With the future of live music uncertain, Montreal concert halls may close permanently

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While Montreal concert halls can now reopen legally, a full schedule of live and indoor concerts could still take months – and some venue owners are unsure if they can last that long.

They say it is logistically and financially impossible to recreate the intimate atmosphere of live performances in small and medium-sized venues while reducing capacity or having clients sit at separate tables, as required by the Council. health and safety at work in Quebec depending on how the establishment is authorized.

And while they are able to navigate these guidelines, it is not clear if people will come.

“We couldn’t have chosen the worst businesses to own during a pandemic,” said Olivier Corbeil, who oversees the operations of the Fairmount, Bar le Ritz PDB and Newspeak theaters.

“Each company has been at zero turnover since the end of March.”

Its halls are licensed as performance venues, which were cleared to reopen on June 24. Bars across the province were allowed to open a day later.

In a business that takes weeks, if not months, to plan events – and when it often takes a profit in a crowded room – he says he just doesn’t see how his venues can operate.

International acts are not on tour and promoters would only be allowed to sell tickets for a fraction of the 600-person capacity of the Fairmount Theater. So the venue’s calendar is empty for 2020 – and if a second wave hits this fall, the same could happen next year.

Corbeil says if it weren’t for the federal aid programs, they would already be bankrupt. But as the economy reopens, it’s unclear how long they will be able to survive.

“We’re hanging on by a thread,” Corbeil said.

Other venues have already decided to close permanently, including the Maison du Jazz in downtown Montreal and La Vitrola on Boulevard St-Laurent.

The owners of Casa del Popolo also announced on Monday that they had temporarily removed the stage from the back room of the bar, in order to make room to sell prints and other works of art.

A cautious approach

Most of the small venues in town are primarily licensed as bars. And a resurgence of new cases in the United States is leading homeowners here to take a cautious approach.

“It’s just hard to know what to focus on,” says Austin Wrinch, director and co-owner of Diving Bell Social Club, a small venue on St-Laurent Boulevard that hosts concerts, drag shows and other events.

He says that while sites can open legally, he’s not sure it would be socially responsible to do so right now.

“Our whole business is based on positive energy and vibes,” he said. “And if everyone is panicking and wearing hazmat suits and so on, it will be difficult.”

He says they plan to host cabaret-style shows with small seated crowds later this summer.

The City of Montreal announced earlier this month that it will provide financial support for concert halls as part of a $ 22 million plan to revive the economy.

Sergio Da Silva, co-owner of Turbo Haüs in the Latin Quarter, hopes that small venues are not forgotten.

He says live shows are out of the question in his venue at least for the next few months.

With most of their income normally coming from hosting concerts, the bar sells t-shirts and other merchandise to help make ends meet until it reopens this summer.

Turbo Haüs applied for a patio permit last fall. They plan to reopen this summer offering outdoor bar service, but concerts are out of the question at this time. (Turbo Haüs / Facebook)

While it was closed, the bar set up a terrace for outside service with reduced hours.

“For me, I see this as a pretty good opportunity to really train and work those muscles in terms of serving and becoming a better bar,” he said.

“I can put the shows and all that on the back burner… God knows when it’s going to come back.”


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