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On The Road Again: Rum Ragged Back on Tour After Covid-19

in Arts & Culture/Featured/Interview by

There’s no doubt our lives look a lot different now than they did in March. With Covid-19 taking over our daily routine and schedules, we have had to adapt how we interact, how we socialize, and how we work. While the pandemic has rocked us all in many ways, there is no doubting the many local artists in Newfoundland and Labrador have had to assess their situations and figure out how to continue to work and create, even in a situation where the odds—and rules—were stacked against them. From creating virtual shows, Facebook Live concerts, and even drive-in concerts, artists have risen above these setbacks to continue to fill people’s hearts with joy and warmth in a time when we need it the most.

Before Covid-19, Mark Manning, singer and guitar player of Rum Ragged, and the rest of the band had a packed schedule full of tours and shows all around the country—which suddenly came to a halt in March due to the pandemic. For Manning, this was new territory, as the band was always so used to being able to perform their music all throughout the year.

“Like many of those working in the arts and entertainment industry, our plans before Covid-19 had been in the works for months, and in the case of some gigs, even years,” Manning tells the Independent. “It was certainly difficult to watch our livelihood and way of life fall through our fingers more with each passing day but it quickly became evident to us that the severity and necessity of what was occurring here at home and around the world was very real and affected many more people besides the four of us.”

Just because the pandemic put roadblocks in place for these musicians, it didn’t mean stopping all together; rather, it put a little swerve in their normal routine. What do you do when you can’t perform downtown? Perform on Facebook Live!

“We found ourselves, like many other musicians, taking our music to social media to be able to entertain those stuck inside their homes, like we were. We missed playing for people, and playing together on social media made that possible again.”

But the band didn’t just stop at social media. They were able to come up with shows that were within the rules of the pandemic, but allowed them to be closer to the community.

“After finding success with the online show, we then partnered with two fantastic and worthy foundations (The Jacob Puddister Memorial Foundation and The Gathering Place) to raise over $10,000 through two online shows to go toward people and programs that needed a hand in these times more than ever,” Manning explained. “As the months passed on, the softening of restrictions brought a couple of days of work a week for two of us at Rising Tide Theatre in Trinity. A summer in Trinity performing in the theatre with the talented cast and crew allowed us to work, learn and grow.”

When asked about their productivity during the lockdown, Manning spoke the truth about trying to be creative in uncertain, unmotivated times.

“In the beginning, the idea of working on new things during the global pandemic was extremely daunting and our preoccupation with the situation in our own community and the entire world made it difficult to focus on new material,” he told the Independent. “When the reality of the situation had finally sunk in (as well as the boredom of lockdown) we began to work on things over Facetime, Zoom, and other recording and video technology.”

Out of the creative dread that many artists felt during the pandemic bloomed the creation and completion of major projects for the band.

“We have a number of traditional and original songs that we’ve been working on in the meantime and we look forward to having more opportunities to play this material in public as restrictions are gradually lifted. Aaron Collis also spent time notating a soon-to-be-released book of relatively unknown traditional Newfoundland and Labrador tunes that he’s picked up over the years.”

While many artists feel pressured by the idea that they should be taking this free time to create even more than ever, Manning stressed taking care of yourself first.

“The way we see it is, everyone has to guide their way through this at their own pace,” he told the Independent. “If working through the boundaries (while within the restrictions) is what brings a person happiness and a feeling of satisfaction, then doing so is more than important, it’s vital.”

“Creating is a priority but it does not have a place above health and wellness for us,” he continued. “What is important now is staying healthy, both mentally and physically. When that is taken care of, creating doesn’t seem like a push at all.”

When asked about the pressure to make a sustainable living as an artist during pandemic times, Manning was frank.

“Honestly, in this current environment, making a living in arts and entertainment is not sustainable in the way we have known it to be,” he said. “These are the facts. Every new day brings another challenge and a new way of rethinking things to make it work. We realize that it’s not just happening to us though.”

Everyone and their careers were affected by this pandemic, and the best way to get through it is with the support from others. “Perhaps, during these times, we’ll see support for our profession from people of other walks of life as we all work to get through this thing together.”

With Newfoundland and Labrador (so far) excelling in our control of the pandemic, Rum Ragged is able to head on a short cross-province tour in mid-October.

“It feels a little surreal to finally be able to answer a question about going on tour after such a long break from travelling as a band,” Manning said. “We’ll definitely appreciate even the seemingly most insignificant aspects of it that we once took for granted. From the first coffee of the day, to the drive to the venue, soundcheck, writing the setlist, and all the chats and shenanigans in between, we’ll be grateful to be back doing what we love and to be able to share the music with live audiences again.”

You can check out Rum Ragged at an Arts and Culture Centre near you in October, and hear what the boys have been working on during Covid-19. Manning hopes the show will spark some joy and happiness in people’s hearts during this increasingly stressful time.

“We hope that a good night of music will at least make everyone feel a little closer together.”

Photos via Mark Manning.

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