Singer-trombonist Nick La Riviere has two shows at Hermann’s after a long hiatus

ON STAGE

What: The Nick La Riviere Band
Where: Hermann’s Jazz Club, 753 View St.
When: July 31, Aug. 1, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: hermannsjazz.ca

Victoria singer-trombonist Nick La Riviere last played in front of a live audience at Hermann’s Jazz Club on March 7 — one week before the bustling View Street venue shut its doors amid COVID-19 concerns.

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It has been an adventurous and stressful four-and-a-half months since that gig, but La Riviere,
traditionally one of the busiest musicians in Victoria, is back on stage for concerts today and Saturday, another step in what he hopes will be an eventual return to full-time work.

“As a musician, in times like this, with an opportunity to play, and put on a show with actual people there, which Hermann’s says will be safe, I’ve got to take it,” La Riviere said.

“It’s good, more than anything else, to keep the momentum going.”

Hermann’s returned to live concerts on July 23, with social-distancing measures in place, and has a string of acts booked through the end of August. At this point, the shows will be staged before a maximum audience of 50 people, as per provincial health regulations. But they will also be livestreamed through the club’s Facebook page, which the club has done on a continual basis since March 30, for those who aren’t yet comfortable watching live music in person.

La Riviere hopes that patrons will come back to the stage once word gets out in the community that Hermann’s is hosting concerts again.

“I hope music fans see the importance of keeping live music going. As much as we’ve tried to make live streams work, there is no way to replicate the feel of doing a live show in front of a live audience. We need places to play. We need a way of keeping the music going during this, because it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be over any time soon.”

La Riviere was out of the country when COVID-19 hit, having left the day following his March 7 gig at Hermann’s for Mexico and a show at the Banderas Bay music festival with Vancouver’s The Paperboys. He was in Puerto Vallarta with his wife, Heather, by the time the worldwide music industry collapsed upon itself, under an avalanche of cancellations.

“Right when the vacation part was about to start, I started getting all these phone calls — gig cancellations,” La Riviere said.

“I kept track of it all, but stopped at a certain point, because it was getting out of hand. On the first day, I had $4,000 worth of gigs cancelled. It didn’t take long before that became $10,000.”

His work schedule has come back to life somewhat in recent weeks. He played in front of Pagliacci’s restaurant on Broad Street with the Yiddish Columbia State Orchestra on Sunday, a recurring residency the band will keep through the end of August. He has also maintained a consistent teaching schedule during the pandemic, largely over Zoom. But through it all, he was constantly reminded of what many are calling ‘the new normal.’ For musicians, that means less gigs and less money.

The provincial government has helped, but La Riviere is critical of how officials have handled the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, with regards to
musicians.

He would normally play Hermann’s as part of a seven-piece band. For his upcoming shows, The Nick La Riviere Band will feature only four additional members, Barrie Sorensen (sax), Chris Van Sickle (keyboards), Louis Rudner (bass) and Damian Graham (drums). While that decision was made to keep musicians a safe distance from each other and the audience, the harsh reality is that La Riviere wouldn’t be able to hire any more musicians than the ones he’s already using.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the arts, La Riviere said. Hermann’s is encouraging patrons who attend the shows or watch online to donate through the link at artsonview.ca/donate, which is an impressive gesture. But what help has been offered from the government isn’t enough on its own, he added.

“The government thinking that either [a musician] is making the same money as they always have or they have lost all their income, but not somewhere in the middle, is lopsided thinking. It’s totally feasible for many musicians to go from doing quite well to making $1,001, which is not enough to pay their rent or expenses. But that would eliminate them from receiving $2,000 worth of CERB support [from the government]. Whereas somebody who is able to make $999 can collect the CERB. It should have been a sliding scale and not a yes or no, with nothing in the middle.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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