By Jen Osborne
Special to The Record
Musicians say no amount of money can replace the pain of losing live performance and although the new Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) is a relief for gig workers hit hard by the pandemic, the lasting reality of online concerts continues to disappoint music lovers.
“When you’re the only person in the room, even if there’s a bunch of people on the screen, you don’t get any energy back from fans,” says full-time standup bassist Jen Hodge. “You’re baring your heart and soul and it just feels empty. It’s scary.”
Hodge lived in New York City until March 2020 when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Canadians abroad to return home. The future of international borders, commercial flights, and American health insurance looked “sketchy,” Hodge says, so she took refuge with her family in Courtenay, B.C.
Hodge had concerts lined up at legendary venues including Blue Note Jazz Club and Lincoln Center in 2020. “There was a lot I was really looking forward to. It’s been very, very sad to miss.”
In the face of a second wave of COVID-19, the future of live performance is still uncertain. Musicians have lost both their livelihood and the ability to bring joy to audiences.
Any workers who earned over $5,000 in 2019 and who are over the age of 15 are eligible to apply for the CRB to receive $500 per week over a maximum of 26 weeks.
The CRB replaces the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), which ended on Sept. 25. The CRB payment amount is the same as CERB but recipients must reapply every two weeks.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says 2.7 million Canadians who were on CERB will be worse off after the benefit ends and that the CRB is important in “maintaining household spending during the pandemic.”
The CRB can actually strengthen “our already weakened economy” by giving Canadians money to spend.
Arnt Arntzen, another B.C.-born musician, says it’s great that musicians can access the CRB but he’d rather be performing as usual. He splits his time between Vancouver and New York and is eligible for Canadian pandemic unemployment benefits.
Performing online is “a terrific letdown because it feels like you’re getting robbed of the magic that drives a musician in the first place. And without that magic, it’s not the same,” Arntzen says. We’re all “trying to have a good time, but we’re not.”
Although many musicians stopped live gigging during the pandemic, Luke Blu Guthrie, a Courtenay blues singer, continues to perform for small indoor audiences at The Flying Canoe Pub.
Music “can really help people,” Guthrie says. He wants fans to keep the “larger song and the sense of good vibration” alive.