How’s everyone doing out there? June 8 edition
As we head into the summer, we’re approaching that time of year when artists, fans and industry people would normally be gathering at summer festivals and catching up after months of not seeing each other. That’s just one part of the summer festival experience we’re missing out on this year, but we’ve decided to do something about it here at Roots Music Canada. We’ve started calling up friends and colleagues in the music business – and we’re going to start reaching out to fans too – to see how the last two months of have gone for them. We’ll be featuring clusters of their responses in these columns. So without further ado, here is this week’s edition of How’s Everyone Doing Out There?
Elaine Bomberry – Broadcaster, artist manager, event organizer and co-instigator of the Juno Awards’ Indigenous music category
Elaine and her partner, blues musician Murray Porter, who she also manages, have been “hanging in there as best as we can,” she said from their home on the Capilano reserve on Vancouver’s North Shore. But it’s been a struggle, she said, and there have been a couple of days where she just hasn’t been able to get out of bed.
“In our lifetimes, we’ve never experienced anything like this, so it’s been a challenge of course because we’re heading into the prime time of a musician’s schedule and then all of a sudden, Boom. … the cancellations and everything.”
The couple had been hoping to spend the spring and summer promoting Murray’s recent album, Stand Up, which he released last year but which they’d had to hold off promoting due to the deaths of several loved ones.
Murray was supposed to go on tour in the Yukon this summer, and he was scheduled to play Vancouver’s big annual 420 festival in English Bay in April.
That’s all been cancelled now, but some online gigs have risen up to take their place, Elaine said. Murray played a livestream for the National Arts Centre and performed for the virtual edition of the Takaronto Indigenous arts festival, and he’s slated to perform a streaming show for people in Nunavik because Murray has a song about suicide prevention, and the community is dealing with high rates of youth suicide right now.
Those efforts appear to be paying off as Murray’s song “Love Will Find a Way,” which Elaine wrote lyrics for, is charting on Canada’s National Indigenous Music Countdown.
Meanwhile, Elaine is dealing with cancellations of other projects she’s worked on too. The 25th anniversary of her Rez Blues TV Show on the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN) was supposed to happen on April 16 at Toronto’s Lula Lounge. It didn’t. She’s on the board of the Two Rivers Remix Festival in BC, which was supposed to take place in July but is now looking at online options. And she’s been working with a new Indigenous Music Awards show that was supposed to take place this month as part of the Summer Solstice Indigenous Music Festival, but the festival has moved online, and the awards have been postponed until next year.
Compounding the disappointments brought by the cancellation of live music events has been the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, which has once again brought to the fore issues of systemic racism that exist on both sides of the border and that impact on Elaine’s and Murray’s lives.
“I walk into a grocery store, I’m being profiled,” she said. “To see this happen – everything had to come to a boiling point, and hopefully this is it. People don’t understand what it is to live in fear because you’re a brown person. People don’t understand.”
To cope, Elaine said, she’s trying to get out more and to take in the mountains, the ocean, and the views of the Lion’s Gate Bridge. And of course, she’s focusing on trying to get the word out on Murray’s new album. So check out Stand Up, everyone.
Mitchell Mozdzen – blues-rock artist
Friday, March 13 was an unlucky Friday the 13 for Mitchell. It was the day he learned his university classes were moving online, an adjustment he found hard to make. Not only that, but around that time, he lost a dear family member, and only six people were allowed to attend the funeral because of COVID-19-related physical distancing requirements. To top it all off, he was forced to cancel about 30 gigs, and he’d planned to use the money from them to pay for a move to Winnipeg to be closer to the music scene. Without that money, the move was off.
But give Mitchell credit for adapting like a pro. He stuck it out with the online classes and finished his degree. Then he took a job with the Manitoba Métis Federation, something he’s wanted to do his whole life but hadn’t seen in his immediate future. It’s “a real adult job,” he said. “It’s kind of scary to think about.”
Best of all, the job will take him to Norway House, close to his large musical family.
Mitchell has always loved playing Métis Music with his family, and he’s envisioned himself moving artistically in that direction for some time. But until now, he hasn’t had a lot of time to play with his family because they lived so far apart. Now he’ll finally get that chance.
Meanwhile, he’s participated in some video conferences and songwriter rounds on Zoom, and he’s well into executing an eight-year project that sees him releasing six EPs and then taking the “best of” and putting out a fully-produced album. Five of the EPs are out, and the sixth is recorded, he said. However, there’s no release date for it yet.
When the pandemic first hit, Mitchell said he was feeling pretty depressed, particularly at not being able to see his family. What pulled him through, he said, was having great friends and a great music community.
Ken Whiteley – blues, folk and gospel artist and record producer
Ken’s primary activity during the era of physical distancing has already been well-documented in other media: responding to a call from the nurse’s union for people to make noise in support of front line workers at 7:30 p.m. each night, Ken began going out on his front porch to play music with his partner and son, Ben – who was supposed to be on the road with Basia Bulat before COVID-related cancellations kicked in.
That first night, March 19, they played “This Little Light of Mine” to around eight people. Within a week, they were playing for 45, he said, including neighbours walking over from other streets to have a listen. When the province began restricting gatherings to five people or fewer, Ken called off the nightly mini-concerts. But the neighbours wouldn’t hear of it, so they carried on without him, and now, the nightly sing-a-longs are a collective affair with neighbours taking turns leading in a song or two, interspersed with shout outs to front line workers, grocery store employees, cleaners and other workers at risk of catching the virus – followed by a period of appropriately-distanced mingling.
“We now know people that we never knew that have lived on the street for years,” Ken said.
“It really satisfies what’s in me … the idea that music is …not only an artistic expression but it’s a way to help people connect.”
For all the happiness brought by his unusually musical street, Ken admits that COVID-19 has also brought its share of stresses.
“It’s possible for things to be uplifting and also stressful,” he said. “It’s not like COVID-19 is one thing.”
For him, a big concern is his musician’s union pension, which he’s paid into for 50 years. He’s collecting it now, and it gives him a baseline income, allowing him to be more selective about the projects he takes on. But huge social disruptions can change the value of a dollar rendering a once-valuable pension not so valuable anymore.
On top of that, Ken noted, he shares the same concerns many musicians do about their earning potential right now. After all, he said, musicians were still trying to figure out working business models that didn’t involve selling records. Now they have to deal with limits on performing too.
Still, Ken’s dominant sentiment appears to be one of joy brought on by the musical coming together of his community.
“How many communities get to do that?” he asked. “In the face of all this disconnection, we’re experiencing significantly increased connection. …so it’s been profound you know?”