With the one year anniversary of the pandemic’s lockdown coming up, the Kimberley Bulletin reached out to a few local musicians to see how they’ve been impacted by the past 12 months and how they’ve been keeping busy.
Local musician, president of the Kimberley Arts Council and co-founder of the Saltwater Sessions, Lennan Delaney has lived in Kimberley for the past five years, but his career as a musician, beginning growing up as a Celtic musician on the east coast of Canada, has taken him all over the world.
After Cape Breton he spent around 13 years working as a musician in Toronto, hiring himself out to numerous bands. He’s also toured all over the United States and Europe including Germany, France, Holland, Belgium.
He currently sings and plays guitar and fiddle with local rock band Leather Apron Revival.
“Coming to Kimberley I wasn’t too sure what the music circuit looked like, but there is a really wonderful underground music system that exists here,” Delaney said. “Some people play to audiences and some people rather keep it to smaller circles for their own enjoyment, so there really is a long-existing musical culture that exists here and I was happy to realize that in a short amount of time of me being here.”
For him, a typical, pandemic-free year would consist of at least one gig every week at a variety of local venues, for example he’d be busy with gigs at Kimberley Alpine Resort in the winter and the summer’s always busy with concerts and gigs singing or playing violin at weddings, anniversary’s and other parties.
“It’s nice because having the instrumentation behind me, it’s a bit more versatile so I get to play more events, more formats, etcetera and so that lends itself in a really great way here in the Kootenays.”
His band would usually practice once a week, also utilizing that time as an opportunity for band meetings, treating their group like a small business and discussing how best to move it forward.
All of these things have been impacted by COVID. For Delaney and Leather Apron Revival, one of the saving graces was that in the early months of the pandemic they put a lot of focus on writing, converting some of their get-togethers into virtual writing sessions.
That long period of creativity allowed them to record an album in Lethbridge, so they now are sitting on a 12-track album that’s ready to be released.
On the flip side to that, he added, there’s also never been so many bands seeking funding.
“Typically the outlets or resources we’d look to for funding certain pieces of the project including the recording, they’re just inundated and there’s so many people that are struggling,” he said.
He explained that while he, who works in social services, and the other members of his band have other ways of making money, there are a lot of musicians for whom music is their sole income and they’re really struggling.
“Those are the opportunities that are hopefully being favoured, to support those people, but ultimately we’ve found an impact just within our ability to get some of those resources that would typically be available to us other wise,” he said. “So lots of ups and downs.”
Another impact, is that ordinarily, Delaney’s connections he made while working in Toronto would fly him out to places, like last year to Milwaukee for example, to play gigs. St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and for a Celtic fiddle player, that’s essentially like Christmas Day, and Delaney could usually count on a flight to Toronto for a week’s worth of gigs.
“It’s one of those things where it’s kind of like a bonus cheque for some people at their work, where you just start knowing that it’s an annual kind of happening, you start depending on it more and more and when that doesn’t happen there’s an impact.”
Heather Gemmell is another prolific local musician. Drawing inspiration from the wild and rugged landscape she calls home, and performing with traditional instruments, kinetic stage percussion and old-fashioned lyrics, Gemmell said she classifies her sound within the realm of authentic folk, roots and blues.
In addition to her own four-piece rock band, she’s also played alongside bands such as Alderbash, Idlewild and the Rosie Brown Band.
“Over the years I have gained a profound amount of musical diversity from every project I have been involved with,” Gemmell said. “I have developed a style that is truly unique to the woman that I have grown into.”
Her pre-COVID musical routine was similar to Delaney’s: rehearsal once a week, performing one or two events a month and also performing privately four times a month during the summer.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Gemmell had her baby girl on March 2, 2020 and went on maternity leave from her job as an aborist and horiculturist with the City of Cranbrook. Initially, as she had already planned on taking a break from music to focus on her new baby, the pandemic didn’t have much effect on her musical life in the early stages, though she was looking forward to getting back to her private weekly shows at a local dude ranch.
“They, like a lot of tourist attractions had a rough year with the travel restrictions,” she said. “So they did not have any extra evening events, including contract musicians like myself.This was going to be my only musical commitment during summer of 2020.”
Lately she’s been keeping herself musically active by putting up videos onto her social media channels, working away at her latest original album in her home studio and says she finds herself to be most productive in the evenings after her baby has gone to bed.
“Generally, as soon as I pick up any of my instruments during the daylight, my baby wants to grab onto it and pull on the sharp strings,” she said, “so I have become somewhat of a night owl.”
Gemmell has just started advertising her online lessons she will be offering with the College of the Rockies Continuing Education Program, where she will be teaching group introductory Clawhammer Banjo and Dobro/Lap Steel lessons online.
You can learn more about the lessons here https://cotr.bc.ca/continuing-education/getting-started-with-claw-hammer-banjo/
She also offers one-one-one private virtual lessons for banjo, dobro and guitar if anyone seeks a more tailored experience.
She said her goal for the summer is to bring back her Group Jamming Workshop series, Heather G’s Song Circle Jams, once the pandemic has subsided enough to get the musical community interacting again.
”I think the lack of music in the community has been a tough blow,” she said. “Especially for the bars and restaurants that were so supportive of live local music. The consequences of COVID seem so far away at times in our small community. However we have done a good job of sticking by the rules set out by the province and we will be able to bounce back stronger then ever because of it.”
She added that she highly recommends checking out the Stonefire’s “Wings and Strings” Wednesday music series.
Kevin Honeyman has lived in Kimberley since 1987, and Rossland before that. He’s played in bands such as The Honeymans, Bush Party and One Below, and currently plays with Elk Hunt and Zero people, while his current main focus is his solo acoustic act under the name Honeyman.
While his musical career has varied greatly over the years, in late 2019 Honeyman had just finished producing a solo acoustic album entitled “Fix Everything Plan.” He had recorded it with the intent of touring throughout 2020 and promoting the album, for the first time in many years.
“The album was released on March 13, 2020, but it was already clear that touring in 2020 was not going to be an option,” he said. “So instead I was forced to spend the entire summer recreating in the rivers and mountains of the East Kootenays.”
After recording “Fix Everything Plan,” he continued to write and record and said his plan is to release another album by the summer of 2021, this time one more geared towards rock rather than the campfire music style of his last release. He is currently working on the seventh song, so it’s well underway.
By the fall of 2020, Honeyman said he was really feeling the live music drought and was itching to play music for people again, so that’s when he started performing under the gazebo in the Platzl.
“In general though, live music always helps lift your mood, which is important these days,” Honeyman said. “If I wake up feeling low, I can go to the Gazebo with my guitar and by the time I’m done with the first song I feel great. Generally I can make a few other people smile as well. It’s a win/win.”
While it’s still too early too tell what a return to normal live music will look like, all of the above artists agree that Kimberley has been a great place to ride out the pandemic, and given the support of the community so far, they feel hopeful for the future.
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