A Stage for Everyone
The Past, Present, and Future of Live Music in Thunder Bay
Story by Kelsey Raynard, Photos by Emily Turner
For a city of just over 100,000 people, Thunder Bay has historically enjoyed a wonderful diversity of incredible live music acts both large and small. However, like all areas of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed this landscape dramatically. How has the local music scene changed since March of 2020? What does the future hold for lovers of live music? We spoke to three local promoters—Frank Loffredo, Michelle Addison, and Elly Tose—to get their perspectives on how Thunder Bay can rebuild and reimagine our local music scene. First and foremost, there is no sugarcoating the impact that COVID-19 had on the entertainment industry. “It just decimated every segment of the music scene,” says Loffredo, a longtime promoter in Thunder Bay and owner of Crocks/Loffredo & Associates. “The ones who are doing okay are at the top end. The music scene rises from the bottom, so a lot of the more [so-called] invisible venues are the ones who suffered the most.” Addison, owner and founder of Go Beyond the Show, adds that the length of time it took before venues were allowed to re-open had a negative impact on not only the owners of those venues, but the artists themselves. “It was almost as though they had been deemed not valuable enough to come back sooner. There was a lack of confidence and even a lack of self-value and worth because of how slow it was,” she says. However, in order to keep artists and audiences safe, promoters and venues were forced to be both adaptable and creative in their ongoing efforts to keep the music scene alive. “We were doing everything we could to keep everyone safe and, at the same time, carry on with our mandate, which is bringing live music to Thunder Bay,” says Tose, who is the administrative coordinator for the Sleeping Giant Folk Music Society. From backyard and patio shows, to virtual screenings, to socially distanced festivals, all three promoters commended the spirit of creativity and endurance that persisted throughout the earlier COVID years. Nowadays, live music is returning to Thunder Bay, albeit slowly. While many bands, venues, and promoters were forced to withdraw from the music scene during this time, the ones who have endured are facing challenges not unfamiliar to the rest of society. Loffredo, Addison, and Tose all remarked on the rising cost of, well, pretty much everything, from gas prices, venue bookings, and artists’ fees, to hotel prices, and the bus rentals that facilitate touring in the first place. In terms of silver linings, Loffredo says that the bands who have survived bring a tenacity and persistence that reminds him (and the audiences) of the power of live music. Interestingly, Addison says that audiences are now emphasizing the importance of music as an experience, rather than just a show. “COVID helped us realize as fans how much we love to have memories and experiences more than things,” she says. “That’s really what we had taken away: the ability to make memories in meaningful ways, and fans have really embraced the notion of making memories again through the arts.” Despite the challenges of the past few years, optimism remains. Loffredo, Addison, and Tose all commended new and upcoming local venues, such as Norteños Cantina, for championing live music and finding innovative ways to incorporate it into their business. “As I see so many more venues popping up, I really start to get excited at the possibility of more unexpected places and unique opportunities to listen to music and create really rich experiences,” Addison says. “If you want to play live music in Thunder Bay, there’s a venue or stage for you.” And Loffredo, who has been in this business for decades, feels that this period of time may be a blank slate for our city, and if people are passionate enough to keep it alive, could usher in a new era of live music in Thunder Bay.