Border reopening a step toward normalcy for Windsor musicians who play in Detroit

·3 min read
Russ Macklem says he cried when he crossed over to Detroit for the first time since the pandemic was declared. (Mike Evans/CBC - image credit)
Russ Macklem says he cried when he crossed over to Detroit for the first time since the pandemic was declared. (Mike Evans/CBC - image credit)

For many in border towns like Windsor, Ont., Monday marks one step closer to normalcy, but for musicians who make a living playing in the Detroit area, it's a giant leap.

"When I crossed the border for the first time, I wept," said Russ Macklem, a trumpet player who was able to get across the border with a special work visa for musicians.

"There's been many tearful reunions, still now, just coming into contact with musicians over there and friends over there."

Jody Raffoul has also been missing the music scene in Detroit, but also his band mates.

I haven't played with a rock band, you know, for a while. — Jody Raffoul

"You get used to being with somebody and all of a sudden boom — they're gone for a year and a half," he said.

"They're still here, but you can't see them."

Not back to normal yet

While the border reopening to fully vaccinated Canadians on Monday is a step in the right direction, Raffoul and Macklem said things aren't back to a pre-pandemic stage yet.

Mike Evans/CBC
Mike Evans/CBC

Raffoul said his usual Thursday-night gigs aren't going to start until the end of November because the club can't find staff.

And Macklem said even though rules are less strict on that side of the border, there still aren't as many gigs as there used to be.

"I've been fortunate to get quite a bit of work for things not even being that open," he said.

Raffoul can't wait to start playing with other musicians again.

Mike Evans/CBC
Mike Evans/CBC

"I haven't played with a rock band, you know, for a while," he said.

"I just keep thinking about my band and I haven't seen them. I just keep thinking about that."

Hurdles ahead

Macklem said the rules around crossing the border are still going to present problems for musicians trying to book cross-border shows.

Mike Evans/CBC
Mike Evans/CBC

Travellers entering Canada need to provide proof of a negative molecular COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their planned arrival at a land border. Molecular tests include PCR tests, as well as others such as a NAAT test.

"The problem personally for us as musicians on this side of the border is that we'd like to bring some people over from Detroit to play and try and revitalize our music scene here after this pandemic," he said.

"That makes it so unrealistic for, you know, us to bring musicians over."

He said all the effort that goes into putting on a show — selling tickets, doing media around the event — could be dashed with a false positive test, and for most people that risk is too great.

He also said the need for a test makes it financially prohibitive to cross the border, something he called "unCanadian."

"We're putting a price tag on crossing the border," he said.

"In so many regions in this country, particularly this one, we have family and friends over across the border."

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