With the COVID-19 pandemic delivering a one-two body blow to the live music and entertainment industry across the nation, help is desperately needed. To that end, 34 local members of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) have declared today, Aug. 4, 2020, as a day of action to raise awareness for two measures designed to help live music venues and workers.
The coalition of bars, theaters, and other venues — which includes such East Nashville favorites as Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge, Drkmttr Collective, The 5 Spot, and The East Room — are calling on music lovers to express their support for two important pieces of legislation currently under consideration by the U.S. Congress. According to a press release issued by the coalition, these independent venues have lost nearly 100 percent of their revenue since the pandemic began in March and will remain closed well into 2021 due to safety concerns posed by large gatherings. These institutions draw most of their revenue from acts that tour the United States and until it’s safe to do so en masse it won’t be possible for venues to bring back their staff. Ninety percent of the 2,400 national members of NIVA have stated that they will be forced to close their doors if the shutdown lasts six months or more if meaningful support from Congress isn’t received.
The outlook couldn’t be more grave. Not only does it pose an existential threat to the financial viability of the venues, but this necessary response to the pandemic also threatens to undermine Nashville’s cultural heritage in an irreparable way. For all practical purposes, there would be no more “music” in Music City. Heavier words cannot be spoken.
“The situation is dire,” says Todd Ohlhauser, owner of Mercy Lounge, Cannery Ballroom, and The High Watt. “Our businesses are the foundation of Music City. We were among the first to close and will be the last who can safely open. We sit 100 percent closed, while other local businesses choose to ignore public health orders and safety. Without financial assistance, Nashville is going to lose so much of the culture and creative economy that define it.”
Chris Cobb, the owner of Exit/In, says, “In a state where music is such a critical aspect of our culture and economy, I hope for bold leadership from our Senators. Please support the SOS Act, which would save our entire independent industry!” The legendary venue’s 2021 50th anniversary is in jeopardy due to COVID-19. Congressman Jim Cooper is the only House Representative from Tennessee to cosign the SOS Act thus far.
A bill to establish a grant program for small live venue operators and talent representatives.
The RESTART Act, introduced to the Senate (S. 3814) by Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Michael Bennet (R-CO) and the House (H.R. 7481) by Jared Golden (R-ME) and Mike Kelly (R-PA), is summarized:
This bill extends the Paycheck Protection Program, established to support small businesses in response to COVID-19 (i.e., coronavirus disease 2019), for certain businesses, and it establishes a loan program whereby the Small Business Administration (SBA) shall guarantee loan amounts to certain businesses affected by COVID-19.
Specifically, the bill provides a paycheck protection loan recipient with 16 weeks to use such funds if the recipient has (1) less than 500 full-time employees, and (2) suffered a decline in revenues of at least 25%.
The bill also establishes a loan program whereby the SBA shall guarantee 100% of program loan amounts made to certain small businesses that have not more than 5,000 full-time employees. The terms for such loans shall include (1) a maximum duration of not more than seven years; (2) an amount that is not greater than 45% of 2019 gross receipts, up to $12 million; and (3) no payment on principal for the first two years of the loan.
A lender that is otherwise approved to make paycheck protection loans may make and approve loans established by the bill, and a recipient may use loan funds for specified allowable expenses including payroll costs, rent, utilities, and personal protective equipment.
Such loans may be forgiven up to the amount of total losses incurred by the recipient in the taxable year 2020
Both acts will provide long-term, more flexible support for live music venues facing a major extinction event as the COVID-19 pandemic grinds on.
The timing is vital. Congress goes on break and is rushing to complete its next relief bill, and independent venues MUST be included. These mom and pop entrepreneurs are among the hardest hit by a pandemic: first to close and will be among the last to re-open. There’s no takeout version of concerts. Drive-ins and virtual streaming shows don’t begin to put our people back to work. The gig economy has been shuttered, and many thousands of our friends are at home, hoping the government keeps them fed while our industry tries to figure out what’s next.
To show your support, just visit saveourstages.com and send a message to your congressperson through the easy-to-fill-out form. And be sure to mark your social media posts with the hashtags #SaveOurStages or #SaveTNStages.
Nashville-based NIVA members include:
3rd & Lindsley
City Winery Nashville
Cumberland Caverns Live
Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge
Glen Campbell Museum and Rhinestone Stage
Music City Roots
Nashville Symphony Association and Schermerhorn Symphony Center
Pucketts of Leipers Fork
Rudy’s Jazz Room
Springwater Supper Club & Lounge
Tennessee Performing Arts Organization
The 5 Spot
The Blue Room at Third Man Records
The Bluebird Cafe
The East Room
The Franklin Theatre
The Golden Door
The High Watt
The Listening Room
The Lovenoise Group
The Nashville Palace
Third Coast Comedy Club