Live music returning in Calgary, but live event industry still in peril
The Real McKenzies play a show at Dickens. Live music is set to return to the popular venue on Oct. 3. (Dickens/Facebook)
CALGARY -- Six months after being forced to shut down because of the pandemic, live music is set to return at Dickens in downtown Calgary.
Starting Oct. 3, live shows will be staged on Saturday nights at the popular music venue, but the room will have a different look and feel, says owner Chris Hewitt.
As part of necessary health measures spelled out by Alberta Health Services, there will only be 15 to 17 tables in the venue, which will be sold to groups of four and six people for between $10 and $15 a person.
That means there will be a maximum of about 80 people at each show — which is only about 20 per cent of the usual capacity.
And that means it will be a tough go business-wise.
"Our best case scenario is that we can make 20 per cent of our money," said Hewitt. "That's best case scenario, to be down 80 per cent. People are being very supportive and I would say they are spending a little more per head than they used to, but I cannot pay all the bills I used to pay."
The move is part of Dickens' relaunch, now being open three nights per week — Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.
Along with tables being spaced at least two metres apart, Saturday night performers will stay at least four metres away from the audience.
And because travel is still limited due to ongoing restrictions, it will be local bands hitting the stage. That will be a change for Dickens, which is known for bringing in touring acts from across North America.
"Local only," said Hewitt. "We're going to try and do two sittings, an early show and a late show."
Known for boisterous crowds and upbeat shows, the atmosphere will be much more subdued than usual, as audience members will have to stay in their seats and cheering will be frowned upon. But concert-goers will still be encouraged to show support in other ways.
"I'll admit … I find it hard not to whoop and cheer when something happens on stage," he said. "It's very hard to think in your mind, you slap the table or clap or people have noisemakers, and that's what you should do."
Dickens is one of several live music venues in Calgary that are beginning to restage shows, with performances once again happening at the King Eddy, Blues Can, Mikey's on 12th and the Ironwood, but that shouldn't signal that things are moving back to normalcy, said Timur Inceoglu, a senior talent buyer for MRG Live.
The fate of live event industry in Canada, he says, remains perilous, as it was the first to be shut down in March and will be among the last to reopen fully.
"This is a billion dollar industry we're talking about," he said. "This is not a $15 cover at Ironwood or $20 to see a show at Dickens, we're talking about billions of dollars of revenue, billions of dollars in hospitality, in the food sector, in the surrounding restaurants, none of that gets talked about.
"When someone goes to a show at The Palace or MacEwan Hall, they're not going directly there, they're maybe getting some gas, they're maybe going out for dinner, they're buying a T-shirt … you start adding that up over 2,000-3,000 people … that's what people are forgetting."
Hewitt echoed those sentiments.
"There's so many things people don't really understand behind the scenes," he said. "We're doing this because we're trying to do whatever we can to stay in business, but I can't stress enough, this is the best we can do, but this is not the end, we are not a light at the end of the tunnel situation yet.
"We know there's a great likelihood that by November we're going to have to close again … I just don't see it going any other way. So much of this, we just don't know what is going to happen."
Those involved in the events industry took to social media earlier this month as part of an effort to highlight the ongoing struggle, posting photos with the colour red and using the hashtag #redalertrestart.