Hardest working people in the biz

Sharing the stage is never a problem in Newfoundland, as many local musicians spread their talents around to multiple bands at the same time.

Mike Moore

Newfoundlanders are often said to be some of the hardest working people in the world and local musicians often find themselves in tune with that old adage.

It’s common to see a revolving stable of the same musicians playing in multiple bands in different bars throughout downtown St. John’s, sometimes on the same night.

Dave Whitty plays in several bands, as well as performing solo gigs. For the last eight years, music has been his full time job.

“I have the Whitty band, which is my full band that plays strictly originals,” Whitty said. “On the other hand, I learned at a young age I’m not going to make enough money doing that so that’s when I started playing traditional Newfoundland sets,” Whitty said.

Musicians like Whitty end up playing several nights a week to make a comfortable living, so working a regular nine-to-five job remains a distant reality.

“It takes a lot of work,” he said. “I’ve always joked, but in all seriousness it is true that music is really only 15 per cent of what this really is. There’s a lot more work behind the scenes. You spend a lot of days on your computer, trying to book gigs, trying to book bands and all that stuff. So it’s definitely not an easy task.”

Dave Whitty, left, plays in many different bands locally. At Ships End, a band he played with for years, also included Adam Hunt, centre, and Nick Collins. Mike Moore/Kicker

Having a full schedule is something Valerie Hewson knows well. She splits her time between playing in the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra and two other local bands, as well as teaching guitar and violin to children, all while studying psychology at Memorial University.

“In terms of gigs, playing with the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra, we have shows almost every month, which include quite a bit of preparation; independent and with the group itself,” she said. “Gigs downtown are a lot less frequent because of the nature of the bands that I play with.”

Hours of practice, she said, varies from week to week.

“It certainly peaks in weeks prior to a performance. However, as a music teacher, I’m playing every day with and for my students.”

The summer season is usually the busiest time of year for local acts, as tourists flock to George Street to take in the sights and sounds of North America’s oldest city.

Whitty says you have to keep busy in order to make a living.

“Really there’s always three or four different projects I’m working on,” Whitty said. “An average week in let’s say July – because that would be one of my busiest months – I would probably do 10 to 12 gigs in seven days.”

But the work doesn’t stop in the winter months.

Somewhere in Mexico on a sandy beach, Whitty is playing traditional Newfoundland tunes at an Irish pub. Playing familiar songs in exotic locations for several months of the year helps him to shake off the winter cold.

“I get hired to come down here and play traditional music,” said Whitty. “I play five nights a week.”

Hewson, who is almost done her degree, plans to play even more when she graduates.

“I used to play and sing quite a bit, but teaching so much and playing primarily as a violinist in groups has taken over my musical life.”