Burdock Music Hall tiptoes towards reopening, starting with livestreams

In September, the venue will broadcast shows while staff think about how to safely reintroduce live audiences


For the last five months, the Burdock Music Hall has been filled with cardboard boxes and milk crates and stray beer bottles.

Closed since the COVID-10 shutdown in mid-March, the brewery and bar’s intimate music venue has been a makeshift storage and distribution facility for the in-house beer delivery business. Music Hall booker Richard Haubrich pivoted too, transitioning to delivery driving and routing.

Now, Haubrich is eyeing the space again, using his spare hours to scheme about the return of the Burdock Music Hall. Starting in September, the venue will launch an ongoing series of livestream events.

The first “soft launch” test show is a 40th birthday party concert from singer/songwriter Andrea Ramolo. Then, on September 16, Replay Storytelling will return to the Burdock. The event will feature a combination of storytellers in the building and at home, with the host onstage in the venue – a hybrid high-production approach that Haubrich says can reduce some of the awkwardness of Zoom-style livestream shows.

The original plan was to do both livestreams and Stage 3 concerts with fans – something that would make more financial sense for Burdock than other music venues since the Music Hall’s capacity is less than double the legal Ontario indoor limit of 50. But the Burdock has been doing things deliberately slower than some of its peers. Though it’s allowed, the bar has not reopened for indoor dining and is still only operating patio service.

“We want to keep safety top of mind, and we won’t start selling tickets to in-person events until we feel 100 per cent safe about it,” says Haubrich. “I was tossing and turning about it, but it doesn’t make sense to commit until we have a system or plan for guests to stay safe in the space.”

He’s had thoughts about what that might mean. Short shows without food or beverage service in which everyone wears masks the whole time? Mandatory temporary checks? “Pod” tickets that have a flat price for an up-to-four person couch? He’s still mulling.

But even if the pandemic ended tomorrow, he wouldn’t go back to booking as he did before the shutdown.

“The current civil rights movement is as big a factor for how venues should operate in the future as the pandemic is,” Haubrich says.

The first Burdock livestream was actually scheduled for May, but a couple of days before the planned date was the murder of George Floyd, which set off the worldwide Black Lives Matter protest movement. It made Haubrich rethink his plans and his future.

“It didn’t make sense for a white booker in a white-owned bar to start taking up that space,” he says.

Haubrich reflects on mistakes he’s made as the booker of Burdock over the last year since he took over for previous booker Charlotte Cornfield, including booking two festivals with more than 80 per cent white artists.

“That doesn’t represent the talent in Toronto at all,” he admits.

In the future, he wants to open Burdock to more “community collaborations” and work more with outside bookers. Burdock hosted a livestream as part of the Indigenous music festival Tkaronto Music Festival and wants to do similar partnerships in the future.

The upcoming livestreams are ticketed events. The Ramolo show is $12, including all fees and taxes. The price, he says, is to cover the production costs and expense, pay all the venue staffers (including sound and video) and make sure the artists are getting paid – an important thing to do while musicians have lost the majority of live revenue.

“It’s not about making a lot of money,” he says, noting that they’re lucky that the music venue isn’t the only source of revenue for Burdock. “It’s about: what fits in with Burdock’s values? How can we use our platform and amplify BIPOC voices? How can we take the pandemic precautions as seriously as they need to be taken?

“What’s the right way to move forward?”

@trapunski

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