More than eight months have passed since self-isolation was first imposed by public health regulations, in necessary response to the spread of the COVID-19 virus. It’s been a hard time for music-makers, but a handful have applied their creativity to the challenge of presenting actual, safe, in-person shows during the pandemic, especially in the summer gap between the first and second waves.

Toronto R&B duo DVSN were among the most successful, bringing people together for seven concerts during the pandemic, at the newly-constructed CityView Drive-In, on the shore of Lake Ontario in downtown Toronto.  Daniel Daley and Anthony Paul “Nineteen85” Jefferies filled the parking lot five times in August and twice in October to give about 1,500 patron-filled vehicles live relief  from isolation. Online tickets for these performances were scooped up before one could exhale, as people chomped at the bit to hear selections from DVSN’s latest album, A Muse In Her Feelings.

“We’ve always been heavily recognized for what we do live,” Daley told The Toronto Star in an interview. “Live performance for me, as the singer, is a big part of the take-away and the take-home. We wanted to find a way to contribute to society. So, how can we give back? At the end of the day, our gift is music. So, if that’s the way we can make people feel good, even for a second, then let’s find a way.”

The shows were conducted with the requisite social distancing: vehicles were parked one car-width apart, and people stayed in their means of transport unless they needed concessions, or to use the washrooms at the Rebel nightclub across the street.

“The experience is a little different, because it’s not like there’s people standing next to each other with the kind of energy and synergy that that brings, said Daley. “People are  more spaced out – some  in their cars, some out, some sitting on the roofs of their cars. Some people are clapping, some are honking: you’re just getting a bunch of different reactions. It’s a different kind of fulfilment.“

DVSN wasn’t the first act to accomplish drive-in shows in Canada. Early on in the pandemic, July Talk were the first to announce their two-night stand in August at a Drive-In in Sharon, ON. The first to actually play one was country star Brett Kissel, who pulled off the feat at an Edmonton casino parking lot in June, with eight shows over a weekend. (Which were filmed for a recent CTV special, Brett Kissel at the Drive-In.) After getting approval from Alberta Health Services to perform the concerts, Kissel mobilized his band and a few corporate partners to assemble a makeshift  concert stage. He added a charity component, raising money for food banks, and ensuring that two of the shows were dedicated exclusively to local health officials who had been tirelessly treating pandemic victims.

“I wanted to make sure that we did something really good for those frontline workers, those health-care heroes,” Kissel told The Toronto Star. Kissel performed four shows a day, from noon through midnight, as his band members exercised physical distancing by performing behind plexiglass.

“Judging by my social media, it’s a memory that so many people will never forget,” he said. “They were honking so much that I burst into tears on a number of occasions. We built community and comfort and joy like I’ve never felt in my career.”

But drive-ins aren’t the only pivot points for live performance. Micro-Concerts, where musicians can safely play to one person, or household clusters of two or four people, at a time, have been thriving. The Festif! Festival in Charlevoix, Québec, undertook a “doorway tour” series where musicians play one song in front of someone’s home, then move on to the next house. Calgary’s Matt Masters booked curbside concerts for fans, played from the top of his mini-van to people in front of their homes. In Esquimalt, BC, Jeff Stevenson stood on the bank of the Gorge Waterway, and serenaded groups of boaters. Stéphanie Bédard, in Québec, did something similar with her “Lake Tour.” Montréal’s Dear Criminals played 72 one-song live shows in three days, at the Lion d’Or club, to two people at a time.

“Seeing live music is one way to stay healthy, alive and well, and spirited” – Chantal Kreviazuk

For the majority of last summer, singer-songwriter Michael Bernard Fitzgerald had been performing his current album Love Valley, first through micro-concerts in his Calgary backyard, then touring with his own outdoor venue called The Greenbriar, and playing farms – with the shows being announced the day-of, in the rural hinterlands just outside of major cities, fostering the sense of a spontaneous and exclusive event.

“It’s an event tent,” Fitzgerald tells us. “We load it up by truck, and we’ve been taking it to cities across Canada and doing about five shows a week.” The crowds are small – five socially distanced tables underneath the tent reserved for those who purchased tickets ahead of time – and the challenges can be unpredictable. Learning that the tent really does take three hours to put up,” he admits. “Or learning the first night that we’re going to need a heater… or two heaters… or the first night we ran into snow.”

But Fitzgerald feels he’s fulfilling a need, for both himself and his audience. “It felt to great to be doing it,” he says. “The shows went two hours, and I went out there and just spent that time with people – have a laugh, have a chat and play some songs – that’s what I bring to the table.”

Similar to Fitzgerald’s Greenbriar tent, The Io Project is a newly-designed “anti-COVID” mobile stage that can safely allow live shows for up to 250 people, watching in household clusters of two or four people, isolated by plexiglass.

Some music creators are still going the regular route: Chantal Kreviazuk recently completed 35 dates in Canadian soft-seater venues to support her new album Get To You. The shows were significantly scaled down – and, depending on location and provincial restrictions – her audiences totalled 50 to 150 patrons.

“I did everything myself, and mostly drove everywhere alone,” Kreviazuk said. “This tour is for my sanity, and in service to my country. We need this kind of normalcy and diversion away from the pandemic. It’s a wonderful thing that I can offer people, because I sit at the piano alone and I don’t move about much. I just kind of show up, walk onstage with my own microphone, walk out, and we’re done.”

Kreviazuk says she plans to return to Canada (from her home in Los Angeles) in the new year “for more of a residency,” and says her tour helps venues keep their connections with patrons. “This country has supported me. These venues have raised me,” she says. “We’re all hurting with our losses in terms of what we normally do, so seeing live music is one way to stay healthy, alive and well, and spirited.

“It’s incredibly rewarding and meaningful work.”

Queer songwriter Mélodie Spear’s first EP, Fabulations sheds light on her past through five songs, written between the ages of 15 and 21. The 23-year-old guitarist from Beauport, a suburb of Québec City, got them out of her system as a catharsis. Spear, sometimes angelic and often devilish, enjoys revealing her many sides.

Melodie Spear“Because that’s is a turning point in anyone’s life, where everything is changing, I couldn’t write those songs today,” she says. “The woman I’ve become is getting re-acquainted with the girl I used to be. Fabulations is a meeting with myself.”

Thanks to her new collaborator, producer Ben Shampouing (aka Benoit Villeneuve), who we’ve recently seen alongside Tire le Coyote, Spear was able to fully express herself as a musician.

“Over two years a go, I arrived at the Ampli de Québec [studios, professional training, etc.] and I was this weirdo with plaid pants and a big jean jacket,” says Spears. “I said to the guy in charge, Guillaume Sirois, with a cocky attitude, ‘I wanna play rock, where are the rock people in Québec City?’ He’s the one who introduced us…

“I was still in Cégep when we began pre-production on those songs, about two years ago. I would go to Shampouing’s basement studio with my little guitar, and I’d never played with a band before. He had a Felix on his desk,” she says in awe, “right next to an alligator skull, and my first reaction was, ‘He really knows what he’s doing!’” she laughs.

Thanks to her four accompanying musicians – Olivier Beaulieu, also her manager, on drums; Elizabeth Lavallée on bass; Jean-Michel Letendre on synths; and Vincent Gagnon on keyboards; all of them musicians who actively play with Lou-Adrianne Cassidy, Beat Sexu, Hubert Lenoir, etc. – we can enjoy plenty of controlled skids. Everyone was involved in the songwriting.

Spear then proceeded to create a “band of girls” from Québec City, dubbed Les amazones, for her stage show. “I want to give women with a lot of potential chances to play in public, so that they, too, can play at the same level as the guys,” says Spears.

Les amazones made a good first impression during the preliminary round of the 2020 Francouvertes competition, thanks to “Sorcière,” a song that’s not on Fabulations, a fist-pumping hymn with staccato riffs and very high dance-making potential. This Amazonian effort is instantly etched on the brain. Very convincing.

Fabulations opens with “Dans les limbes,” with the band playing as one, lit production, and an instant climate of unpredictability. Spear sings a stripped-back version of it in her intimate show Dans l’shed à Léon. The difference between the two is striking. “A song is a feeling you re-visit,” she says, “and you always do so for different reasons.”

Says Spear about “Ana,” the second song on the EP, “It was born of feeling like I wanted to bury my head in the sand, to dampen the noise of everything going on around us, to become numb. I was a very rebellious teenager. ‘Ana’ isn’t easy to handle, but we all fall for her charm.”

“Les enfants de la tempête” is a glimpse into the divorce of Spear’s parents, both of whom are also musicians. “Divorce is a phenomenon that’s marked my generation,” she says. Yet the song goes down smoothly, thanks to Shampouing’s production; there’s something for the mind and something for the heart.

“On ‘Plus qu’une fable,” I wanted to revisit La Fontaine’s ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’ and interpret it in the current context,” says Spear. “I like that’s there’s a morality at the end, a bit like my songs. Plus, the tortoise and the hare… I’m both at the same time: really slow and really fast!”

As for “Cœur malade,” the fifth song on Fabulations, “My Justin Bieber during that period was Baudelaire,” she says. “Now there’s a universe I can identify with: Taking what’s ugly in humans and making something beautiful with it.” Toxic love and hurt: “ton cœur malade autour d’une grenade,” (“Your sick heart wrapped around a hand grenade”), she sings repeatedly in the video (released in 2019).

Spear’s voice is judiciously served on the EP, by sonically multi-layered music. It’s neither dark nor stormy, and endlessly in pursuit of her obsessions with the human condition propelled by a bona fide pop temperament.

“The lyrics, my states of mind, a hint of neurosis, there’s something bubbling inside me,” she says. “It’s the result of a hyper-sensitivity that generates an overflow of emotions. That’s why I write songs.”

That’s the definitive affirmation of a strong character taking her place in the music landscape.


When her album Landing was launched three years ago, there was a lot said about the meandering journey that led Amélie Beyries to songwriting. A long creative process, strewn with personal pitfalls, had pushed the thirty-something to declare herself an artist late in life, although she was still a little embarrassed to assume this role completely.

BeyriesThe success of Landing, and the numerous accolades that followed, informed the project that would become BEYRIES. After a smooth landing, the artist wanted to meet the audience that had embraced her intimate songs.

“I sometimes wish I would write lighter songs that I could sing with a degree of detachment, but I just can’t,” says the singer. “I’m the type who’ll break down crying on stage, and it happens a lot! It made me anxious, initially, but I quickly understood that audiences are generally benevolent towards artists, they don’t want you to fall flat on your face, they’re there to support you. I’m not an entertainer, and I don’t think I’ll ever be, but I’ve come to love this trade, thanks to the exchanges I have with the audience during my concerts.”

Encounters are indeed the central theme of her sophomore album, Encounter, where she offers the same timeless sound, which she’s nonetheless expanded and tweaked alongside her longtime producer, multi-instrumentalist Alex McMahon. “We found out we still had a lot to say, and we wanted to see where our musical relationship could go,” Beyries explains. “Alex asked me what I wanted to do, and all I said was that I wanted… wider songs, something more unifying.”

The folk roots remain the same, but BEYRIES ventures into pop territory on catchy songs like “Over Me,” which is almost reminiscent of Florence and the Machine, or the languid Keep it to Yourself, in which the bass line engages in a dialogue with the strings. Those string arrangements, penned by Antoine Gratton, are an integral part of the desired sonic expansion, and one of the rare elements that’s not the fruit of the creative BEYRIES-McMahon powerhouse.

“Alex is so talented, he can play any instrument! During the recording sessions, he played the guitar and bass parts, and they’re not at all his favourite instruments, yet when we asked ‘real’ guitarists to play those parts, everybody agreed that Alex’s versions were way better. He plays with instinct and passion, which a very rare talent.”

Although she says she listens to a wide variety of musical genres, Beyries remains true to the core artists that made her who she is: Cat Stevens, The Beatles, and Elton John. Through those influences, she seeks to bring a timeless touch to her own compositions.

Landing was voluntarily a sparse album,” she says. “I wanted the focus to be on the vocal harmonies. This time around, I felt like hearing something bigger, wider, although all of those songs can easily be boiled down to their simplest expression; I can sing all of them guitar-voice, piano-voice, or even a capella.”

That comes as no surprise, since all of them were written on the family piano, a 1923 Heintzman that Beyries had meticulously restored. “It’s the only object I’m attached to,” she says. “I’m self-taught on the piano, but playing on that particular instrument, that my mom and grandma used to play, is a connection with my past. It’s something highly emotional for me.”

Although Beyries is a specialist in the intimate sphere, she still looks outwards, notably on the incisive “Graceless,” which might almost be classified as a protest song. “I usually try to leave my songs open-ended, so that people can read what they want into them, but with this one I really wanted to express my distress about the direction the human race is going in,” she says. “Call it my pre-apocalyptic song… I wonder just how far we’re going to go in the de-humanization and destruction of our planet. Are we going to succeed in coming together to face the major issues that threaten our survival?”

Short of offering an answer, BEYRIES songs are there to accompany us, and remind us of our common humanity. It’s a good start…