On March 14th, 2020, I went to Hurley’s Irish pub on Crescent, downtown. A good friend of mine was playing a gig, and I had another friend working the bar. Pub-goers laughed and cracked jokes as they sarcastically bumped elbows in lieu of handshaking. I passed my hand sanitizer around like it was the mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving dinner.
Between shots and pints, the topic in everyone’s mouth was the possibility for a mysterious virus breaking out throughout parts of China reaching global proportions.
“Kind of crazy that things might shut down.”
“Anyone want some hand sanitizer?”
“When I first heard people talking about it, it all seemed like a sick joke.”
How wrong we all were. How was I to know that the drive home from the city that night would be my last for more than 18 months? How was I to know I would not return to school the following Monday. How was I to know that my employer would send me home from work early on the Tuesday, and I would never return as an employee again.
To say that so much changed would truly be the understatement of the century. To say that people from all walks of life, all over the world were affected would not be doing the gravity of the situation justice.
Doctors and healthcare workers, small business owners, and essential workers were all forced into a new normal.
Teachers, business owners, and fitness instructors each had to navigate their way through zoom and re-format their quotidian routines to suit a socially distanced setting.
Another group of people who fell by the wayside as the Coronavirus pandemic continued to rage on was musicians and creatives. For so many performers, live gigs or private instruction was their only form of income. Suddenly, bars cafés, and restaurants were closed and the possibility of sharing the stage with fellow musicians seemed far off in the distance.
Beyond financial concerns, for artists the loss of the chance to perform meant the loss of the chance to express themselves, share their craft, and connect with people. Musicians of all ages and levels were left scrambling for ways to stay connected with one another and to continue mastering their skills.
Being a musician myself, I felt and experienced this in a very real way. Suddenly I had nothing but the four walls of my room to play my ideas to. I also had nothing but time to practice, learn, prepare and create.
Now that the world is slowly starting to open its eyes and stretch its legs Montreal’s musicians are finally getting the chance to connect with live audiences once more, and it has been magical.
I sat down with some of my dearest friends who also happen to be some of Montreal’s finest musicians and spoke about their experience through the COVID-19 shutdown, and their experience with the city opening up.
Continue below for the full story.
Tim Walsh is a musician from Hudson, Quebec, and my personal mentor. The trajectory of my music career was forever changed when I met him and I will always be indebted to him for the lessons he has taught me, not only in music but in life.
For Tim, COVID was a catalyst of growth.
“COVID was an unmitigated blessing for me. It put an end to my pub gigs, which were drying up anyway. I practiced music all day every day and meditated on it. I learned many new skills, and ultimately, I changed the way I see what I do.
If I could summarize the insight: before COVID I was all about trees and I was unhappy. Now I'm all about forest and I'm very happy.”
Tim is a phenomenal teacher for a number of reasons. Firstly, he loves what he does, secondly, he has fun doing it. If you or someone you know is interested in taking lessons with a top-of-the-line educator and musician, pay Tim a visit at https://timmysschoolofrock.wordpress.com/about/
If you know me, you know my dad, because I never give up an opportunity to talk about him. I owe my love of music to him, and will never be able to repay him for that gift. Kim is the drummer for The Black Cadillacs, a classic rock trio, and has been playing with the same group of guys for the last 35 years.
“For me personally, It has been a major void in my life, after all the years of playing since the age of 15. With the bars opening, we are excited and at the same time, having to be cautious as well as patient.
We are only now getting asked about our availability and probably won't get bookings for a while. We are a trio and that makes it harder to be indoors. We play the classic tunes that make people want to get up and dance, and that’s not allowed… Hopefully one day soon?”
To learn more about the Black Cadillacs or to book them for your next event, visit http://www.blackcadillacs.com/
Zach Oskrdal is one of my longest and dearest friends. We’ve known one another since high school, and as such, have seen one another’s music careers from their very beginnings. As a matter of fact, were it not for Zach, I wouldn’t know any of the other talents on this list barring my father.
Zach and I had the chance to talk about the heavier and darker feelings that weighed on artists throughout the shutdown.
“It was kind of a long haul through the pandemic. At first, it was really nice to be taking part in all the regular online events and clinging to what little scraps of performance space we had left, but after extended shutdowns and curfews, even those started to feel less like a solace and more similar to any other tedious FaceTime where you can’t stop looking at your own little video window the whole time and wonder if the person on the other end is even really paying attention.
Now that bars and performance venues are opening up again you can feel a new energy waking up within both the audience and the performers. There’s a certain giddiness on both sides. Perhaps it comes from shared gratefulness to have these moments and these spaces again.”
Check out Zach’s cover of “You’re My Best Friend” by Queen on his Instagram, HERE.
Zach also hosts an open mic night every Sunday at Brutopia bar, which you definitely don’t want to miss.
Prior to the pandemic, Lea Keeley hosted a weekly open mic at Local Legend bar downtown. She was one of the first fellow musicians to self-isolate, and one of the last to venture back out into shared social spaces due to her courageous and outspoken battle with Crohn’s disease.
Lea was quick to adjust to socially distanced life and began hosting her very own virtual open mic. Every Monday she would go live on her Instagram and have different talents join one by one.
It was a magical way to see familiar faces every week and share your craft to more than just your cat.
"It was really tough at first, for all artists especially. It was hard to find creative ways to express ourselves. Virtual shows and open mics kept us sane, but it didn’t feel the same as playing in front of a crowd. It’s all about the energy in a room. When you’re just playing to a screen, even though people are watching, you don’t know how they’re feeling. There was a crucial element of genuine human connection missing.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, I hosted my own virtual open mic. It was a way to keep the community of musicians together. When the summer rolled around, I started my own open mic in parc Jeanne-Mance. I was inspired by my fellow friend and musician Frisco Lee, who started his own open mic outside in St Henri. When there were no venues or bars open, it became one of the few spots artists could perform. It was incredible to see how much it affected people’s lives in a positive way.”
The open mic became such a success last summer, I brought it back again this year. It grew into something special. It’s all about sharing your passion and inspiring others to do the same. I will be continuing the open mics outside for the rest of the Summer, and I have a bar lined up to move the jams inside come Winter. I’ll be announcing the location soon. Music is transforming and healing. We need it, and we need one another.
Open mic in the park happens every Monday night from 5 pm-9 pm. Anyone is welcome to perform. There is a Facebook group called “Open Mic Mondays in parc Jeanne-Mance” for anyone interested in performing, learning more, or becoming part of the music scene in Montreal.
Now that bars and venues are opening up again, playing real shows has been a true blessing. It feels surreal. Every opportunity I get to perform I’m grateful for. It’s important we continue to push forward, and don’t take live music for granted anymore.”
Emily is the definition of unassuming. She has this uncanny ability to timidly get on a stage, and subsequently knock the living daylights out of you with her power and passion.
She has one of my favorite sets to watch purely because of how much fun she has and how she truly commands any stage.
Here’s what Emily had to say about getting back to performing post-covid.
“I have mixed reactions to what the pandemic meant to me.
I think there is a certain mystical aspect of creativity that is intertwined with isolation. The fact of not being able to distract yourself from your own thoughts with outside sources was something that I have found as a blessing in disguise during this whole whirlwind of events.
Personally, I needed to get used to it. However, once I did, I found that I needed the space that this pandemic allowed me in order to become a better person, a better creator, and a better artist overall.
Not everything was pretty. Also, I understand that in the place that I was in, not being able to perform wasn’t much of a difference as I had just started a year prior to everything stopping. I would often sit and think about how much I missed it and wonder how the ones that did it for a living would be getting by.
It fills me with much joy to see these artists especially back on the stages, being heard. Cause, inevitably, at the end that’s all that we can wish for.”
Avery Jane is a singer-songwriter from Victoria, British Columbia, and has become one of my dearest friends.
Avery is the kind of writer and poet I aspire to be. As easily as she can tell a story about her personal life, she can equally fabricate the most intricate and heart-warming of tales.
Her writing is touching and gentle, and her voice can only be compared to velvet.
In my conversation with Avery, I was reminded that as exciting as it is to be able to perform again. It can also be overwhelming.
"Musician life for me over covid has been a rollercoaster of increased productivity but inspiration-less months. I’ve been putting so much more intention into who I want to be, after a long year of really thinking about it. But even with that drive to make music a bigger part of my professional life, I just haven’t been feeling into it.
I find playing for people, listening to people, and just all around being around musical people is the most inspiring thing for me and the sheer lack of that has been detrimental to how much music I make, practice, or write.
After only being around to two nights of live music so far because of my late-night job, I found that it's already igniting that spark, but the issue I’m running into now is burnout. I feel like a kid in a candy store and I’m already getting a bit of a stomach ache from all the sugar. I think as social as music is, we have to balance that lifestyle with the lifestyle we’ve all become accustomed to in these last two years."
For creatives like myself, human connection is one of- if not the - main reason we do what we do. Having the chance to interact with people again, see their faces, hear them singing along, is a gift we will never take for granted for the rest of our lives.
We must of course continue to respect and adhere to government guidelines, get vaccinated if we can, and take every action necessary to keep everyone safe. In order to continue reveling in these magical moments of connection, we must be smart and safe.
Remember also to be kind and gentle to musicians. It's been a tedious road for us, and many have not had the chance to train their performance muscles in almost two years. As you celebrate your freedom, don't be shy to seek out bars, restaurants, and other venues that host live musicians. It's truly a win-win for all involved.
Music is sounding awfully sweet these days in Montreal. You just have to stop and listen.