5 things to know about seeing a live show at the 2021 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival

Five things to know about the experience of seeing a live performance after a 15 month absence:

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Enjoying live music in-person has returned to Vancouver with the opening of the 2021 TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

Free afternoon shows on Granville Island as well as the Ironworks were permitted to have limited attendance this weekend thanks to significant loosening of rules put in place to manage the COVID-19 pandemic. Audience members can register to attend on the Coastal Jazz website on a first come/first served basis. Understandably, demand is very high for tickets.

On Friday, music fans took advantage of absolutely stunning weather to welcome back the shared experience of live listening.

While certainly not the bustling crowd action that one typically associates with the festival’s big opening weekend shows at šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square at the Vancouver Art Gallery or the closing weekend events at the Roundhouse and David Lam Park, it still felt good — even a bit subversive — to gather together again. Better still, loads of the shows are free.


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With admissions capped between 25 to 40 people depending on the venue, there is a long way to go before we get back to whatever will be the next normal. But, as every John Coltrane fan is well aware, baby crawls preceded giant steps.

Here are five things to know about the experience of seeing a live performance after a 15 month absence:

1. Check in. Walk in. Lock in: Upon arrival at a venue, you get the now standard round of COVID-related questions to answer before being let into the venue. From there, it’s a matter of claiming your socially-distanced seating and locking in. This is not the social butterfly hang zone most associate with the live show experience. With mask policy either enforced (Performance Works) or strongly recommended (Ironworks), you won’t be doing much flitting about and chatting. Drink service is before the show, with a maximum order of two per customer, so it is wise to arrive early if you want a beverage.


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2. Seating: OK, so this might not be what promoters or musicians want to hear, but the limited crowd size means that there is not a bad seat in the house and the sight lines are almost always perfect. With no noisy bar chatter, clanging drinks or general bon vivant goings-on, you couldn’t ask for a better setting to hear something like the sublime and beautiful explorations that Cat Toren HUMAN KIND (Iteration) laid down during its free set at Performance Works. At around the 30 minute-mark in the show, harpist Elisa Thorn and saxophonist/flutist Dave Say hit some lovely notes.

Krystle Dos Santos, Two-time Western Canadian Music Award-winning vocalist performs Friday at TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
Krystle Dos Santos, Two-time Western Canadian Music Award-winning vocalist performs Friday at TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival. Photo by Francis Georgian /PNG

3. Cameras: Naturally, with limited access, festival programmers are being sure to live stream all the shows too. This means that there are a trio of cameras arranged around the venue filming the gig.This is likely to become a very normal sight moving forward as presenters have learned that there is an audience for live streams. These are typically set up to not obstruct sight lines and provide artists with a chance to reach wider audiences, which is cool. It also meant guitarist/composer Alvaro Rojas could say “hi mom” during his sublime set with his string project featuring two violins, viola and cello accompanying his very textured electric guitar.


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4. Sound quality: Simply put, there is nothing like hearing live music in person. The immediacy of the musicians’ attack, the natural reverberation, the emotional swooshes as the string quartet bowed in at once or Thorn plucked her harp just can’t be felt the same way online. Smaller intimate shows were loved for these reasons and it sure is great to be able to be there.

5. And after all that: Even with all these conditions in place, even with all the good will going around as we start to open up again, it doesn’t stop the tried-and-true concert jerk from turning up. At Performance Works, one individual insisted on texting, which would be fine, save the fact they had the key clicks on and cranked up. When “shushed” by someone really appreciating the quiet interplay between Gordon Grdina’s oud and drummer Dylan van der Schyff’s tiny bells, the texter was kind enough to extend a classic English reverse Victory sign to the person who wanted to listen. Sigh.

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