Live, and livestreamed

Vancouver venue 2nd Floor Gastown just produced a run of hybrid shows—in front of a small live audience, and streamed online.

Dalannah Gail Bowen performs at the 2nd Floor Gastown Jazz Festival in June.

Dalannah Gail Bowen performs at the 2nd Floor Gastown Jazz Festival in June.

When can we see live music again? Live Nation thinks 2022. The UK has not proposed any dates, prompting the likes of Liam Gallagher and Ed Sheeran to ask for government support for the industry. South Korea reopened clubs only to close them again in the wake of a COVID spike.

As always in the arts, innovation produces results: Drive-in shows have been presented in Houston, Toronto, on Prince Edward Island, and Keith Urban threw up a surprise gig in Nashville. A lake in Yellowknife played host to Float Festival last weekend, as folk musicians performed on a barge surrounded by canoes and kayaks. In May, Country rocker Travis McCready played the official first socially distant concert in the United States at TempleLive in Fort Smith, AK, with capacity reduced from 1,100 to 229.

If you’ve got the space and the overhead, there are certainly ways to put on big-ticket shows in this pandemic environment. But if you’re not famous, what’s there to do?

One small Vancouver club has recently pulled off a hybrid experiment, producing “live and livestreamed” shows—13 days of small, socially distanced gigs concurrently streamed online.

The 2nd Floor Gastown is a live venue above Vancouver’s Water St. Cafe that can normally host 40 to 50 patrons. With British Columbia’s COVID rules—in place since May, they limit gatherings to 50 or under including social distancing measures—the space is down to 20 seats. Normally part of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival’s club series, and with the restaurant re-opened, jazz curator David Sikula thought he might be able to pull a run of shows together during the cancelled fest’s original 2020 dates of June 19-28.

“We didn’t have the promotional support of the festival anymore, so it would be up to me and the artists to get the word out,” he says. “And there’s only 20 tables to sell, and everybody is in the same boat financially, not working—we couldn’t sell tickets for $40 and expect people to come down. It was only going to generate a couple hundred dollars an artist, and they were trios mostly.”

Sikula’s friend Cory Weeds, a saxophonist, had had success online with his Side Door gigs. “Based on that,” says Sikula, “I thought, ‘What if we had a hybrid model going on?’ We do the live shows and try to sell out the room to people who are comfortable coming out. And what if we were also able to have a livestreaming situation—not so much ‘This is the concert,’ but more an augmentation of the house.”

Brad Shigeta (right) performs at the 2nf Floor Gastown Jazz Festival in June.

Brad Shigeta (right) performs at the 2nf Floor Gastown Jazz Festival in June.

With no budget to spare, he enlisted a videographer friend, Andrew Davies, who had the necessary cameras and gear and wanted to learn this new medium. Sikula, an audio engineer and jazz guitarist in his own right, handled the sound. For 13 nights straight 2nd Floor Gastown played host to as many jazz shows, each with a live audience in the room and online, performed by the likes of Weeds, Sikula’s trio, Dalannah Gail Bowen’s tribute to Billie Holiday, and Jennifer Scott.

“On average we had 40 people per show for 13 shows, if I add the numbers both livestream and in-house guests,” says Sikula. “That’s capacity shows for the entire festival, which was mission accomplished as far as I was concerned. None of these bands had played for three months. The people who were there were really excited to be there.”

He admits he and Davies were new to this particular application of their technical skills, but the streaming component went off well, minus a slow internet connection he had replaced just before the first show. “The one in there was putting out something like 0.7 megabits per second, it looked like Max Headroom,” he says, laughing.

The venue has dates booked through September, says Sikula, adding, “there’s no telling where we’ll be in the fall.” British Columbia’s next opening phase is contingent on a vaccine, so for the foreseeable future his capacity is 20. Hybrid shows, he figures, will be back at the 2nd Floor Gastown soon.

“I wanna continue it, but figure out how to get a high-quality streaming setup that’s relatively portable that I could work myself,” he says. “When you’re charging people, there’s an expected production value.”

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Written by Tara Thorne

Tara Thorne is a writer, editor, and pop culture critic in Halifax