Ontario venues say new COVID-19 rules create ‘double standard’ for standing concerts

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TORONTO — Indoor concerts are slowly coming back to life in Ontario, but venue owners say the latest COVID-19 guidelines will dampen any significant return to live music in the coming months.

At first glance, new rules that lifted capacity limits in “select settings” last weekend seemed to allow performances to return to 100 per cent capacity.

However, venueowners say they were disappointed to learn the policies apply only to spaces with seating — mostly stadiums, arenas and theatres.

The Canadian Live Music Association says that leaves the “vast majority” of concerts in a tough spot. Most of the country’s live spaces are “general admission” venues, or standing room spaces, without many seats.

Those shows can’t move forward without concertgoers seated and venues say putting chairs into their rooms would dramatically reduce capacity and make some planned shows unfeasible.

Jeff Cohen, owner of the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, says adding seats cuts the room’s capacity nearly in half to 250 people, a major deterrent for bands, especially ones from outside the country, who can’t justify bankrolling a Canadian tour under those economics.

He says independent concert promoter Collective Concerts, as well as Toronto venues Lee’s Palace and the Horseshoe, have cumulatively cancelled 53 shows over the past month after deciding the current rules made them impossible to hold.

“That’s a lot of workers, from sound techs to stage loaders not working, and artists having major holes on their tour,” he said.

“Toronto is often one of their highest paydays on their North American tour.”

Lisa Zbitnew, who operates Toronto’s Phoenix and Ottawa’s Bronson Centre Music Theatre, says the province’s existing COVID-19 guidelines are forcing some bands to make tough decisions. She expects more international acts will opt to re-route their tours away from Canada and into border states, while others will push dates into next year.

For some Canadian acts, performing at home is easier but it comes with a compromise.

Sloan will play two back-to-back shows on the same night at the Phoenix next month. Together, the early and late show will replicate what they would’ve pulled in at a single sold-out show outside of the pandemic.

 

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