Monday, August 3, 2020

Opinion: Concert Venues Will Fold Without Federal Assistance | Pollstar News

nullOlivier Douliery / AFP / Getty ImagesLeadoffPopular D.C. club The Anthem displays a message of hope April 29. The live business and its music venues remain all but completely shut down through August.

Since April we have been sounding the alarm that music venues like the 9:30 Club and The Anthem cannot survive the COVID-19 shutdown without federal assistance.  By design, we’re gathering places that in normal times have audience members shoulder to shoulder celebrating with friends and strangers as they sing and dance, creating lifelong memories. 

Understandably in a pandemic, we’ve been shut entirely by the government ---  until there’s a vaccine.  No one knows when there’ll be a vaccine that’s readily available, so we’re completely dormant with no vision of our future. 

We have absolutely no revenue, yet enormous fixed overhead of rent, utilities, insurance and a host of taxes. In addition, we’re paying premiums for our employees that were on our insurance, even those 95% of whom we’ve been forced to furlough. We have negative revenue. 

That’s when you have no revenue but have to cancel or postpone 222 shows (so far), representing refunds of up to a quarter-of-a-million tickets.  It’s like a vacuum cleaner to your bank account.

We cannot last like this.

We turned 40 in June, a rare milestone for an independent promoter in this incredibly competitive, thin-margin business. But our success as the most attended club of our size in the world (#2 is in Belgium) does not protect us from potential bankruptcy. We’ve been able to weather multiple recessions, 9/11, countless changes in musical tastes, the mortgage crisis, gas crisis and tragic mass killings at concerts abroad and in America.  When these unexpected events hit, we recalibrated.  We figured it out. 

We were the poster child of a successful homegrown business, entrepreneurs taking all the risk, setting up in dangerous parts of town, first at 930 F Street, NW and then in 1996 moving to 9th & V Streets, NW.  They called us pioneers, but we just couldn’t afford other locations. Over time, both neighborhoods developed around us, other businesses moved in, and then people came to shop, dine, and live.  

A recent study found for every $1 spent at a small venue on a ticket, $12 of economic activity was realized by surrounding businesses.  The Anthem as the magnet at The Wharf  is a perfect example.  When we have 6,000 people coming to a show, the restaurants, bars, and hotels are bustling. 

But now, we’ve been left out on a limb. We’ve never put our hand out for help before, but we’ve also never had our business effectively taken from us either. No amount of business acumen or creativity can save the 9:30 Club, The Anthem, U Street Music Hall, Pearl Street Warehouse, DC9 or Union Stage – to name a handful of D.C. independent music venues area. Already, the beloved Eighteenth Street Lounge has folded. 

We need help.

The 9:30 Club, Lincoln Theatre, The Anthem and Merriweather Post Pavilion became charter members of National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), because we knew our survival depended on joining together to seek federal assistance, like we’ve watched the banks and airlines do.  You know the need is dire when 2,000 independent venues and promoters agree on anything, but that’s how many have joined NIVA since April. 

When surveyed, NIVA members said if the shutdown lasts six months or longer and there’s no federal assistance, 90% would fold forever.  Believe them.  Believe the 9:30 Club and The Anthem, because we cannot survive this crushing economic blow without the Save Our Stages Act or RESTART America Act becoming law before Congress leaves for recess in August.  These are not handouts, but investments to get us through until we can once again be contributing members of our community again. 

I know people care about their music venues because more than 1.3 million emails have gone to Congress through asking legislators to help independent venues while we’re forced to close. 

None of us want to envision Washington, D.C. without its beloved music venues.  It’s part of our community’s heart and soul. This is not a drill. This will be a hollow town, and America will be filled with boarded up buildings if the Save Our Stages or RESTART Acts aren’t passed.  

The last concert I saw at the 9:30 Club was March 11 when the Dead Kennedys took the stage for the final night before the shutdown.  At that time, we were told we’d be closed for 20 days. 

Now at 150 dark days with no revenue, I have to wonder if I’ll see another show at my treasured place again. Without federal assistance, it doesn’t seem possible.

Audrey Fix Schaefer is spokesperson for the 9:30 Club, The Anthem, Lincoln Theatre, Merriweather Post Pavilion and NIVA. 


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