NAFTA needs to hum a new tune on bar bands.

I know, I know, I know – there are so many more important things to talk about than bar bands.

Softwood lumber, automobile parts, newsprint, yada yada, craft beer, jet fighters, IT guys, all-inclusive holidays, dairy subsidies – a lawyer, or business columnist could fill several sheets of newsprint waxing lyrical about this stuff and scarcely begin to get at the essence of it all, and everyone else would be in coma, because really, is there anything duller than the nuts and bolts of a trade agreement?

So instead let’s talk about bar bands, which are essentially the farm system of the music industry that celebrated itself Sunday night at the Grammy Awards, including Toronto’s Alessia Cara, who was named Best New Artist.

Driving vast distance for very little money

People who play in bar bands are, by definition, romantics. They tend towards the idealistic. They have always, for as long as there have been bars, and bands, been made up of hopeful idiots, who – in Canada – must drive vast distances to play live music for very little money in the time-honoured tradition of troubadours everywhere, who believe that life is better if a little live music is involved.

I agree!

Live music is not softwood lumber. Live music is not an IT guy, but if an IT guy could play a musical instrument in a bar band while simultaneously earning a handsome living write code for a multi-billion dollar Bay Area dot com, how cool would that be for the image of IT guys everywhere?

More live music, less trade war!

Live music heals. Live music soothes. Live music makes everything better.

The only way to save NAFTA from the people apparently negotiating its demise might be to get a bar band playing in front of them.

The Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada (SOCAN) website, has a section devoted to how to obtain a P2-S work permit necessary to performing gigs in the U.S., along with the  application costs for each individual (they’re a lot if you’re a bar band, and don’t even think about bringing any crew along with you).

There are also sections devoted to receiving permission to perform in the UK (easier than the US) and in Europe (the easiest, by far of all of them – no permits required for up to 30 days of gigs in a given country, and there are a lot of countries).

Artists are extraordinary

For permanent residents hoping to relocate to the U.S., there is also something called the O1 Visa, which is granted to something defined as “extraordinary” artists, scientists, educators, athletes or business people, except things like IT guys, who barely existed the first time NAFTA was drawn up.

Hey NAFTA negotiators: how about throwing bar bands everywhere a bone and making that border disappear in the name of live music lovers everywhere?

One look at a map explains the financial barriers a lot of Canadian bar bands face: there is too much country and too few venues to be able to make the numbers add up to anything resembling a living.

But you already knew that, (Canadian NAFTA chief) Chrystia Freeland. That’s precisely why NAFTA is necessary – to help Canadian innovators and industries – and artists, the greatest cultural ambassadors of them all – gain access to larger markets than our very limited domestic one offer.

Luckily for the world, Canadian singers and songwriters and bar bands continue to ignore reality and just plow ahead with their unrealistic, unworkable, economically-doomed musical pursuits.

They post videos of themselves on YouTube (Bieber and The Weeknd, Carly Rae Jepsen and Grammy-winner Cara), or emerge from spending years acting on Canadian television to become global music icons like Drake.

More often than not, however, the majority of bar bands  grind it out on the pub circuit, driving rickety, unreliable, unsafe vans filled with gassy guys and precious musical gear from college town to college town, hoping for a breakthrough before they have a vehicular breakdown, someone overdoses or else they succumb to the inevitable – namely, that they have grown too old to sit in the back of an Econoline van and retain a shred of self-respect.

I  realize trade negotiators aren’t in the business of ranking the intangibles of life, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a way to assign cultural value to our trade agreements as much as we find ways to assign economic value to them?

We’ve had a peaceful relationship with the United States since 1812 or so, and we love Mexico.

So this is what you do: find a nice little Austin bar. Break out the tequila.

Ship in some bar bands to sing some cool cover songs, like If I had a Million Dollars, Born in the U.S.A and – of course – Despacito, the musical manifestation of NAFTA!

And figure this damn deal out.

(Feature image courtesy 2017 High Performance Rodeo)