Music venues in America are pleading with government for support

#SaveOurStages: Up to 90% of US venues are predicted to close forever without help

After the weekend saw the likes of Miley Cyrus and Foo Fighters step up to support to #SaveOurStages campaign, music venues across the United States are pleading with the government for essential financial support.

As with everywhere else across the globe, US independent music venues were among the first businesses to shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and will likely be the last to fully reopen.

Because of the lack of revenue, many are now in dire straits and have banded together to call on US lawmakers to follow in the footsteps of the UK government and pass legislation to fund arts spaces – saying without government assistance up to 90 per cent of venues will have to close permanently.

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On October 1, the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives passed a $2.2 trillion “Heroes Act” coronavirus stimulus package, which includes provisions of the $10 billion bipartisan Save Our Stages Act – which would provide financial assistance to independent music and live entertainment venues across the nation.

However, the Republican-controlled Senate appears unlikely to vote on it anytime soon, especially since that on October 6, President Donald Trump called any chance of a stimulus bill unlikely until after the November 2 election. Since then, Trump seemed to backtrack, calling for standalone stimulus bills to be passed, trying to salvage a few priority items like $1,200 stimulus checks and new aid for airlines and other businesses hard hit by the pandemic — but has not mentioned help for independent venues.

The Save Our Stages Act is sponsored by Senators John Cornyn and Amy Klobuchar, and is being pushed by the National Independent Venue Association – a group of more than 2,600 music venues, small theaters and comedy clubs from across the country.

“We have been sounding the alarm since April that if our members don’t get emergency assistance, they will go under forever – and it’s happening,” said NIVA spokesperson Audrey Fix Schaefer. “This is real. We need help. We urge Congress and the White House to continue negotiations and reach a deal quickly or there will be a mass collapse of this industry.

“The Save Our Stages Act has already passed the House and has strong bipartisan support with more than 160 Congresspeople cosponsoring because they know independent venues can be part of our country’s economic renewal once it’s safe to welcome people back – if our venues can survive this pandemic.”

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To survive these six months of closure due to coronavirus without income, many venues have brought in some money for performers and staff through live-streamed shows, GoFundMe campaigns and merchandise sales. Tim and Katie Tuten, owners of the 150-capacity indie music bar The Hideout in Chicago and NIVA members, now say it’s time for the government to step up.

“The thing that has sustained us through these six months is the people of Chicago,” said Tim, “but the kind of help we need, the government has been slow to it.”

Katie added: “[Federal relief] will bring us the relief that we need. People keep asking when we’re going to reopen. I’m not talking about reopening. This is about relief. The bills keep coming in. It’s all expenses with very little revenue.”

Joe Shanahan, owner of the Metro, one of Chicago’s most beloved venues, and a NIVA member agreed with The Hideout owners, saying “we just need an umbrella right now because it’s raining. It’s gonna stop eventually, but how long?”

At the famed Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where Bruce Springsteen started out, no music has been performed since March. Not knowing when they can get back to normal is the hardest part, according to general manager Caroline O’Toole.

“It’s very scary because there’s no end date. There’s no specific date when we know everything is going to be okay,” O’Toole told NME.

Music critic and co-host of the nationally syndicated rock radio show Sound Opinions, Jim DeRogatis pointed to a 2019 study that showed for every dollar spent on downtown arts in Chicago, $12 goes to the local economy. “A lot of people come to Chicago from around the world for the music scene, it’s a major draw,” DeRogatis told NME.

Most estimates say clubs won’t reopen until spring or summer 2021, which has caused many venues to get creative in order to provide some sort of outlet for music fans and performers who haven’t had many gigs in months. The weekend saw #SOSFEST, with artists including Foo Fighters, Brittany Howard, The Roots and more play in several well-known empty venues throughout the country – livestreaming online to raise money for NIVA’s emergency relief fund. Many clubs, venues and artists have also sought creative ways to put on shows for fans – including outdoor gigs with social-distancing.

Daryl Wilson, lead singer of the Bollweevils with a day job as the director of emergency medical services at a Chicago-area hospital, said his band has not played a single gig during the pandemic – arguing that most options do not make financial sense right now.

“For any venue, the big problem is how do you make your money back and pay the performers?” he told NME. “It’s just not economically viable to do shows. It’s great to do it for the art and for the fun, but the idea that venues can continue to do this with limited capacity and staffing for it… the economics on it are completely upside down.”

Last month, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy joined the fight to save independent music venues in the US, saying that supporting the act “is the least we can do as a group of people who take care of our own”.

“This is an infrastructure problem, and it has to be seen as an infrastructure problem that requires funding,” said Murphy at a press conference in New York. “I mean, even if all you care about is the bottom line, this city exports creative work. This is what we do as a city. And that work is sponsored and fostered by the independent venue and promoter scene of New York, just like it is in every other [city].

“The bigger companies that serve a need as well, don’t serve that need of sticking with artists in the beginning, of serving one, small community, of one, small scene.”

Meanwhile, last week saw hundreds of grassroots music venues in England rescued – receiving over £41million in government funding.

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