'Everything that I love ... shut down for a year': N.W.T. artist petitions for return of live music

·4 min read
Patrick Jacobson, a Yellowknife musician and owner of YK Rocks, plays his guitar to an empty Black Knight Pub. (Alice Twa/CBC - image credit)
Patrick Jacobson, a Yellowknife musician and owner of YK Rocks, plays his guitar to an empty Black Knight Pub. (Alice Twa/CBC - image credit)

After nearly a year without live performances, the owner of a live music performance company is asking the Northwest Territories government to help restart the music industry.

Patrick Jacobson is a musician and owner of YK Rocks Productions. Last week, he posted a petition online for the return of live performances, which has gathered more than 200 signatures.

"When we first heard back in March of last year that live music was being temporarily shut down, I don't think any of us expected to be out of work for an entire year," Jacobson said.

Under current health restrictions, singing and live music with wind instruments are not allowed in the N.W.T. without special permission from the chief public health officer.

Under phase two of the territory's reopening plan, businesses or performers can apply for exemptions or "variants" which must be submitted to ProtectNWT, the territory's pandemic help line, in order to have specific requirements adjusted.

Jacobson contacted health officials asking why the guidelines health officials are providing for those exemptions are not made blanket rules for live performances. He said they repeated that under the current phase, there are requirements that need to be met in order to have a live performance.

"Everything that was on there was, I think, a reasonable request, but I think that my responses were also reasonable and there's no reason why that can't just be the norm," he said. "We shouldn't have to apply every single time if we already know what the rules are."

Trevor Sinclair stands beside Patrick Jacobson at the Black Knight. Sinclair holds the letter MusicNWT sent to the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer supporting Jacobson and his calls for set rules when it comes to performing.
Trevor Sinclair stands beside Patrick Jacobson at the Black Knight. Sinclair holds the letter MusicNWT sent to the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer supporting Jacobson and his calls for set rules when it comes to performing.(Alice Twa/CBC)

Trevor Sinclair, president of MusicNWT, said they support the requests from Jacobson and have sent in an open letter to the chief public health officer.

"It's been a year without live performance. It's been a year of seeing this industry decimated," Sinclair said. "Now is the time for musicians to come together, to work with the chief public health officer and let's return to work."

He says this past year has taken a huge toll on all musicians across the territory and has even forced some to leave town, including beloved local band Welders Daughter.

"We can set standards. It's been done for other industries, so here's our opportunity to do it for ourselves," said Sinclair.

A spokesperson for the territory's COVID-19 secretariat told CBC in an email that there "is no crystal ball" to know when restrictions will ease.

They said this will depend on how many residents are vaccinated, the information on the virus and how it spreads, and the presence of the variants in the N.W.T.

"We have been taking a measured, step-by-step approach to easing our public health measures when it's safe to do so," the email reads. "We recognize these measures have not been easy. But they have also given us the stability we enjoy today."

Jo Pamplin, musical director for the BAM! Orchestra, stands outside the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre. The orchestra recently put on a performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons at the theatre.
Jo Pamplin, musical director for the BAM! Orchestra, stands outside the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre. The orchestra recently put on a performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons at the theatre.(Alice Twa/CBC)

Not all music has stopped though.

Jo Pamplin is the musical director for the BAM! Orchestra. She said that with a lot of research and preparation, she was able to put on a performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC).

"It's tough right now for a lot of performing artists. A lot of my friends, their primary source of income is music and music-related," she said.

When preparing to send in a plan or host an event, Pamplin said, people need to "acknowledge your risks and then understand why you are putting the controls into place."

"I think we have to learn to live with this and figure out how to live within this new environment and work with it safely," she said, "because it doesn't seem like [COVID-19] is going away any time soon."

Jacobson recognizes that shows have happened at NACC and local choir groups are getting together and practicing, but said that the current restrictions make it hard for local musicians to survive.

"Most local musicians aren't really at a point where they can rent out a theatre or a hall or a gymnasium or anything like that. So, it's not a practical way for the average musician to return to live music," he said.

He is hoping that the petition will lead to a discussion about how to get musicians on stage in a way that is safe, but accessible to all.

"Every other industry that deals with the public has had hurdles to overcome in this pandemic, and they've come up with safe ways to do it.

"They've been heard ... I would like artists to be heard as well."