Niagara music scene hopes 2021 will end on a high note

Jazz singer Sammy Jackson Jazz singer Sammy Jackson. Photo credit; Vanessa Paxton

Sammy Jackson was hoping 2020 would be a year full of shows and festivals to promote the release of her sophomore EP.

Instead, the music went quiet.

Like many artists and musicians, the ongoing pandemic put a road block in front of Jackson’s career goals, but the St. Catharines-based jazz singer said she made the best of the past year despite the challenges.

“For 2020, I feel like things turned out better than expected with all things considered. I was able to release my EP With You, and I was even able to do a show once things died down a little bit. But then things picked up again which made doing performances a little difficult.

“Last year, a lot of festivals got cancelled and moved to an online platform, so it is really hard to say what 2021 will bring.”

With the province currently in lockdown due the ongoing pandemic, 2021 will begin much like 2020 ended in the arts community, as stages across Niagara remain silent for now.

The impact of having live music put on hold has been felt by both musicians and fans alike, and its future remains uncertain.

For new artists trying to make a name for themselves like Jackson, the new reality is doubly hard.

“A huge part of being an upcoming artist is live performances, so that was an area that was lacking when I put out my EP.

“I wanted to do a tour, but by the time the pandemic hit, everything was up in the air, and nobody knew when things were opening back up. I think the live performance aspect as an upcoming artist is super important in just establishing your fan base.”

Her immediate plans for 2021 include writing more music, with the goal of releasing a full album in the coming years.

But what she really wants for this year is a safe return to the stage.

“I have applied for the TD Jazz Festival. I will be applying for the Niagara Jazz Festival as well. I am hoping that they do go through this year, and we will be able to play again.”

With the current lockdown closing all local music venues for the foreseeable future, the question still remains as to when live music may return.

Erik Dickson, owner of Warehouse in St. Catharines, a local music venue, said even if lockdown were to end, Niagara would have to fall to at least orange on the province’s COVID-19 framework for live shows to be a viable option.

“From there we are looking at modified shows from when lockdown ends to I imagine probably the fall. Normally summer is usually slower, but I don’t think that will be the case for the next couple of years because there will just be a backlog of artists, and touring.”

Dickson said Warehouse was able to host seven shows in the second half of 2020 when Niagara was briefly placed in the orange bracket of restrictions, with small seated shows of no more than 40 guests.

Current COVID-19 case numbers would have to lower substantially before Niagara could again be placed in the orange zone.

However, Dickson said he is confident when the time comes, small shows could return, and may be the new normal for the remainder of the year.

“The format was well received with the shows we did in the fall, and we learned a lot from doing those shows about how we would do things in the future. I think a lot of the people at those shows were just happy to be able to see a band and live music again.”

So far no clear time frame is in place for when both artists and fans can see a return to live music again, but both Jackson and Dickson agree the outlook for 2021 does look better than 2020.

Jackson said when the time comes, she will be ready to get back on the road in front of fans.

“I know it is for the best at this time, but I am definitely looking forward to getting back out there.”

By: Bryan Levesque, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News