As we approach one full year of the COVID-19 pandemic — and resulting lockdowns and shutdowns — Manitoba musicians continue to reel the lost moments of tour dates, travelling, and recording sessions, something that used to be so familiar.
There’s something special about live music, especially going to concerts.
The night has finally arrived, and in two hours, you get to see one of your favourite musicians perform live. Some people will experience this in their hometown, while others may have travelled far for one night.
The taxi arrives at the venue. Naturally, you pat yourself down like you would at an airport. Wallet? Check. ID? Check. Ticket? Check.
Before entering the venue, you walk through a haze of cigarette smoke, weed, and anticipation. Euphoria washes over you as you encounter old friends and make new ones. You stand in line at the bar, sharing memories, laughter, and stories — something about an overpriced beer makes it taste better.
People stand in rows like a fresh pack of cigarettes in front of the stage. Perfume, spilt beer, and sweat creates a familiar smell throughout the crowd. The musician you’ve been listening to for months, maybe years, has built up anticipation. With each beat, your senses activate, and dopamine takes over your body.
For those two hours, you feel at peace — truly happy, and one day you will experience a version of it again. A concert is a pure, potent moment and then it’s gone. All you have left is a memory of the feelings and emotions you felt.
A favourite moment at a concert could be when the lights turn off, or when there’s deafening applause, or when the encore begins.
Know that while you’re missing those moments, musicians are too.
Depending on the circumstances and regulations, most live in-person performances have been forbidden since March 2020. Many Manitoba musicians say they had hoped 2020 would be their biggest year yet — a year of recording, travelling, tour dates, and financial stability.
But three months into the new year, it had become clear 2020 had different plans for them.
Here’s what happened to a few of them.
Rayannah Chartier-Kroeker, 31, sits next to her pug, Prudence, at Thom Bargen, a coffee shop in downtown Winnipeg. The Francophone singer remembers the details of when the pandemic turned her year upside down.
Before the province claimed a state of emergency in March 2020, Rayannah planned to leave Winnipeg for Quebec City. Her bags and equipment were ready to board the flight, but as COVID-19 cases grew in major cities across Canada, travelling came to a standstill.
“It was the perfect storm for what is not acceptable in a pandemic,” she said.
The cancellation was the start of a steamroll effect. She was in problem-solving mode — cancelling flights, accommodations, and applying for funding so she could pay her band members.
Months later was the first time she had the chance to mourn the events that didn’t happen.
Rayannah adjusted her usual nomad-lifestyle to focus on how she could still make more music at home. One of the options was livestreaming.
Since the first lockdown, Rayannah has performed in several livestreams. She sees performing live and producing a livestream as two different types of experiences. The steps and processes are far from what any live performer is used to preparing.
“I recognize the talent and skill YouTube artists have to make music in a way that really invites you into their universe,” she said. “That’s a craft in and of itself.”
Rayannah replaced her Montreal tour date on March 28 with a livestream with the National Arts Centre. Before this, Rayannah had performed one online show on the web series Live at The Roslyn with The Village Idiots, which took place earlier in February 2020.
But this time, her livestream dropped halfway through. Her partner crept into the room to let her know it was either his computer that wasn’t working or that the stream stopped.
She sweat and scrambled to fix the technical difficulty and proceeded to come out on top. But after the matter, Rayannah realized how little she knew about how to transfer her performances online.
“The end goal is not to die in a Facebook livestream,” she said. “But there is a pressure to feed the algorithm.”
Rayannah said she sometimes feels the internet can distract from the creative process of making music and art. Since her first livestream, she has put her efforts into perfecting her online performances. She acknowledges the opportunities the internet presents her to connect with fans and other artists.
Rayannah has been digging through old journals and reminiscing on past tours to help her remember what it feels like to perform live.
“I miss the connection with the audience, where it’s like, you’re all in on this special moment.”
Rayannah came close to a sense of normalcy in February when she performed virtually at the 2021 Festival du Voyageur. Her synth soundscapes, light show, and glow-in-the-dark eyeshadow created an almost near reflection of her live performances.
Rayannah partnered with Synonym Art Consultation, a contemporary street-art movement in Winnipeg, to take the installation “AFTERGLOW” online for an immersive mixed-media performance. The installation will tribute Rayannah’s latest album, Nos repaires, on March 19, 2021 on Facebook Live.
Adjusting online has had its trials and triumphs, but there is something so intimate watching a musician do what they love, regardless of in-person or on the internet. Rayannah found enjoyment in both.
Myazwe Ntungo, 26, sits on FaceTime while his brother gives him a haircut — something many of us may not have had the pleasure of getting done in some time.
Myazwe is a rapper who has grown from doing rap battles at lunch in high school to performing on stage to crowds of 10,000 people.
In 2019, Myazwe performed alongside Tyga, YG, and Faouzia, making it his biggest year yet, and he intended for 2020 to go in the same direction.
Days before the lockdown in March 2020, Myazwe was planning to drop his new album. He decided to hold on to it until he could promote it to its full potential through live shows and touring. But that didn’t stop him from producing new music and music videos during 2020.
“This year , I am ready for no restrictions and restrictions,” he said.
Like every musician, Myazwe had to pivot and develop new ideas to keep his goals on track. He said consistency in creating new music and gaining exposure as a musician has been at the centre of 2021.
“I’m dropping over 50 songs this year,” he said. “I want to build my name up through these singles.”
And since January 1, 2021, he has dropped nine singles already.
Myazwe is also working towards producing more videos for his singles and sharing his behind-the-scenes life through his YouTube channel. In 2020, Myazwe released six singles and two music videos, resulting in over 20,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.
He said he’s enjoyed the opportunities to plan and produce music videos in 2020 but says nothing compares to the gratification he feels in front of a crowd.
“Performing is definitely my favourite part of making music.”
Myazwe’s intention for 2021 is to build up his name as a musician so when live performances return, he will be more than prepared to get back on stage.
Cayden Carfrae, musically known as Caid Jones, said 2020 was a transformative year for him. As a Cree man, he believes his culture has directly influenced his mindset in both his career and personal growth.
When the first lockdown happened, the 21-year-old said he didn’t pay much attention to what was happening until his job as a youth behaviour manager moved online. Regardless, he feels the pandemic has created more opportunities for him because there was more time to initiate and build connections musically and in his community.
Cayden participated in several creative projects to generate COVID-19 relief funds for struggling musicians. These included podcasts and livestreams, something he hadn’t done before.
“There’s been a lot of growth for me, not only as an artist but as an individual.”
Cayden performed at two live events in 2020. Before the second lockdown in September, Cayden performed at the Justice 4 Black Lives Winnipeg rally and at a farewell concert for his friend, Sir Louie the 3rd.
In addition to his music, Cayden focuses on giving back to his community through fundraising performances, advocating for Indigenous people, or collecting donation packages.
In June, Cayden and nine other volunteers organized and donated 350 care packages for the West Central Women’s Resource Centre — and donated 325 more in October. He actively searched for community service grants to build community relationships and increase donation numbers.
“Why not take that opportunity if it’s just sitting there,” he said. “If you can give help, provide it.”
Cayden believes his contributions to his community is incorporated into his music. He hopes many of his songs, including his latest single, “Higher,” can allow listeners to look for ways to ground themselves and escape these times through music. Cayden incorporated six different languages in “Higher” to emphasize how every culture and belief contributes to our society.
“I’m grateful to be able to be in a position as an artist to work on my craft and have an outlet to express myself through these times.”
His goal is to become a well-versed musician through compositions, live instruments, and creating his most authentic expression. In 2021, Cayden wants to push even harder for his family, friends, community, and passion for music.
Cayden said he believes helping others benefits his own mental health. Eight in 10 Canadians listen to music to relieve stress, especially this year according to an Abacus Data survey report. However, more than half of the people surveyed say they found comfort in listening to the favourite musicians and discovering new ones too.
Ami Cheon, 26, relocated to Winnipeg three years ago, when her music career started to take off in Regina, Saskatchewan, after independently releasing her first two singles.
In January, the alternative R&B musician was in Toronto, and at that time, COVID-19 was becoming more severe than Winnipeg. But Ami said she didn’t feel as shocked as others when the province announced it was locking things down.
“I thought to myself, ‘Wow, they’re actually shutting us down for two full weeks,” she said. “In hindsight, it’s hilarious because it’s been a full year now.”
One of her last live performances before the lockdown was on the main stage at Festival du Voyageur. When restrictions lifted and gatherings could host up to a maximum of 50 people, Ami hosted two intimate shows in Winnipeg — which both sold out immediately.
Ami hasn’t performed to a crowd less than 50 since her earlier days performing at coffee houses and open mics. Her Winnipeg shows took place almost six months after the release of her two singles, and Ami felt the support.
“Everyone knew every word, and I almost started crying,” she said. “I forgot this is me at my truest form.”
She also performed back-to-back sold-out shows across Saskatchewan in November, including Regina and Saskatoon. Since Saskatchewan’s regulations differed from Manitoba’s, Ami was able to follow through with her tour dates there.
“You could feel that’s what people needed at the time — a live show.”
When she returned from Saskatchewan, Winnipeg leaned towards another lockdown, and live music was out of the question. Having a small taste of performing again and then returning home to quarantine made her realize her internal motivation music gives her.
“It’s the thing that makes me feel better,” she said. “But if you turn a tap, and there’s no water coming out, I’m not going to smack the tap.”
In many ways, Ami thinks 2020 was great, she found new hobbies, new ways to practice self-care, and a new connection to nature. But one thing she is leaving behind is livestreams.
“The best of performing is connecting and having an energy exchange with the crowd. Playing to a laptop just doesn’t do it for me.”
When a musician starts gaining momentum in their writing and collaborating with other musicians, it can be an exciting time. But according to a survey from Abacus Data, 78 per cent of Canadian musicians say their anxiety negatively affects their creativity and productivity.
For now, Ami is focusing on creating and staying sane. She feels more aware of what she can do rather than what she can’t and looks forward to returning to the stage.
Anthony Sannie, 30, who performs as Anthony OKS, reflects on the past year while he waits for his SkipTheDishes delivery.
Anthony is one of five members in the well-known hip-hop group, The Lytics, and planned to tour Europe with the group for a few weeks in the summertime. Inevitably, the pandemic kept them in Winnipeg, but Anthony said he didn’t mind it.
“I didn’t know I needed a break [from touring] in March,” he said. “But looking back at it now, I think I needed this reset.”
Anthony has been performing for 12 years straight, and during those years, he has filled notebooks with lyrics, poetry, and inspiration. He recognizes his perspective is a bit different from new musicians who may depend on the momentum that follows the release of new music. Still, he hurts for the moments and experiences they are missing out on.
“You can really define your career by playing an awesome tour.”
This year he released his first solo EP called Take Time. He said he’s always wanted to produce his own record, and the EP helped get his feet wet as a solo artist.
“I just tried to see the light in this dark situation,” he said. “I hope to come out of this pandemic with ideas and perspectives to share.”
The Lytics performed in-person at The Beer Can for the Harvest Moon Festival in August, and with restrictions, the crowd was seated for their performance. Anthony said The Lytics have played to a group sitting down before, so it wasn’t something new to them.
One thing Anthony has yet to dip his toes in is livestreams. Although he’s been invited to participate in several livestreams, he said he needs more time with this idea.
Right now, Anthony said the everchanging restrictions in Manitoba are making it hard to follow his project timeline — his recording sessions and release dates keep changing following restriction updates. He said although this is one part of his next steps, he is okay with tour dates being pushed back.
“Playing live isn’t a priority for me right now,” he said. “I sure do miss it, but right now, I just need to get in the studio.”
Professional musicians perform, on average, up to 96 times a year according to a report by Abacus Data. Musicians didn’t get the option to decide if they wanted to perform or not in 2020 and potentially in 2021 too.
BOLD AS LIONS, Karli and Sean Quigley
After performing 10 days straight in February 2020, Karli and Sean Quigley, also known as BOLD AS LIONS, flew to Walt Disney World, their favourite place, for a much-needed vacation. But when they returned, the nomad and touring life they knew was now a memory.
Karli, 27, and Sean, 25, remember the day the phone wouldn’t stop ringing with bad news.
“Tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of events just cancelled in one day,” Sean said.
Like being at Walt Disney World, Karli and Sean have experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. From being shocked, to sad, to uncertain, they asked themselves, “How are we going to use this time off to our advantage?”
Being in Winnipeg for a full year has helped the two find a new appreciation for their career and how they can bring value to their music and fans through other ways besides performing live.
“Being a musician is like eating pizza every day,” Sean said. “But I don’t get to grab every slice I want.”
Usually tied to their tour bus, Karli and Sean had dreamt about doing a visual album, a video version of each song, for their album Peace in the Chaos but never found the time until the pandemic. 2020 allowed them to create, direct, and produce 13 videos throughout the year.
“When we wrote each song, we kind of knew what we wanted it to look like from the beginning,” Karli said.
Together they agree their group name, BOLD AS LIONS, is the truest representation of who they are and what they want to accomplish — before, during, and after the pandemic.
“The work we are doing right now has the most potential out of anything we’ve ever done, and that is really exciting,” Karli said.
The main message they like to share with friends and fans is, “You’re not alone,” and they recognize people need this message more than ever.
“People were already struggling before the pandemic,” Karli said. “And we still want to share that message, even if it’s not in person.”
BOLD AS LIONS performed at the 2021 Festival du Voyageur virtual event as finalists for Canada’s Walk of Fame RBC Emerging Musician Program. Their pre-recorded live show showed the duo’s connection throughout acoustic versions of their top songs and a brand-new song called, “That House.”
Even though Karli and Sean say they miss touring and travelling, they’re still finding ways to connect with fans through Instagram and YouTube. The two continue to drop hints of a new project they are launching on March 26, 2021, so stay tuned.
Humans remember moments; moments of silliness, intimacy, shock, or embarrassment — moments that have changed someone forever.
We are still living in a moment where there is no live music. Music represents a small measurement in our identity, but it’s a livelihood for almost 600 Manitoba musicians.
There is still an uncertainty about whether in-person concerts and performances will return in 2021.
Rayannah, Myazwe, Cayden, Ami, Anthony, Karli, and Sean all had their own experiences, and each has continued to move forward using their craft for music. Through trial and error, Manitoba musicians have adapted to their new normal without in-person performances.
From livestreams, Instagram Lives, music videos, and virtual events, musicians have continued to be creative and hone their new skills at home. A once unfamiliar and scary time has given musicians time to relax, create, and connect deeper to their craft in preparation for when they perform at their first live show.
The pandemic has been a year-long moment. 2020 gave Manitoba musicians trying times, opportunities, new memories, growth, and reflection on what truly matters.
For many, it’s live music.