CULTIVATING CREATIVITY: Downchild Blues Band Live at The Empire Theatre

By Fiona Campbell/Quinte Arts Council

Concert goers are desperate for live music and artists are dreaming to play in front of an audience again. Since the pandemic lockdowns started in March, countless shows have been cancelled or rescheduled to 2021, and even then there is much uncertainty about future performances. But artists and arts venues have demonstrated exceptional creativity and resiliency during this time, and Belleville’s Empire Theatre is no exception.

Dubbed Canada’s ambassadors to the blues and Dan Ackroyd’s inspiration behind The Blues Brothers, JUNO Award winners The Legendary Downchild Blues Band, with special guests including Miss Emily, will be performing to a small live audience at the Empire next Friday, with a simultaneous pay-per-view livestream.

“One of our most anticipated shows of 2020 pre-COVID was Downchild doing this performance live on stage, and they’re still going to do it live on stage for one night only but in front of 50 people and countless people on the web,” says Andy Forgie, promotions manager for the Empire. “We all know that virtual is cool and it may be the new world order for quite some time but when you do have the opportunity to sit there and feel it for real, it’s very special.”

Since the summer, the Empire has been hosting livestream concerts with Classic Albums Live performed on the theatre’s stage, featuring the music of bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Pink Floyd, David Bowie and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Recently it trialed a new format with its Pink Floyd show, performed before a live audience of more than 30 people, which is under the current provincial guidelines of 50 people in a staffed business or facility. “It was pretty special when the artists walked out on stage and heard real applause,” says Forgie.

The Classic Albums Live shows were livestreamed for free, with a suggested virtual tip jar. Forgie says the community was very generous with their donations, with contributions ranging from $10, $100 and even $200. Moving forward, the theatre will offer livestream and ticketed in-person options.

“[This] provides an income for the artists who are performing, but also the technicians and crew who are involved, and the Empire Theatre as well. It’s good because money is being generated and bills are being paid,” says Forgie.

Rebuilding the arts sector through ticketed shows such as these is just the start of our economic recovery. “Venues like the Empire Theatre are key pieces of our cultural fabric in Quinte Region,” says Janet Jarrell, Executive Director for the Quinte Arts Council. “Community support for shows such as The Downchild Blues Band ensure the continued viability of the Empire and its staff, and in turn Belleville’s vibrant music scene, which impacts emerging as well as established artists. We’re thrilled to see how the Empire has pivoted during this stressful time, and we’re excited to see what comes next!”

Downchild will be performing songs from their 50th Anniversary album, and concert goers and viewers can chose from several different ticket tiers, including a livestream concert only, a livestream deluxe package (with CD) and an in-person reserved seating ticket. Tickets are sold in twos to ensure sufficient social distancing between audience members (though you can contact the theatre with a larger group) and masks must be worn.

“It’s going to be a great night of the blues, and there will be a special [unnamed] guest. We don’t know who that will be – they have a really cool little black book,” says Forgie. “It’s not unusual to have people like Colin James and Paul Shaffer show up, and of course the big one would be Dan Ackroyd. The grapevine is already buzzing!”

“Everyone is excited, right down to our Box Office staff,” adds Forgie. “We’re back doing something. It’s different, but we’re doing something.”

The Legendary Downchild Blues Band will be performing at the Empire Theatre on October 16 at 8 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit theempiretheatre.com