A virtual open mic started by a Maple Ridge musician has been a life-line for many local musicians since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down bars and restaurants across the province.
However, Pam Burns could not foresee the popularity of the Facebook group she called Corona Open Mic when she started it on March 25.
The Facebook group grew from 10 members to 559 members virtually overnight, a number Burns finds hard to believe.
Burns was host of Kanaka Open Mic, a weekly live music event at Kanaka Creek Coffee House.
But she had to shut it down when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry banned all social gatherings.
In 2019 Kanaka Open Mic had celebrated its 10th year and in that time Burns had hosted about 1,000 shows.
Burns attributes the success of the new online group to its catchy name.
“I managed to get the name before anyone else. So I went from having 10 people on there to 560 from all around the world,” said the musician.
As administrator of the group, Burns wakes up everyday to pour through all the new content that has been posted. And she listens to every video all the way through.
She gets videos submitted from as far away as Iceland, Japan, The Netherlands and the United States.
And, she said, the bar is high. Videos must be of the musician performing either an original song or a cover version while playing an instrument. And any genre of music is accepted.
“We’ve had opera and classical music,” said Burns. The focus is music.
If anyone posts something that sounds more like karaoke, or comedy, she will direct them to other groups that cater to that specific talent.
What she loves most about this new virtual medium of open mic is the collaborations between artists.
“People have met on the Corona Open Mic and then have done what you call a ‘Cam Jam’, when you play together from different parts of the world,” explained Burns.
One person will lay out the basics of a song and then send it to another person who will play the next layer of music on top of it, she further explained.
And Burns includes music from the Corona Open Mic on the Vancouver Co-operative Radio show, Two Hicks and a Lady, a weekly show she co-hosts with local musicians Chris Horne and Patsy Thompson.
But, Burns is concerned for local musicians. Some people, she said, have been hit hard, especially if performing was their sole profession.
Burns is optimistic, though, that Kanaka Open Mic will return again next summer.
For now she is enjoying the international collaboration on Corona Open Mic, so much so that she would love to host a concert in a couple of years and have everybody participate.
However, she wants people to remember how much musicians are hurting right now.
“Please watch live concerts and if it has a donate button, even if it’s a couple of dollars… try to donate a little bit.”