What do you do when you’re a live rock band in Yellowknife during a pandemic?

If you’re The Ditch Hearts, it’s no time to sit on your hands.

The nearly four-year-old “rock and roll band” comprising Corey Francis, Chris Jonah, Darin Woodbury, and Tim Webb last played a live act at the Friday the 13th show on March 13 at the Raven Pub — or what they call the “the last show of the free world.” 

Corey Francis, Darin Woodbury and Chris Jonah of the Ditch Hearts demonstrate their safe physical distancing in the customer parking lot of Northern News Services, Tuesday.
Simon Whitehouse/NNSL photo

Since then, and during the Covid-19 shutdown, the band members have been preparing to gain wider exposure.

Last month, Francis submitted a Ditch Hearts song to Michael John Burkett  – lead singer of the punk band NOFX based in California. Otherwise known as “Fat Mike,” Burkett is also the owner of the record label Fat Wreck Chords.

In a YouTube post, Fat Mike asked fans and followers to support a campaign that he came up with called the Fat Mike’s AIDS Ride 545 Challenge. 

Fat Mike had been prepared to do an AIDS Life/Cycle charity bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles – 545 miles. Because of public health restrictions related to Covid-19, the event was cancelled. However, Fat Mike still wanted to raise money. So he came up with the idea to hold a group bike ride to 545 submitted songs.

People were invited to submit their own band songs, other favourite tunes or to make requests for the bike ride, provided they donated to Fat Mike’s AIDS charity. People would then ride together in a group setting and listen to the final playlist chosen by Fat Mike.

Francis’s song, written more than 10 years ago, called Brethren of the Coast, was put on the day four playlist of the ride — the Fat Wreck Chords AIDS Ride Day 4 playlist. 

“So we aren’t on Fat Wreck Chords, although it would have been pretty cool if Mike called and said ‘Hey, man, you guys sound pretty cool,'” Francis said. “But we did get some exposure and since it’s been on YouTube, we got about 150 views. I’ve only watched it four times.”

Transition of the band 

The Ditch Hearts started as the brainchild of Woodbury and Jonah as the two had tried to get a band off the ground for a number of years.

Chris Jonah plucks his bass, supported by drummer Tim Webb and guitarist Darin Woodbury on Jan. 17 at the Raven Pub.
NNSL photo

“I think the original adage that Chris and I came up with with this band was that we are bringing rock and roll back to Yellowknife,” Woodbury said. “There are some really good bands in this town, but most of what you tend to hear is more folky, or blues-oriented shows.”

After a couple of drummers came and went, the group was able to bring on board current drummer Tim Webb as well as Francis over the last year.

“We hope that this particular incarnation, we will be able to last this out for quite some time,” Woodbury said.

Jonah added, “Like many bands in Yellowknife, it is a rotating door of members just to keep it all afloat, but you have to have a foundation.”

Much of the Ditch Hearts’ publicity comes through social media, including the band’s Instagram account  – which is a constant effort in order to hold peoples attention, they said.

“We are trying to keep up with our social media accounts and adding things like images of cars, guns, and rock and roll related ideas to pull people in to what members of the band are into,” Woodbury said.

The future 

Tim Webb, drummer with The Ditch Hearts, is bringing a solid foundation to the band that his mates hope will make everyone better in the future.
photo courtesy of Darin Woodbury

Woodbury said there’s a general uncertainty as to what will happen with future performances. Over the past year, the band has played seven times.

“There is no way to have a gig because nobody knows when things will be open enough,” Woodbury said. “In the NWT here, there has been a very strange imposition where there is no singing allowed for any shows at this point. Through the use of voice, one can project the virus in a much further direction.

“There is no way to do those bookings.”

The band will have a new rehearsal space as of July. Although they say they’re proud of the site and it will allow for higher-quality recordings, they’re not disclosing the location.

Simon Whitehouse

Simon Whitehouse came to Yellowknife to work with Northern News Services in 2011. Simon obtained his journalism education at Algonquin College and the University of Ottawa. Simon can be reached at...

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