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Music industry invigorated by prospect of new outdoor concert series in Alberta

Last Updated Jun 8, 2021 at 6:39 pm MDT

EDMONTON (CityNews) — Taking the stage and opening for iconic Canadian musicians in front of a few thousand people — in the flesh, not virtually — is one way to get back in the swing of things 17 months after the COVID-19 pandemic put the world on hold.

That’s the reality awaiting Alberta singer-songwriter Hailey Benedict, who can finally say she has a real live music gig planned for the summer.

And it’s not just any gig. The plan is for Benedict to open for Canadian icons Alan Doyle and Blue Rodeo in August as part of a newly announced three-week-long outdoor concert series.

The “Together Again” concert series is planned for Aug. 6 to 29 at the Edmonton Exhibition Lands.

“It’s been a hard couple years,” said Benedict, a rising country musician. “That everyone had to get through to get to this place where we can be together again. I think it will be a mix of emotions — we did it — but also sadness and excitement for moving forward.”

In addition to Blue Rodeo and Doyle, some big acts are expected in Edmonton for the five-day event spread across three weeks, like Our Lady Peace, Dean Brody, The Trews and Serena Ryder.

For Benedict, the pandemic meant she graduated high school online with the class of 2020. She felt the momentum of her music career was stuck in limbo.

Now with “Together Again” set to kick off this summer, the young musician is starting to plan for the future again.

“It’s been really nice to set out some goals and hopefully follow through with them and put COVID behind us,” she said. “But I don’t want to jinx it.”

If vaccination rates go as planned, Alberta would be well into stage 3 of its re-opening plan by the start of the concert series on Aug. 6 — where essentially all restrictions are lifted.

But event organizers say they still want to keep it physically distanced.

“We just wanted to develop something that people feel comfortable and safe, and that even if things get rolled back, this event could happen,” said organizer Mike Anderson of Trixstar.

The plan to convert the old Northlands racetrack into a concert venue with a patio feel has been in the works for more than a year. Dates were pushed back with the introduction of new restrictions and the rise in COVID-19 numbers in Alberta.

Most of Edmonton’s big summer live music events have been canceled for 2021. Folk Fest, though, announced Tuesday they would be doing neighbourhood concerts instead of a big show on the hill.

For an industry that’s been mostly shuttered during the pandemic, August can’t come soon enough.

“All the curve balls, and punches on the chin, but we all did what we had to do, which is stay home to stay safe,” said Anderson.

“I think it will be really emotional, when that first band takes the stage, and hearing the cheer of the crowd. Can’t wait for that to happen.”