The mere idea of the adrenaline rush of getting up on a brightly illuminated stage and pouring one’s soul out in front of a live audience is enough to make some feel queasy. However, for student musicians, the excitement and anticipation of a high-energy performance are what makes the hours of tireless practice they put into their craft worth it.
After nearly two years of virtual gigs, McGill’s student musicians are more than eager to make their return to the stage. Many are excited to perform at none other than Gerts, McGill’s campus bar.
Despite having been closed since 2018—a period long enough that most fourth-year students had never been until this year—Gerts has quickly become a go-to spot for McGill students. On a typical weekday evening, students can be seen getting drinks and chatting with friends in this cozy, laid-back environment. As many students know, Gerts truly comes to life in the presence of live music. Student and alumni musicians, especially, have found their place on its stage.
Up and coming artist Ezra-Jean Taylor, U3 Arts, performed at Gerts for the first time two weeks ago. The indie-rock musician dabbled in various instruments growing up, but decided to delve into music composition during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“I began loosely learning [the guitar] and writing before the pandemic,” Taylor told The McGill Tribune. “Then, [during quarantine] I decided to sit down, record, and really add a layer of complexity to create a full song.”
After seeing an advertisement from CKUT, McGill’s campus community radio station, looking for live performers to take the stage at Gerts, Taylor decided this was a prime opportunity to put herself out there.
For Taylor, Gerts’ friendly, student-focussed ambience made this performance one for the books.
“There was a good mix of people,” Taylor explained. “Some people were heavily focussed on the music, while it was a backdrop for others, but everyone was cheering and having a good time.”
As she is used to playing at smaller venues, performing at Gerts was a big step forward for Taylor’s music career.
“It inspired me to look for more venues with bigger sound systems because it’s a lot of fun […] as a live musician who does a lot of effects,” Taylor said.
Like Taylor, Sarah Krier, Arts ʼ20, was met with an overwhelmingly positive response when she took the stage at Gerts in November. This was her first time entering McGill’s campus bar since its closure in 2018, her first year of university. Krier felt that the performance was all the more meaningful because she has grown so much on a personal level since her last visit to the bar.
“It felt crazy to be back at Gerts,” Krier said in an interview with the Tribune. “There was a lot of nostalgia for me there in playing […] songs that I’ve written since I’ve come into my own musical identity.”
Since graduating from McGill’s psychology program, Krier has worked as a freelance musician in Montreal. Known in particular for her soulful lyrics and soft accompanying instrumentals, Krier aims to connect with her audience and express a wide breadth of feeling.
“I [try] to maintain very emotional, pointed writing and lyrics, with the goal of having this swath of songs where you can [feel] gut-wrenched, but also […] a crying in the club kind of vibe,” Krier explained. “Something you can dance to, but still feel a lot of emotions.”
Krier’s familiarity with the space as an alumna made her comeback to the stage particularly memorable.
“The audience was super energetic but seemed down for a calm set, which is what I brought,” Krier said. “[Performing] at this place that I’ve spent so much time at was comforting, and it was a nice reopening to the world of performing.”
Krier often finds writing inspiration in spontaneous day-to-day interactions with strangers and friends––an experience that was largely lost during quarantine. She can relate to the struggles for invention that many artists experienced during the pandemic.
“When [COVID-19] initially hit, I felt this surge of creativity because I had so much time. I got really into recording and remote collaborations,” Krier explained. “But as it dragged on, I didn’t feel very motivated because I didn’t get to share my music with people in a live sense.”
For music lovers, too, the loss of the stage for over two years proved difficult. During her performance at Gerts, Krier noticed the excitement in the crowd pick up when the live music started.
“It was a reminder that we had all been hunkered down for nearly two years,” Krier said. “Having people there felt so special [….] We’ve all been holding it in for so long and now we can somewhat be social again.”
Also part of Gerts’ November 2021 lineup was student funk band Stop, Drop & Groove. Co-founded in the winter of 2019 by Oz McClamrock and Michael Gorlin, both U3 Music, the band is well known throughout the McGill community for their lively renditions of popular funk tunes.
Composed of 13 different musicians playing instruments from guitar to drums to trumpet to voice, Stop, Drop & Groove is well equipped to play a variety of jazz and funk pieces. All of the band’s members are either current students or alumni of McGill’s Schulich School of Music’s jazz program.
Like Krier, the band mourned the ceasing of live performances, which occurred just a few months after their formation. This hiatus, however, is what made their eventual set at Gerts all the more rewarding. For saxophonist McClamrock, the sensation of a live, in-person gig is irreplaceable.
“I’ve been drawn to music for as long as I can remember,” McClamrock told the Tribune. “I had some doubts in high school about […] a music degree, but when I’m onstage I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Despite the success of recording their first album, Faraway Places, entirely virtually, the band is eager to get back to live performances. They have already played five gigs this semester and intend to continue performing at this pace for the remainder of the year.
Taking to Gerts’ stage for the first time with their new music on November 24, the band felt that student energy was palpable. They hope that students in the crowd and beyond will become new listeners.
“Gerts was great exposure among the McGill student body,” McClamrock said. “The dance floor was open which [got] the adrenaline going for the audience and performers [….] It felt great to be back performing after 18 months without a gig.”