How Manitoba’s music scene is adapting to social distancing

By Nicole Brownlee

The Cube Stage on April 9, 2020. Old Market Square remains closed during the COVID-19 pandemic./BRETT KELLY

Music organizations are exploring new ways to interact with fans and followers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The Purple Room, a nomadic musical organization that hosts events throughout Winnipeg, is moving their open mic night to Instagram Live.

CaRaVaN Open Mic and Open Stage have run on Monday nights for nearly eight years around the city, most recently at X-Cues Café & Lounge. During the summer months, The Purple Room hosts the event outdoors from The Cube Stage in Old Market Square. 

Paul Little, The Purple Room’s artistic director, said they moved the event online to continue showcasing local talent while protecting the health of venue staff and patrons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Like on a regular Monday at one of our venues, we just want people to enjoy [CaRaVaN] whether they’re going to perform or if they’re just there to watch,” said Little, 38.

Prospective performers sign up by messaging the host during the live stream, while viewers show their support through messages and Emojis in the live chat.

Musician Christy Taronno used to perform at the open mic night and when she saw CaRaVaN launch online, she decided to join in.

“It’s a rare opportunity to play from the comfort of your own home while also having an audience,” said the 28-year-old. “It’s kind of the best of both worlds.”

Taronno said she plans on debuting her latest song “Balancing Act” on an upcoming livestream.

“We just want to make sure people know that even though it’s not the same, there can still be community happening through these weird times, and these connections can still exist.”

While organizations like The Purple Room try to recreate their events online, there is growing concern among music fans about the fate of upcoming concerts and festivals. 

Christine Scaife has volunteered at the Winnipeg Folk Festival for the last ten years and said she’s worried this year’s festival will be cancelled.

“I’ve quit jobs to go to Folk Fest,” said the 40-year-old Business Administration student.

The festival is scheduled to run from July 9-12, but Scaife said volunteers are advised not to purchase tickets in case of cancellation. 

“I think they just don’t want everyone to panic and get really upset, because it’s something people are really looking forward to,” said Scaife.

Winnipeg Folk Festival stated on their website last week they are still planning the festival, but their lineup may change.

The TD Winnipeg International Jazz Festival postponed their June 11-19 event but hasn’t announced new dates.

Rainbow Trout Music Festival and Real Love Summer Fest are among the Manitoban festivals that have yet to release statements about changes to their events based on COVID-19’s spread.

To learn more about The Purple Room, visit

To learn more about Christy Taranno, visit