Congress urged to provide financial relief to independent music venues around the country

The call for help is official now.

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click to enlarge Concert goers outside Orpheum in Ybor City, Florida on March 29, 2018. - Jess Phillips
Jess Phillips
Concert goers outside Orpheum in Ybor City, Florida on March 29, 2018.

In early May, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), a coalition of independent music venues and promoters from all around the country, formed. The purpose was twofold, both to raise public awareness of the importance of smaller, independent venues in the economic and creative ecosystem of a city, and to lobby Congress to pass the bipartisan RESTART Act.

This bill would provide much-needed economic relief to venues that have been by and large closed for months of the coronavirus pandemic, and most likely will be among the last things to fully open. RESTART would provide funds to venues to finance six months’ worth of payroll, benefits and fixed operating costs; flexible use of loan proceeds and loan forgiveness; and implement a seven-year payback schedule, where principal payments wouldn’t be due for two years and interest payments would be deferred for at least 12 months.

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NIVA conducted polling of its members earlier this month that revealed that unless action is taken soon, approximately 90 percent of the independent venues in this country could close. So for a moment consider some of your favorite venues in the city: Crowbar, New World Brewery, Jannus Live, Skipper's Smokehouse, Orpheum, The Attic at Rock Brothers, Hideaway Cafe... Now imagine most of that list gone.

Last week, more than 600 musicians and performers co-signed a letter stressing the importance of action on this legislation, including big-timers like Willie Nelson, Billie Eilish, Foo Fighters and Lady Gaga.

The letter included this very necessary reminder:

Independent venues give artists their start, often as the first stage most of us have played on. These venues were the first to close and will be the last to reopen. With zero revenue and the overwhelming overhead of rent, mortgage, utilities, taxes and insurance, 90% of independent venues report that if the shutdown lasts six months and there’s no federal assistance, they will never reopen again.

With the recent unbelievable spikes in new coronavirus cases in Florida – and several Central Florida bars and restaurants already closing because of coronavirus exposure to staff and patrons –  the possibility of reopening venues to live music is seeming further away than ever. With a lack of clear guidance and leadership at the state and federal levels, owners are left floundering and trying to make their way the best they can. This situation is not tenable in the long term, and we'll be a poorer city for it if local venues close their doors en masse.

More information can be found on NIVA's advocacy work here.

This post originally appeared on our sibling publication Orlando WeeklySupport local journalism in these crazy days. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you up to the minute news on how Coronavirus is affecting Tampa and surrounding areas. Please consider making a one time or monthly donation to help support our staff. Every little bit helps.

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