Basslines and Protest Signs Part 65: Save Our Stages

By | January 6, 2021 at 4:00 PM

Remember how it felt a year ago, to be transitioning from 2019 into 2020? A new decade, new hope, all that jazz. Man, did it ever not work out the way we were wishing for. 2020 may well be the worst year of the 45 I’ve spent in existence. But what can we do but keep marching forward? Despite the best efforts of Trump, we’ll have a new president on January 20. Biden might be far from perfect from the progressive point of view but don’t fall for the “two sides of the same coin” narrative. It’s a false equivalency to even begin to compare the two.

In addition, won’t it be nice to not have to keep one eye on the news at all times? I’m not talking about disengaging, or certainly not burying one’s head in the sand. But from January 20 you can choose to ignore Trump, at least for three years when the Republican primaries kick in. He’ll spend all of that time yelling “fake president” in Biden’s direction. But who cares? He’ll be irrelevant.

So we can start to look ahead at other things. It can feel crass and even inappropriate to discuss music and businesses when people are still dying due to COVID—but it is possible to care about more than one thing at the same time, and with the vaccine hopefully getting distributed through the first quarter, maybe half of the year, we can dare to be mildly excited about live music again.

Photo via Facebook

NIVA (National Independent Venue Association) has been doing great and important work lobbying for help and raising funds to help independent music venues survive the enforced closures during lockdown. 

On December 15, co-chair of NIVA’s advocacy committee, Adam Hartke, testified before the Senate Committee on Commerce. 

“This hearing before the Subcommittee on Manufacturing, Trade, and Consumer Protection, which is chaired by U.S. Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), will examine the impact of COVID-19 on the live entertainment industry and will focus on the challenges faced by artists, venues, and supporting industries such as lighting and transportation,” read a NIVA statement. “Proposals for legislative relief including unemployment compensation, healthcare subsidies, and the Save Our Stages Act will be examined.”

NIVA represents 3,000 members in 50 states, and their aim is to preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live venues, promoters and festivals throughout the United States. 

“As more time passes without the emergency relief, venues continue to disappear,” they say. “Already, hundreds of venues have shuttered permanently since COVID-19 forced the industry to a standstill in March. NIVA supports the Save Our Stages Act led by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and led by Representatives ​Peter Welch (D-VT) and Roger Williams (R-TX) ​which would provide a critical lifeline for independent venues. ​The bill has significant bipartisan support with more than 230 co-sponsors.  NIVA also supports extension of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance for the millions that have been furloughed and laid off.”

The testimony of Hartke was fascinating, and so incredibly important:

“If we do not get the help we need, we will lose our homes, our children will not be provided for, and everything we have worked for will vanish before our eyes due to no fault of our own,” he said. “A survey of NIVA members shows that 90% of mom & pop venues, venues like Wave and The Cotillion, will go under without federal assistance. We have remained closed in the name of public health and safety, risking everything we have with no promise from anyone that we will receive further aid, only the hope that Congress will deliver for us.”

Hartke detailed what NIVA is, proving that venues have been doing all they can to make things happen rather than sitting back and waiting for aid but, as is the case pretty much everywhere else, aid is required.

“Unlike many industries, we rely on a national reopening before we can resume operations, as the artists that play in Wichita have to tour across the country,” he said. “In other words, we have no ‘inventory’ until artists begin touring again. And due to inconsistencies in local mandates and restrictions on venues, artists are unable to route shows at this point. The booking and promoting process has a 3–6 month lead time on average, which adds an additional layer of complexity to our recovery period. Any seemingly small glitches like unexpected temporary closures or restrictions due to outbreaks, inconsistencies in local COVID related licensing policies, consumer confidence causing low ticket sales, or many other unknown circumstances will make navigating the national reopening much more difficult for our industry.”

Refused in Vancouver, March 2020 (photo: Lindsey Blane)

Some aid came when Jägermeister donated $1 million, as the drinks giant looked to help preserve live music venues.

“The global pandemic has left the nightlife industry feeling paralyzed, and we’re committed to helping our partners find their footing during these difficult times,” said Jägermeister’s Chris Peddy. “Through both our partnership with NIVA and our Save the Night initiative, we’re looking forward to offering independent live music venues and the surrounding communities the support they need to push forward and continue creating the art we love.”

But the really great news came two weeks ago with the introduction of the Omnibus COVID-19 relief bill, and the passing of the Save Our Stages act.

“This is the lifeline our industry so desperately needs to emerge from a devastating year,” said Dayna Frank, Owner & CEO, First Avenue Productions and Board President of NIVA. “Without independent venues and promoters across the country working to engage their communities, staff, and artists, our voices would not have been heard – we are thankful for those tireless efforts. Careers came to a standstill overnight, and people continue to face personal hardships, which is why legislation like this and extending Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is essential. Our immense gratitude goes, in particular, to Senator Klobuchar, Senator Cornyn, and Senator Schumer, for securing the future of independent venues and promoters for generations to come.” 

Hope springs eternal. Happy New Year.