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Ian Foster speaks on the impact of COVID-19 on musicians

By Troy Hasselman, March 23 2020—

There are a lot of things that you can talk about with Ian Foster. You could talk about his long career as a singer-songwriter and the numerous albums he has made since he began releasing music in 2006, a career that’s won him accolades including a SOCAN Songwriter of the Year Nomination. You could talk about his work as a producer for artists such as Kat Mclevy and Mary O’Brien. You could talk about his work as a filmmaker, with his short film Keystone playing to acclaim at the 2015 Calgary International Film Festival. These are all things that I would have spoken about with Ian Foster under normal circumstances, but on the day I spoke with him the only thing either of us were interested in talking about was the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. When we spoke on March 16, the first half of his 22-date Canadian tour had just been postponed, the entire tour has since been postponed. Among these cancelled dates is an April 4 show at the Crescent Heights Community Centre and an April 17 show at the Calgary Folk Club. 

The Gauntlet spoke with Foster from his home in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador on March 16. At the time there was only one case of COVID-19 in the province, that number has since risen to three. Newfoundland and Labrador has also announced the closure of schools and daycare centres.

“People are taking it super seriously, which is a good thing for sure because it’s all about prevention,” Foster says. “It’s probably already here because of the two week incubation period, even though there’s only one confirmed case at this time. Casewise, it’s not an issue but in terms of prevention people are cancelling all kinds of events. I have a show this weekend that we just cancelled this afternoon.“

The metrics for financial compensation for Foster are complicated for the tour, varying from show-to-show. He was not offered an advance for the majority of the shows he was scheduled to perform. Foster’s show at the Crescent Heights Community Centre is being treated as a postponement as opposed to a cancellation. 

“One of those two shows does offer a guarantee that they paid at the time of booking, which was over a year ago,” Foster says. “They’re treating this as a postponement situation and not a cancellation. The financials on that side don’t change, it’s more about when the show finally will happen and that’s not set yet. I booked that show in the spring of 2018, this could easily be a 2021–22 situation for a couple of the venues.”

While Foster is disappointed to have his tour dates cancelled, he is also mindful of the risk that large gatherings pose to public health and is supportive of social distancing initiatives. 

“Definitely public health and safety is the biggest concern,” Foster says. “It is a strange thing to go ‘Let’s all hope nothing happens and we’re laughing about this.’ That is pretty much the professional opinion it seems from watching even some of the top healthcare professionals, because that’s obviously the goal. ‘Flatten the curve’ is a statement we’ve heard a million times in the last week but it’s a totally legitimate one. From what I’ve been reading a large portion of the population will end up with this and it’s just about spacing that out so health care systems don’t become overburdened. My opinion is that it is for the greater good of public health and it is a good idea and we should respect that and listen to professionals.” 

These cancelled dates are also having a strong impact on the venues that Foster was scheduled to perform in, with all of their other performances being cancelled as well. Foster speaks on the community in the music industry with musicians and venues now both in the same difficult predicament.

“There’s the stereotype of the musicians in the music industry and they’re the hard put upon ones, and there’s a lot of truth to that,” Foster says. “But the venues put on for this one like folk clubs or home roots organizations, these are people doing it because they love it. Yes they’re a business, yes they’re presenters but they’re doing it because they love it and they’re as worried as I am because they own buildings that have bills to be paid and they were expecting these concerts to happen and the cancellation emails are just mutual disappointment on both sides. Yes it’s about dealing with how we’re going to figure out the money, but also we’re all just worried for each other.”

In the midst of the uncertainty surrounding the cancellations of countless tours and concerts, Foster has seen news of support from federal arts organizations and hopes that meaningful financial support can be offered to Canadian artists struggling in the face of COVID-19 caused cancellations.

“It’s worth noting I have seen posts from things like Canada Council and FACTOR and some of the other larger scale arts organizations that they’re trying to figure out what to do,” Foster says. “If there is some positivity to this very dark time specifically with how it pertains to artists, it’s that those organizations that deal with the majority of funding for arts in Canada are thinking about this and not just thinking about projects that are currently funded. I saw some post about how they’re trying to figure out how to funnel money to artists that wouldn’t fall into an EI [employment insurance] situation or typical employment situation. Arts organizations are on it and I‘m happy to hear that in these truly unprecedented times.”

While the fate of Ian Foster’s tour remains uncertain, his music is available on all streaming services and available for purchase through his website

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