The Live Music Scene is No Joke: an interview with Mike McCormick - theHumm July 2020

The Live Music Scene is No Joke: an interview with Mike McCormick - theHumm July 2020

theHumm is reaching out to members of our Ottawa Valley community to ask how they are finding ways to use their gifts and skills in these challenging times. Today’s subject is Mike McCormick — a member of the beloved Canadian musical/comedic super-group The Arrogant Worms and a (normally) active member of the Ottawa Valley live music scene. We contacted him to find out what effect the pandemic is having on his sense of humour, and what his hopes and plans are for the future as a performer.

theHumm: So… heard any good jokes lately?

Mike McCormick: Not really. I’ll be honest that I’m not really a “jokes” guy. Arrogant Worms humour is kind of based on putting things in different situations, not exactly “Guy walks into a bar” kind of stuff. Plus, I have a terrible memory for words so it’s far more likely that I’ll remember the setup, forget the punchline and make up a boring one instead.

This spring has been pretty tough on performers. What musical plans have you had to cancel, and have you found ways to “pivot” and explore other options?

The band was on tour in BC when lockdown began so we had to cancel half of it. We’ll try to reschedule them but we’re a part time act at best and getting to BC is hard. Let’s face it, who’s planning on getting on an airplane real soon?

I was also musical director of Two Rivers Musicals Sister Act which would have closed this past Sunday. No idea when they’ll be able to perform again and whether I’ll be available to be part of it.

I’m the musical director/organist at TSA United Church in Renfrew. We’ve started livestreaming our Sunday service on Facebook, which has been a huge learning curve. The minister jokes that he never expected to become a televangelist. There’s a joke.

To try and learn the technology and just to play a bit I started a weekly concert on Wednesdays I call “Hump Day Hymns”. It’s developed a bit of a following so I’ve continued doing it; now I bring in guests here and there to get some different sounds, opinions and repertoire. It’s also a good chance to just reconnect with some musical friends. Last week I did an Arrogant Worms set so created a bit of crossover.

You have musical friends and bandmates across the country. Are there any notable differences in the ways in which different parts of Canada are adapting to the current situation?

For musicians it’s pretty similar and quite dire. The rise of streaming services has pretty much killed sales of recorded music as a revenue stream so live performance was what was left. Now it’s gone and it’ll be a spell before it comes back. Many acts are doing live streaming concerts and different types of performances. Maybe it’s working for some but it’s pretty much a drop in the bucket. So everyone is taking advantage of CERB, maybe trying to write, get some other parts of their life in order.

But this is hurting musicians hard. Even when things are open again, how many more venues are going to be closed? Will people be willing to go to concerts? Will anybody have any money to pay for a concert?

People love music and it’s almost always better live. We’ll keep that in our back pocket and try and figure it out.

I saw the amazing lockdown version of “I Am Cow” that was put out by the vocal group Peculi8. How did that make you feel, and have there been any other “silver lining” moments you would like to share?

That was awesome, especially as I knew nothing about it being produced. So suddenly, there it was. We’ve been in touch and are hoping to do another song together down the road. Silver linings? People have watched Hump Day Hymns. That’s cool. My daughter is living at home again. I’ve read a lot and watched some old movies. Little moments encased in a suitcase of gloom.

If churches are able to re-open at 30% capacity, do you think that some performance venues (theatres and churches) should be able to as well?

Sure but I don’t see it being much. Bars and restaurants typically pay musicians squat. Now it’ll be 30% of squat. Concerts are generally break even events; now there’s only 30% of revenue possible. Distancing will make it feel really weird. Maybe outdoors can work? It’ll take some creativity, especially to get the artists paid.

What does a best-case scenario look like for you in terms of being able to return to performing?

For the band, we have shows booked next March out west. Best case we can do them at capacity. That requires a vaccine and/or a treatment which is widespread and available. I don’t see it for at least a year. Community theatre, choirs? Same. This virus transmits so easily and is so infectious and so deadly for the elderly and people who are compromised that it has to be beaten. And even so there are people who think it’s not that bad and have said there’s no way they’d get vaccinated. Stopping the spread and a second and third wave will be really tough.

That being said, I’m still performing. It’s what I do. But it will continue to be different for a while. And the cool things I’ve been able to do for years which require big groups crammed in one venue… tough. Besides that, as those clever Arrogant Worms have said, Canada is Really Big. Touring here takes massive time, miles, and money just to get places.

What kinds of support would be helpful – either from institutions like arts funders or from the community at large?

That’s a huge question which I really am not equipped to answer. Maybe the basic personal income is a real solution. If artists can eat, they can live and create.

Arts funding is always important, but I find it really hard to make sense of. Artists who get the most funding are typically ones who write good grant applications. Which really has nothing to do with whether they can paint or dance. We need venues. We need people to want to see stuff. We need it to be taught well in schools.

Man I’m bleak today. Somebody tell a joke. Guy walks into a bar. The bar is closed.

What are you personally most concerned about at this time?

Cheering up, I think. The health and safety of my friends and family. I’m old. I’ve had my shot. I’m going to keep playing and writing until I drop. But I want my kids to be able to see and hear and perform too. I fear for live performance. I had tickets to see Hamilton. I’ve seen some great performances at festivals, great concerts right here, the Neat coffee shop in Burnstown is one of the most unique concert venues in the entire country. I’m really worried about the viability of all of these.

I have little or no desire to watch Hamilton on an Ipad. Listening to Beethoven’s 5th or Bruce Springsteen isn’t as good on my phone earbuds as being there.

What are you optimistic about in terms of what happens to our arts & entertainment community during and after the pandemic?


People will always want to create, and music is a form of expression that most people identify with. There are always people who want to play and sing and hopefully people who want to listen and watch. And sometimes the greatest creativity comes out of limits.


Take a Quick Survey for The Hub! - theHumm July 2020

Almonte Community Coordinators (also known as The Hub) is conducting a survey of local needs and experiences related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey is short (ten questions). Results will be shared with the public (once anything that could identify individuals has been removed) and will be used by community groups to help them know how to help.

Anyone over the age of 13 living in or around Mississippi Mills is welcome to complete this survey. We would like to hear from as many residents as possible so we know how you’re doing and where to focus our efforts to support the communit......


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- theHumm July 2020

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theHumm: Do you h......


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The Live Music Scene is No Joke: an interview with Mike McCormick - theHumm July 2020

theHumm is reaching out to members of our Ottawa Valley community to ask how they are finding ways to use their gifts and skills in these challenging times. Today’s subject is Mike McCormick — a member of the beloved Canadian musical/comedic super-group The Arrogant Worms and a (normally) active member of the Ottawa Valley live music scene. We contacted him to find out what effect the pandemic is having on his sense of humour, and what his hopes and plans are for the future as a performer.


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