With Canadian Country Music Week in town, London hospitality businesses are gearing up for a busy weekend and a rare chance to cash in on a major event in a year marked by pandemic restrictions.
This year’s event starts Friday night and wraps with the Canadian Country Music Awards on Monday night at Budweiser Gardens.
The city is closing several streets around the gardens on Saturday to accommodate the crowds, while top of mind for many local businesses is how to bring them in their front doors.
‘We have to be a little bit creative’
London’s DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel hopes to fill its restaurant this weekend, while abiding by the province’s COVID-19 regulations. While some of the staff will be decked out in cowboy hats, most of the guests will be sporting wristbands, indicating proof of vaccination status.
“We have to be a little bit creative,” said general manager Sumit Bhatia. “If we keep checking every time, there will be a huge line up.”
Bhatia estimates about 95 per cent of guests are complying with the wristband system so far, and the other five percent have been sharing their vaccine status with hotel staff.
Other downtown hotels are nearing capacity as the weekend approaches.
“There’s people flying in from out east, from out west, there’s people coming from Nashville,” said Dave Bartlam, director of sales and marketing at the Delta Hotel London Armouries.
The Delta only has a handful of vacant rooms left this weekend, said Bartlam, far from the norm during the pandemic.
“It’s definitely well needed in our industry,” he said. “And I know they will be out in the town spending money.”
‘Great to see the city alive again’
Local restaurants are booking country acts and hosting special events to mark Canadian Country Music Week.
“We have lots of reservations coming up,” said Alysia Lewis, community partnership manager at Shoeless Joe’s Sports Grill. “We’re heavily staffed … we just want to be prepared.”
Shoeless Joe’s, located across from Budweiser Gardens, is planning a 250-person event for award show volunteers on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, Palasad SocialBowl is hoping to draw the crowd east of downtown.
It’s hosting live music all weekend, including the Washboard Union, Aaron Goodvin, Nice Horse and The Abrams, as well as the Sadies on Sunday night.
“It’s great to see the city alive again,” said Marty Novak, director of operations at Palasad SocialBowl. “I think everybody has been struggling for the past 18 months. And this industry, from live music to restaurants to hospitality in general, it is rebounding.”
Award show Monday night
Canadian Country Music Week kicks off on Friday with a performance headlined by The Recklaws, of Cambridge, Ont., at London Music Hall.
Live performances are being held at RBC Place and London Music Hall through Saturday and Sunday, featuring artists like Shawn Austin, Tim Hicks, High Valley, Andrew Hyatt, and Dallas Smith.
London is the first city to host the CCMAs since Calgary hosted the awards in 2019.
Due to the pandemic, last year’s CCMAs were held virtually.