Can Congress save America’s music venues? 

click to enlarge Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz of Denver’s Lumineers are helping fight the good fight for independent music venues. - DANNY CLINCH
  • Danny Clinch
  • Jeremiah Fraites and Wesley Schultz of Denver’s Lumineers are helping fight the good fight for independent music venues.

All the way back in April, the realization was already dawning that COVID-19 was not only disrupting the entire international live music “supply chain” and greater ecosystem, but also that any extended shuttering of music venues could prove disastrous for independent operators of any size. An ominous situation, especially for the much-beloved, smaller local venues.

In response, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) was formed, which counts The Black Sheep, Sunshine Studios and Lulu’s Downstairs among its nearly 2,000 members in all 50 states. The organization immediately set to work on drafting policy asks to help ensure the survival of independent music venues amidst the continuing, mandated shutdowns. The need is, indeed, urgent. As NIVA Head of Communications Audrey Fix Schaefer related to NPR, a membership survey indicated that a staggering 90 percent of venues would never be able to reopen if the shutdowns lasted six months or more with no federal assistance.

In Denver, for instance, 3 Kings Tavern, Le Cour, Armida’s and Live @ Jack’s have already closed their doors for good, and countless others risk the same fate.

The positive news is that the pleas made by NIVA — and, essentially, every facet of the musical landscape that’s been brought to an effective standstill — haven’t completely fallen on deaf ears. Colorado’s own Sen. Michael Bennet (oh, hey, remember him?) has sponsored, along with Republican Todd Young of Indiana, the RESTART Act, a small business aid package that could help independent music venues by extending the Paycheck Protection Program and establishing a loan program for COVID-19-affected businesses.

Another bipartisan effort from the Senate, this one more specifically focused on the challenges faced by venues, comes via the Save Our Stages (SOS) Act, introduced by Texas Republican John Cornyn and Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar. (Oh, hey, remember her?)

The SOS Act would, along with narrowly defining independent venue operators, promoters and talent representatives (versus larger, international conglomerate operations), authorize $10 billion for a grant program and direct the Small Business Administration to issue grants of either $12 million or 45 percent of operational costs from the 2019 calendar year (whichever is less) where applicable, which could be used for rent and other costs incurred during the pandemic.
Are these proposals “means-tested” to within an inch of their lives? Well, sure, pretty much, and that probably shouldn’t come as any great surprise. However, the SOS Act is wholeheartedly endorsed by NIVA and the National Independent Talent Organization, and the accompanying efforts have been cosigned by a wide slew of artists from Mavis Staples to Billie Eilish, as well as “industry leaders” such as ASCAP, BMI, Eventbrite and Spotify. Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites of The Lumineers have voiced their support for both Bennet and the RESTART Act, meeting with Bennet at the Boulder Theater on July 16 to discuss the legislation, and have subsequently sought citizen co-sponsors in their own indie-folk fashion.

Of course, whether these two legislative measures become law before Congress recesses in August is another matter entirely. And as we know, autumn and winter are not exactly the breadwinning seasons for live music.

The Lumineers’ Schultz, incidentally, recently joined fellow musicians Spirit of Grace, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, Flobots and others in a “march and play-in for justice” to protest Greenwood Village’s Resolution 40-20, which would supply defense for police officers sued under Colorado’s recent police reform law. Among other provisions, the law mandated body camera usage, banned chokeholds, placed limits on the use of projectiles and chemical agents against protesters, and would place police officers partially on the hook in civil suits for unlawful and bad-faith conduct to the tune of up to $25,000.

Greenwood Village’s resolution, meanwhile, would pay court costs, fees and fines for any officer charged under the reform law, a move that was instantly decried from nearly every angle and alleged by some, such as state Sen. Leslie Herod, to be operating outside the law itself. The Lumineers, Rateliff, and many other Colorado-based musicians promised to boycott Fiddler’s Green unless the resolution is overturned.


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