B.C. music venues launch campaign to bring back general admission seating amid COVID-19
In British Columbia, to watch live music you need to pay for a seat under current COVID-19 protocols.
Ontario lifted that requirement two weeks ago. Quebec’s ban on general admission will be lifted on Nov. 15. Operators of live music venues say B.C. has fallen behind and it’s handcuffing their ability to be profitable.
“We’re looking for regulatory parity and clarity to ensure that these live music venues can actually operate at 100 per cent,” says Erin Benjamin, president and CEO of the Canadian Live Music Association (CLMA).
The CLMA, which is an advocacy group for operators of live music venues, has launched a letter-writing campaign calling on the provincial government to join the rest of Canada when it comes to general admission capacity for venues.
“One hundred per cent capacity is how they’re going to pay the bills,” says Benjamin. “It’s been almost 20 months of basically no revenue.”
As of Tuesday morning, more than 11,000 letters had been submitted to the provincial government by venue operators and fans of live music.
The Rickshaw Theatre in Vancouver is an old movie theatre converted into a concert hall. Between the rows of theatre seats and the stage, the theatre has room for around 200 standing patrons but because of the seating, their overall capacity has dropped by more than 100 concertgoers.
“I don’t actually have full capacity,” said Mo Tarmohamed, owner and operator of the Rickshaw Theatre. “It almost seems like the language was written specifically to accommodate larger arenas, like Rogers Arena.”
Hermann’s Jazz Club in downtown Victoria has just been expanded. Upstairs has a new stage and a dancefloor but currently that dancefloor is full of tables and chairs, dropping the venue's overall capacity to around 70 per cent.
“I’m optimistic that we will be able to open up and I hope it happens sooner than later,” said Ashley Wey, artistic director of Hermann’s Jazz Club and local musician.
To get into any indoor event, you must show proof of vaccination. Wey says the regulations around general admission single out small music venues.
“You can mingle at a club and you can stand up and drink a beer but you can’t dance while you’re doing that,” said Wey. “It’s a little bit absurd.”
On Tuesday, the province's top doctor on said B.C. will stick with its seating plan for now.
“We are requiring people to have access to a seat,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry. “When people are seated, the risk is just that much lower.”
The CLMA questions how standing up and cheering beside a total stranger at a sporting event is any less risky than standing up at a live music performance.
“You are assigned a seat but you can stand, you can sing and you can dance around your seat,” said Benjamin. “We’re not exactly sure what the difference is.”