Small venues, lifeblood of Montreal music, say they can’t survive waiting for a vaccine


MONTREAL – This is one of the things Montreal is most famous for: intimate little venues that have propelled countless local musicians to international success.

They are also facing their own kind of apocalypse due to COVID-19, according to people in the industry. They don’t expect to be able to reopen until there is a vaccine.

The objective is to find “all possible means to try to keep these cultural institutions open, or not open but alive, until we start to vaccinate people”, explains Olivier Corbeil.

Corbeil manages three small popular venues, including Bar Le Ritz on Jean-Talon and Le Théâtre Fairmount. This week, the owners of a Plateau institution, Casa del Popolo and its sister venue La Sala Rossa, announced the final closure of their third nearby venue, La Vitrola.

Although they are technically allowed to reopen now, as bars, social distancing does not allow venues to host musical performances. Even the most established will struggle to survive the wait for a vaccine, say those who work with them.

“Nine out of ten independent venues will close” if some form of resuscitation is not provided, says Jon Weisz, who heads an association for the independent music scene in Montreal.

Many sites hold on until they see if the government will provide some kind of lifeline. “That hope is still there,” he said. But if not, expect bad news.

Montreal musicians say that small venues are just as crucial as large ones, and even more so, since no one starts on the big stage.

“You want to start with this small room, 50 people, 25 people, and you go up to a hundred and then room 400 and then you made the bigger rooms… it was important to make yourself known”, explains Jacques. Alphonse Doucet of Radio-Radio.

“No artist debuts at the Bell Center, Club Soda or Metropolis,” Weisz said. “Everyone starts at small clubs like this.

At Casa del Popolo, which played a major role in launching groups from Arcade Fire to Unicorns, co-owner Mauro Pezzante has already taken the stage off.

The place is trying to rebrand itself as a restaurant and printing house, selling posters and artwork.

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