How’s everyone doing out there? July 27 edition
The summer is a time 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 to see how the last few months of have gone for them. We’re 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?
Tannis Slimmon – singer-songwriter
“I just feel like I’m really lucky,” Tannis said, “because I’m healthy, and Lewis is healthy, and we’re actually doing a lot of really fun things.”
It wasn’t always that way though.
The pandemic got off to a spectacularly rough start for Tannis when she stubbed her toe really badly then fell down stairs a couple of days later.
The pain and inability to move around, combined with the constant barrage of terrible news about the spread of COVID-19, overwhelmed Tannis’ usually-sunny disposition.
“I kind of fell into a real pit,” she said.
“I really thought that my musical career might be coming to a halt…. I was questioning the future, my future, the whole purpose of life basically and… feeling pretty low.”
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But finally, after about 10 weeks, she was able to start exercising again.
She started recovering from her injuries, and Canada began flattening its COVID curve.
The momentum from all directions was positive.
Since then, Tannis and her partner, Lewis Melville, have launched a variety of community art and music projects to keep themselves busy.
Lewis, who also paints, did a large series of small paintings and built a small cabinet resembling a “little free library” to display them in in their front yard. He changes the display every day and adds other items such as blocks and figurines to create little three-dimensional worlds.
“Lewis’ Cabinet of Curiosities” has become a neighbourhood attraction, Tannis said, to the point that when the pair took a holiday for a few days, neighbours were worried something had happened to them.
“It’s really been enormous fun,” she said. “It’s just been a wonderful way to connect with people in our neighbourhood that we’ve never met before.”
Another community project of Tannis’ is a series of backyard concerts featuring various performer friends.
She started them about a month ago with a show by her fellow Bird Sisters alumnus Laura Bird, then followed it up with shows by Katherine Wheatley, Boreal, and Lewis’ own brother and nephew. This week, it’s Tragedy Ann, she said.
When not making art and building community in her own neighbourhood, Tannis has been recording backing vocals for some other artists’ projects – something she loves – and working in her garden, which she said is particularly amazing this year because of all the extra time she’s had.
She also took part in the Black Lives Matter protest in Guelph.
“It was such a powerful time,” she said. “People were flooding by our house with signs on their way downtown.”
She teared up recalling one encounter she had with an elderly neighbour on her way home.
Though he couldn’t safely attend the march himself, he wanted to know how it went, she said.
“I just felt like we were all so connected,” she said. “We were all thinking on the same wavelength. It just felt so good to know that the people in my neighbourhood cared.”
Tannis struggles with feeling powerless and with sensing that her contributions to the movement are insufficient, she said, but she also doesn’t want to do things that might draw attention away from those who are actually impacted by racism.
“I want to stand in solidarity, but I also just want to listen,” she said.
The one thing that continues to be hard for Tannis despite all of the positive experiences she’s had over the past six weeks is being away from her mother, who is in a long-term care home in Brandon.
Tannis and her family typically took turns visiting throughout the year, but those visits have, of course, been prohibited, and Tannis has had to watch her mother’s health deteriorate from the lack of contact – to the point that she is now using a wheelchair and struggling to use the phone.
“She’s now able to have visitors half an hour every two weeks,” Tannis said.
Right now, if she goes, she’ll have to quarantine for two weeks when arriving in Manitoba, but she’s hoping, before long, that restriction will be lifted and she can be reunited with her mom.
Jan Hall – Host of Folk Roots Radio
“We’re doing good,” Jan said. “We’ve been keeping busy. We actually had a haircut today. That was exciting.”
For Jan, life during the pandemic hasn’t been wildly different from life before the pandemic.
She’s still producing radio shows from her home and writing about artists on her web site.
In fact, much like us here at Roots Music Canada, Jan has felt the need to do all she can during the pandemic to keep building community in the folk scene.
“I had to be gentle with myself at the beginning because my focus wasn’t always there,” she said.
But now, “I think I’ve got a new groove,” she added.
And she’s loving all the music that’s been coming out of lockdown.
People aren’t feeling the need to sit on songs until they have an album, she said, or they can put out a lockdown album.
She especially loves it when people send her songs they’ve recorded in a bedroom or some other random room of the house.
“I feel like I’m connecting with people more than I was before, because people have more time,” she said.
Like most people, Jan said her mood has been up and down, during the pandemic, but she continues to feel much better since she switched to a diet a year ago that’s designed to support people such as herself with autoimmune disorders.
“I’m completely 100 per cent sold on the diet. I think the diet is the best thing since sliced bread,” she said, noting that, as a one-time professor of veterinary medicine, she is a big believer in science.
Jan has hit a number of milestones during the pandemic, including publishing the 1,000th post on her website and releasing her 500th show.
She’s produced a number of themed specials during the pandemic such as the Social Distancing Edition and the Frontline Edition, each featuring a playlist of songs suited to the theme.
“For me I think the most important thing is to do what I do,” she said, “engage with the artists and promote.”
Trish Bolechowsky – owner of RedLeaf Music
“I am certainly doing better now here at the end of July than I was in March,” Trish said. “A new ‘for now’ normal has settled in with lots of regular routine and fewer surprises. It’s a quieter life. There is no doubt about that.”
Trish’s career in the music industry was already undergoing transitions before COVID hit. Having previously focused on music management, she was just starting to present live shows – notably a house concert series – and had just opened a small venue called The Back Room on March 11.
“It was a large effort and a lot of build-up and excitement to be dropped down right in the pause,” she said. “Luckily, The Back Room is part of a restaurant, Il Vicolo. It’s not just a venue solely dependent on shows. As long as the restaurant makes it through, the venue will be still there. So far, so good.”
For Trish’s part, she had not yet given up her day job in order to work full-time in the music business at the point where the pandemic hit, so she has been financially unscathed by the affair.
However, it has zapped the creative energy that she puts into her work.
She also finds herself putting more energy into social justice work in light of the Black Lives Matter protests.
“We need to consciously and actively create and support inclusive, respectful and safe communities where everyone feels they have the opportunity to be heard and fully participate,” she said. “I am spending this time doing a lot of reading and educating myself more deeply on the issues Indigenous and Black members of our community face. I want to play an active role in creating the changes needed and to help bring people together in community. That focus is becoming so powerful for me that it may push my work in the music community to the side burner. Or perhaps I can find ways to bring those two passions together and help both make some forward strides, or even a few small steps. I’m not sure yet what form this will take. I’m listening and learning.”