A veteran musician’s view on today’s music scene
PHOTO COURTESY BRIAN GREENWAY
Saint-Lazare musician of April Wine and Mashmakan fame Brian Greenway, who’ll be performing July 11 at the 17th edition of the West Island Blues festival, reflects on the challenges that face both veteran and up-and-coming musical artists in a virtual streaming world that’s been additionally complicated with a global pandemic.
Almost all of us are familiar with local musician Brian Greenway whose music career has spanned decades from his early days with Mashmakan through his long successful career with the iconic Canadian group April Wine. He has also forged out a fantastic solo act as well which I have had the pleasure of catching several times. He was kind enough to sit down (virtually of course) with me for an exclusive interview for The Journal to discuss this brave new world that musicians are facing.
TJ: Hey Brian, thanks for taking the time to discuss today’s music scene. How have the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic affected yourself or other working musicians you know?
BG: COVID-19 stopped the music industry dead in its tracks overnight. No warning, no indication. World-wide. Every band, every musician, crew, agent, venue big or small in the world. It’s unprecedented. There are no words to describe it. Total stoppage. Your livelihood has vanished overnight. Your brain really can’t conceive it. You hope that it will come back soon but the more you see of the pandemic you know it’s going to be a long time before you can resume touring. It will never be the same when you do. It’s an unparalleled event. You can practice and play on the internet but not in front of a live audience. You can’t travel, can’t go on the road or tour. A big part of you has just stopped and you don’t know what to do about it. It makes you sad & frustrated. It’s a feeling you really can’t understand unless you’re a musician. Imagine a runner not being allowed to run.
TJ: What are the ways you think you and others can stay ‘current’ in this new environment?
BG: Obviously the internet, Facebook Live, YouTube are the only resources available for mass viewing. Most everyone has done some kind of presentation online during the pandemic. Keep your name in the fans’ minds. Reinvent how you perform. You can’t reinvent being a musician but you can reinvent your presence. Make your online show as good as possible. Spend some time designing where you will do it. Beware of the background, lighting, sound, and what you’re wearing. Is it messy? Clean it up. Do it like you were on stage. Presentation always counts.
TJ: Are you anxious to get back out in front of a ‘live’ crowd and how do you think that will be different moving forward? Do you think the opportunities to play in small venues/bars etc. will come back or have they reduced permanently?
BG: It’s anybody’s guess how it will return. This large live industry was the first to close and will be the last to reopen. Reduction in room capacity will only reduce the musicians’ fee. The bar scene has always devalued the money a musician or band playing in the bars or local nightclubs makes. It hasn’t changed in 30 years. I’m sure the bars, nightclubs and restaurants will still charge full amounts for their drinks and food but pay the talent a reduced wage because of reduced capacity. But some places are more fair than others.
TJ: What are your musical plans for the summer (other than this weekend’s virtual West Island Blues Festival) or are you taking a well-deserved rest?
BG: My summer and all this time off will be spent rehearsing alone, writing, recording demos, working in the garden. We have a large vegetable garden this year for the first time. My wife and I are lucky to have a good-sized private yard so we spend most of our time there when we do go outdoors. We have a year-old chocolate Lab who loves to play so I spend time every day with him playing fetch and taking him for car rides. Rest? There is no rest. I’ll take a break, but there is no rest. I’m always thinking of what’s next.
TJ: What’s the plan for the longer term?
BG: Wait and see. It’s a week-by-week life at this point. You can’t make plans. We are all living by the COVID -19’s plans.