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Niagara Falls
Friday, February 3, 2023
TD Niagara Jazz Festival reinvents itself online

Innovative approach keeps musicians, videographers employed while supporting restaurants

In a time of hardship for musicians due to a lack of live gigs, the TD Niagara Jazz Festival is still paying performers, while creating new jobs and partnerships to support Niagara restaurants at the same time.

Festival executive director Juliet Dunn has continued to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic, switching from live shows to virtual events online and finding new ways to engage her audience through community partnerships.

The result has been new opportunies for musicians, videographers, restaurants and even a marketing student. Not to mention bringing a bit of entertainment for people stuck at home during the provincial lockdown.

For her Twilight Jazz Series, Dunn has partnered with local restaurants to offer dinner and jazz packages. People can purchase a ticket to the show and a meal from an area restaurant, available for curbside pickup before the performance.

“This is a great way to work with partner restaurants,” she said. “They're really suffering, as are the musicians, so it's kind of a win-win.”

She said restaurants come up with a menu that allows them to make money and “everybody's happy.”

“So, for example, if it's $39, we're giving say $20 to $22 to the restaurant, depending on their menu items,” she said. “We sell a ticket, they sell a dish.”

The goal is to have partner restaurants in each Niagara municipality, Dunn said, so there's something close to home for anyone who wants to join in.

“We're not there yet, but we've got one in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Falls, St. Catharines and town of Lincoln, and that way, people can order and just do curbside pickup,” Dunn said.

In Niagara-on-the-Lake, she's partnered with Club 55 on Niagara Stone Road.

Club 55 owner Bill Neufeld said the partnership has helped expose the restaurant “to a demographic we may not have reached without it.”

He said as Niagara restaurants “navigate the rapid changing restrictions,” partnerships like this are important.

“If any sense of prosperity is to meet us on the other side it has to come from a sense of locals supporting each other.”

On top of helping restaurants, the musicians are grateful for the work, Dunn said.

“During a pandemic they're getting barely any work, and so they were just so grateful to be able to perform. If we can keep that going, that's a win as well.”

The musicians and videographers all get paid, of course, thanks to funding from TD, various sponsors and grant money.

Still, it needs to be complemented by ticket sales.

The festival spent a good deal of time offering free shows while figuring out the technical parts of livestreaming gigs.

“Last year we did over 70 performances and actually all but two were free. Which was great, but we're realizing, well, that's not a model we can do forever because we've got to have some ticket sales to help balance it out,” Dunn said.

She said musicians get paid a minimum amount for the performance, which is boosted if ticket sales are strong.

“Our last show … we had more ticket sales than we thought, so we said, 'Hey, here's some extra money.' So the musicians were quite happy as you can imagine,” she said.

While the hope is to get back to live performances, Dunn said she doesn't see things returning to normal any time soon.

She's even looking at having restaurants close to where some of the performers are living, and could be partnering with a restaurant in Calgary for an upcoming youth performance. 

It's been tricky getting the online format to work, Dunn said, but people are still buying tickets and enjoying the shows.

“It's all new. We're learning as we go. What we've noticed is on event day we need more volunteers online to help guide people if they can't figure out how to get the show link and stuff like that.”

She's still hoping to partner with a restaurant in Old Town, she said.

She wants to be able to use the partnerships she's made with restaurants to open up more venues for jazz when live shows can resume.

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