan, presented Thursday, bans virtual shows in empty concert halls for the next four weeks, even though other industries are given the green light to continue operating.
It has frustrated some in the live music industry, pointing out that shoppers are still allowed to walk through malls while TV and film productions continue to roll into movie studios.
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“The government chooses winners and losers without any logic,” said Jeff Cohen, owner of Horseshoe Tavern, a downtown Toronto venue that was teeming with crowds before the pandemic but turned to live broadcasts. over the past year to stay in business.
“The moment we try to do something proactive… we just get hit on the head with a rubber mallet.”
For the past year, Cohen has been looking for ways to keep the lights on at the Horseshoe while supporting Canadian musicians.
Last August, he launched the Horseshoe Hootenanny, a live streaming concert series that died out when Ontario leaders unveiled stricter health guidelines late last year, which made it illegal to maintain the series.
After tapping into government funding, Cohen recently revived the live broadcast series shortly before the Ford government tightened restrictions again as COVID-19 cases increased.
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The virtual Horseshoe concerts originally scheduled for April have all been pushed back to May, including dates for the Trews, Terra Lightfoot and Hawksley Workman.
All of this would make sense to Cohen if he didn’t see the province making special exceptions for other industries.
“I’m a careful guy, so I’m like, ‘OK, we can’t broadcast live.’ But you can line up at a non-essential retail store to buy a skirt? ”Cohen says.
“Like, that doesn’t… sense at all.”
Lisa Zbitnew, co-owner of the Phoenix Concert Theater in Toronto, can understand these frustrations. She said she supported the government’s sanitation measures, but did not understand why live music was being neglected again.
She highlighted the progressing film and television shoots across the province, raising the question of how a production crew inside an empty concert hall is different from a studio shoot.
“It’s upsetting that for some reason the music business is being treated a bit like an outcast,” she said.
“We are not suggesting that we can do something that others cannot. We always seem to be at the end of the line.
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Erin Benjamin, executive director of the advocacy organization Canadian Live Music Association, said suffering another short-notice shutdown has added to an emotionally and financially draining year for the industry.
The latest restrictions come just months after similar measures were passed in January, forcing organizers of live concerts to delay or cancel events to comply with the province’s stricter stay-at-home orders.
“We understand very well what the government is trying to achieve right now, and we are 100% dedicated to keeping people safe,” Benjamin said.
But she added: “The constant navigation (of) changes in restrictions has become a full-time job for these people.”
Mary Stewart, executive director of Hugh’s Room, said it was “confusing” to navigate the province’s health guidelines.
The small venue in West Toronto has been forced to postpone its live broadcast to mark the 45th anniversary of the band’s iconic concert, The Last Waltz, leaving a group of local blues and roots musicians in awe.
“Artists have a lot of expense to be able to maintain their art (and) they don’t have a lot of people standing up for them in terms of performance equity,” she said.
“It feels like they’re kind of forgotten.”
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