Live shows are the main source of income for Whitehorse musician Roxx Hunter. The multi-instrumentalist also teaches private music lessons and sometimes works as a sound technician on the side, but it’s gigging that keeps him housed and fed. Nearly every night of every week, Hunter can be found onstage at one of the bars in Whitehorse. As the COVID-19 situation began to unfold, he could see the writing on the wall and began to suspect he might be out of work for a while, but it still came as a bit of a shock to wake up one day and find out all the gigs he had planned for an undetermined amount of time would have to be scrapped.
“I had a couple of hours of sheer panic,” he said. “But then I put on some calming heavy metal music and started to think of a plan to get through all this.”
Hunter can’t stress enough the importance of being able to adapt and handle sudden changes for people who freelance for a living, where little job stability exists and pay can vary drastically between gigs. It’s times like these that adaptability is crucial.
“No one really knows how long this limbo will continue, or what things will look like in a year’s time,” he said. “We can and should all hope for the best, but we also need to be grounded in reality.”
With safety precautions making it impossible for Hunter to meet with his students in person, he shifted gears and began teaching his lessons online. He maintains that an in-person experience is the best way to learn and appreciate music, and video-based lessons come with a slight learning curve, he’s grateful to still be able to keep up his work in some capacity, and has even branched beyond teaching students just in Whitehorse.
The music world as a whole has had to adapt to these uncertain times. Audience-free, live streamed concerts have become popular, and several of the world’s biggest artists have taken part in this trend. Smaller-time acts are also live streaming performances out of their own homes, as a way to fulfill their desire to perform and to give friends and fans who are stuck at home something to do. For Hunter, having live shows suspended is nothing that can’t be worked around for serious musicians.
“What’s going on right now could be just a temporary bump in the road, or it could be a major fork,” he said. “What’s key is that we evolve with the times and keep creating new music.”
No summer in Whitehorse is complete without Arts in the Park, but luckily, Music Yukon is finding a way to work around the large gathering restrictions to still deliver these performances. Arts in the Park’s 2020 season will be presented virtually, with each performance being recorded at the Chamber House at Shipyards Park and broadcasted live on CJUC community radio station.
Another set of online and radio musical events happening this summer is the Not Close But Personal Concert Series. This series is a Yukon-based initiative that presents three live streamed shows per week, one each Monday from the home of that week’s musician, and one each Wednesday and Friday from the Yukon Arts Centre. The idea for the Yukon to have its own virtual concert series came from artist Mathew Lien. The showcase is presented by the Yukon Arts Centre and an array of partners, produced by Whispering Willows Records and and Larrikin Entertainment and funded by the Yukon Government’s Departments of Tourism and Culture and Economic Development.
The series kicked off on April 24 with Ryan McNally, and boasted some of Yukon’s best-known artists within its first couple of weeks. Paris Pick, Remy Rodden, Gordie Tentrees and Calla Kinglit were all featured as part of the showcase’s first roster of artists. The concerts are being broadcast live on Facebook, as well as Northwestel Community TV and CHON-FM.
Another artist who took part in the Not Close But Personal Concert Series was Selina Heyligers-Hare, who performs solo and is a member of Major Funk and the Employment and The Naysayers. Heyligers-Hare put on a few of her own live streamed shows in April before performing at the Yukon Arts Centre on April 29. Like many others, Heyligers-Hare’s summer plans were largely scrapped and she has had to find new outlets for her creativity.
“Playing shows and being onstage is such a regular part of our lives,” she said. “When you take that away it can feel like you have nothing to work towards.”
Before the COVID-19 crisis hit, Heyligers-Hare had booked with The Naysayers, with Willow Glamberg and Tara Martin as a trio, and solo gigs, as well as plans to tour western Canada with Major Funk. Now, she’s been doing music transcription work to challenge herself and keep her brain busy, and is also offering transcription services to other musicians who may need help.
Both Hunter and Heyligers-Hare have found an unexpected upside to having their work cancelled: more time to write and record new music. With no concerts coming up, Hunter is far less busy with band rehearsals, and is getting down to work tracking songs in his home studio.
“I have a lot of original music that’s been played live at big shows, but never properly recorded,” he said.
While Hunter’s past musical endeavours have covered a variety of styles from flamenco to country to blues, he says heavy music is his first love and where his heart still lies, and is excited to record some of his rock and metal songs.
Heyligers-Hare said she’s been slowly getting back into the groove of writing new songs. With a new audio interface from Whitehorse’s own Road Dogs Music Supply, she plans to produce some good-quality home recordings once she’s finished writing these songs.
The uncertainty of these times may be very stressful for musicians, but Heyligers-Hare is doing all she can to stay productive, and recommends others do the same.
“Keep giving yourself projects to work on, set personal deadlines, collaborate with others online, stay connected with friends and other artists and find ways to inspire yourself” she said. “But most importantly, be gentle and kind to yourself as you get situated in this new reality.”
The next set of Close But Not Personal Concerts Yukoners can tune into includes Annie Avery on May 20. Erica Mah on May 22, Elijah Bekk of Faro May 25, Drea Nasager May 27, Daniel Janke on May 29 and Diyet of Burwash Landing June 1.