Music News: Save Our Stages Act introduced to help independent venues


The Palace Theatre in St. Paul, Minn.
The Palace Theatre in St. Paul, Minn., closed due to coronavirus in March 2020. (Lucy Hawthorne for MPR)
Ashley Ryan talks with Sean McPherson
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  • Ashley Ryan talks with Sean McPherson 06:03
  • Austen Bailey talks with Sean McPherson 07:48
  • Save Our Stages Act introduced to help independent venues 09:03

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) have introduced a Save Our Stages Act. If passed, it would establish a $10 billion grant program and provide other measures to help live music venues survive the COVID-19 shutdown.

"Minnesota's concert halls, theaters, and places of entertainment, like First Avenue in Minneapolis, where Prince famously performed, have inspired generations with the best of local music, art, and education," Klobuchar said in a statement. "This legislation would help ensure that small entertainment venues can continue to operate and serve our communities for generations to come."

"This bill is really trying to address some of the shortfalls that we've seen," Ashley Ryan, First Avenue's marketing director, told The Current's Sean McPherson (click above to hear complete interview). "There's been a ton of support already coming from PPP loans, but those loans don't actually really work great for businesses like ours. Those are really focused on payroll, and obviously with no concerts we don't have a lot of payroll right now."

"We're going on four-plus months of no shows, and it's looking like that's probably going to last through the end of 2020," said Austen Bailey, talent buyer at the Mohawk in Austin, Texas (interview, also, above). Describing the founding of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), he said, "our primary focus right now is lobbying Congress for both targeted relief as well as legislation that will provide access to loans — trying to get the regulatory environment in line with the unprecedented existential threat that our businesses are facing."

According to a press release from NIVA, the Save Our Stages Act:

  • Establishes a $10 billion grant program for live venue operators, promoters, producers and talent representatives

  • Directs the Small Business Administrator to make grants to eligible recipients equal to the lesser of either 45% of gross revenue from 2019 or $12 million

  • Allows the Small Business Administrator to issue supplemental grants in the future if funding remains available and applicants can demonstrate continued need

  • Permits recipients to use grants for costs incurred during the COVID pandemic

  • Permits recipients to use grants for rent, utilities, mortgage obligations, PPE procurement, payments to contractors, regular maintenance, administrative costs, taxes, operating leases, and capital expenditures related to meeting state, local, or federal social distancing guidelines

NIVA is emphasizing that along with the intangible benefits of live music, the industry also contributes substantially to local economies across the country. Speaking recently with The Current's Andrea Swensson, First Avenue owner Dayna Frank said that when First Avenue had to furlough all its employees, Frank said, "it was the worst day in the history of any business owner's life. Just the worst."

Ryan says she's dreaming of the day she can again experience "that feeling when you can feel the music hit, the sound of the crowd." Though she notes that First Avenue employees are able to hear artists soundcheck, "it's the best feeling when you walk out and you see the room full and people screaming and excited for their favorite band to come on."

Bailey and Ryan are encouraging supporters to visit NIVA's Save Our Stages website for more information about the proposed legislation and how they can get involved.

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