Just a few questions on a survey reveal how difficult 2021 will be, both for the entertainment industry and for those crying out to be entertained.
This online survey comes from the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and hats off to the organization for asking its audience members how they feel about attending indoor and outdoor live events in the future, along with other questions that may help the festival create a 2021 event that can be both exciting and safe.(Visit winnipegfolkfestival.ca to take the survey for yourself.)
What the survey reveals immediately to those who fill it out is something that won’t require a pollster to tabulate or evaluate.
Just try to answer the second question without splitting yourself into two minds.
It reads: "What length of time will you wait to return to indoor live events (live concert, theatre, etc.), assuming they are approved by provincial health regulations?" A similarly worded question follows, except it asks about outdoor live events.
There are seven time-related choices, varying from "immediately" to "more than 12 months" to "not until a vaccine is available."
The devil on your left shoulder that has grown tired cooling its heels will want to have fun. Most of us have been listening to the angels on our right shoulders, following the rules on social distancing and mask use, knowing that straying from these practices has helped fuel the rise in Manitoba’s COVID-19 cases.
So it’s easy — and prudent for those who have health conditions — to answer "not until a vaccine is available." After seven months in a live-event desert, though, an anonymous survey brings temptation to the forefront.
Virtual concerts and theatre appeared to be a good alternative in the spring, when we were locked down and afraid. But a glut of online streams has robbed them of their novelty and turned the trend into a mirage.
Listening to your favourite songs on headphones, or playing a brand new track while going for a walk is great, but again, there’s nothing like live concerts or plays to boost flatlining dopamine levels.
It’s why we pay hundreds of dollars to see Paul McCartney, for instance, or get all dressed up for dinner and a night at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre or the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.
There were a few small entertainment venues open in the summer in Winnipeg that acted as an oasis for those who sought to be entertained and to set aside all of 2020’s troubles, if only for an hour or two.
For those who discovered going to the pharmacy to refill a prescription had become the exciting moment of their cloistered week, paying $10 for a small outdoor show, such as the Wind-Ups played in early September at the Beer Can, felt like cheating.
During the opening set, the local bar band played the Who’s classic Substitute, becoming as the song says, "a substitute for another guy" — but for those starved for live music, these substitutes were as satisfying as if Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend themselves were on the stage.
It was a great moment, but as Mad Men’s Don Draper says, "What is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness."
It will be fascinating to see what alternatives outdoor festivals come up with to hold their events if COVID-19 continues to be part of our community and our headspace.
In the meantime, the folk fest’s survey, its dilemma-filled questions and the reality of the pandemic mean we will have to temper our happiness, because live events like the party at Birds Hill Park won’t be the way they were.
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.