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What to expect in the way of live folk music this fall

Steve Edge of the Rogue Folk Club hosting a prepandemic show at Mel Lehan Hall.

Summer 2021 brought with it a small taste of normalcy for live music fans.

While we couldn’t rub shoulders with thousands of fellow folkies at festivals like Edmonton and Vancouver, many of us did finally get to see live music outdoors in more intimate environments.  The Calgary Folk Fest presented a Summer Serenades concert series.  Thunder Bay’s Sleeping Giant Folk Music Society presented Live at the Bedrock – a stand-in for the annual Live from the Rock festival in nearby Red Rock, and Summerfolk in Owen Sound did a series of concerts in back yards and public spaces,

So far so good.

Now the question is, what does the fall hold for us?

A brief straw poll on the Roots Music Canada Facebook group revealed that many people are hesitant to head back indoors into crowded venues – and public health guidelines in most places won’t allow venues to get too crowded anyhow.

So where does that leave the country’s folk clubs and other promoters of fall and winter folk shows?

Here is what we learned from a sampling of promoters across the country.

The Rogue Folk Club, Vancouver

The Rogue has launched a fall-winter season of in-person concerts featuring all B.C. artists – meaning it won’t cost anyone a fortune in travel costs if public health restrictions tighten up and the shows can’t go on.  But let’s hope they do because it’s a heck of a line-up, featuring the Paperboys, Pharis and Jason Romero and Tower of Song, the minimalist, jazzy Leonard Cohen tribute performed by Oliver Swain and Glenna Garramone.  Public health guidelines currently limit attendance to 50 per cent of the Mel Lehan Hall’s usual capacity, which means just over 100 people can attend each show – and yes, the Rogue is requiring all performers and audience-members to be vaccinated.

The Northern Lights Folk Club, Edmonton

Northern Lights is planning to go ahead with its 2021-2022 season, starting in October with Valdy.  Their website will be updated closer to the end of the month with all of the details and ticketing information that you need. Until then, I’ll let the rest of the (fabulous) line-up remain a surprise. Season tickets will not be available, co-organizer Betty Jo Werthmann said, and, due to the uncertainty of COVID, some shows may have limited seating.  The hall has excellent cleaning protocols, Betty Jo told us, and volunteers will all be masked at the concerts. The club will be asking audience members to mask when moving around, but there are no plans to insist in vaccinations for performers or audience members.

The Calgary Folk Club

Calgary also has an exciting roster of entertainment lined up for the fall and winter, which, for the first few months at least, will draw heavily on talent form Alberta and neighbouring provinces.  That unofficial 1,000-mile entertainment diet allows for shows by the Small Glories, Shari Ulrich, and near-local favourite John Wort Hannam, who will launch both his new album and the fall season on Sept. 17.  The Alberta government is famously, dare we say liberal, when it comes to its public health protocols around COVID-19, and a decent per centage of the population likes it that way.  Folk club artistic director Suze Casey says it’s too soon to say whether the club will insist that artists and audience members be vaccinated.

Fish Creek Concerts, Calgary

Vic Close has around four shows planned for the spring of next year, he said, but so far, he hasn’t scheduled anything for the fall, and he’s still on the fence as to whether he will.  For one thing, the church where he holds his shows is still catching up on holding memorial services for families who missed the chance to say goodbye to loved ones during the pandemic.  That means his venue is less available. For another, he said that while people are hungering for live music, they’re less enthused about being packed tightly into venues – but concert promoters need to be able to pack in a certain number of people in order to make shows financially viable, so it’s a bit of a catch-22.  Vic plans to survey the Fish Creek audience in the near future to get a better sense of what they’re comfortable with.  Until then, he’s reserving judgment on whether to proceed with more shows and what kind of safety measures should be in place at the ones he’s doing.

The Winnipeg Folk Festival

The Folk Fest’s fall/winter concert series kicks off in October with a show by Five Alarm Funk, followed by Passenger, the Weather Station, Martha Wainwright, Bahamas and Leif Vollebekk.  The festival will be asking concert-goers for proof-of-vaccination in accordance with Manitoba public heath guidelines, according to information it provided to the Canadian Live Music Association.

Acoustic Harvest, Scarborough

Acoustic Harvest is going ahead with its 25th season, barring any lockdowns imposed by government.  Artistic director Lillian Wauthier has rebooked artists whose shows she had to cancel when the pandemic hit, and they are currently slated to perform between October and March. However, she said the club is considering postponing the start until the spring, so do keep an eye on their website for updates.

“We will require everyone to wear masks and social distance,” Lillian said of this season’s shows. “We will follow the indoor restrictions for numbers as well. Yet to be determined is if we will have our usual decadent dessert table and tea/coffee. Perhaps not initially. If not, that could pave the way for only having one long set with no intermission.”

Lillian said the club will follow other Ontario guidelines if there are any, but if not, they will still require artists and audience-members to be vaccinated.  However, she conceded that, without a provincial proof-of-vaccination system, it could be harder to enforce.

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