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From Bob Weir to the Blue Note, Fears That Congress Will Abandon Indie Music Has Many On Edge

A coalition of independent venue operators, restauranteurs, event professionals and small business owners aren’t being subtle with their latest plea for aid from Congress.

#DoNotAbandonUS reads the subject line of a letter and new campaign from eight signatory organizations including the League of Historic American Theaters, the Live Events Coalition, the National Independent Talent Organization and the National Independent Venue Association, expressing growing frustration over congressional inaction as both the House and the Senate wrapped their first week back in session.

“We write to express our dire need for assistance, and to urge you to move quickly to pass additional COVID relief,” the letter, which is also supported by the National Association of Theatre Owners reads.

“Absent a deal by the end of September, our businesses will disappear, millions of Americans will permanently lose their jobs, and entire industries will take decades to recover, if they do at all,” the letter continues. “You must act NOW. Please do not abandon us. We cannot wait for more assistance. The performance of the stock market doesn’t reflect the reality that many of our businesses and workers are on the brink of bankruptcy.”

Across the country, growing fears that Congress will take no action to help arts groups, independent concert venues and organizations that were “first to close and last to reopen” is fueling anxiety and panic.

During a press conference Tuesday, representatives from Another Planet Entertainment and the Blue Note in Napa, California, along with Grateful Dead and Dead and Co’s Bob Weir  urged Congress to pass the RESTART Act, which provides loans to small business most impacted by COVID-19, and to take up and pass and the Save Our Stages Act which would provide grants to independent venues and presenters facing shut down because of COVID-19. A recent survey by the National Independent Venue Association found that nearly 90 percent of its more than 2,500 members would have to shut down permanently if they are unable to generate any income for the entire year.

Invoking the transformative economic power of live music, Weir laid out the historical and financial case for providing federal aid to live music by recalling the Depression-era Chitlin Circuit that eventually gave rise to rock N roll and the modern concert economy.

Weir described the 1930s touring network as “an economic ecosystem that was thriving and continued to grow, driving hotels, restaurants and shops,” he said. “Today we have a situation where with the right kind of stimulus from the government, we can help generate the same kind of economic rebound that the country really needs. We need to pass a COVID-19 relief bill which includes help for the independent music community.”

While independent arts groups and artists like Weir have made the economic case for saving venues, music professionals from outside the live space are also making the case for helping venues.

“As the president of Bluenote Records, I’m aware of the inextricable link between live performance and recorded music,” said label executive and touring artist Don Was during the press conference. “The backbone of our business is really based on the career development of new artists and performing night after night is the way that young artists hone their craft and build their audiences.”

Invoking legendary frontman and friend Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, Was added “we all are instruments in a Sonic cathedral, and it’s one built together with the audience night after night after night. And we can only rebuild those cathedrals with help from Congress. Without venues, the whole network collapses, irreparably.”

Allen Scott with Another Planet Entertainment, one of the largest independent venue promoters in the country, challenged the audience to “imagine for a minute, if there were no live music venues in your town, what that would look like?” before calling on U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “to keep fighting for the next Coronavirus aid bill” and to include Save our Stages and the RESTART Act in any legislation the House of Representatives takes up.

Ken Tesler, who calls himself the “epitome of the small venue owner” with Napa venues that include The Blue Note, the Jam Cellars Ballroom and the Oxbow Riverstage which he partners on with Another Planet, said his venues are vital economic engines “bringing tens, if not, hundreds of thousands of dollars to local restaurants, shops, hotels, and wineries.”

“We purchased thousands of dollars of food and beverage from our local vendors,” he continued. “We take pride in producing over 75 community events and fundraisers each year. So I believe small venues like ours are worth saving. The arts are essential.”

The entire text of the #DoNotAbandonUS letter can be read below:

Dear Senators and Members of the House of Representatives,

We represent the large community of independent businesses and workers that have been economically devastated by the pandemic. We write to express our dire need for assistance, and to urge you to move quickly to pass additional COVID relief. Absent a deal by the end of September, our businesses will disappear, millions of Americans will permanently lose their jobs, and entire industries will take decades to recover, if they do at all. We are entrepreneurs, freelancers, entertainers, and workers that represent the best of American creativity and innovation. We are incubators for community development, driving investment in local economies, generating a strong tax base, and providing tens of millions of jobs across the country. America’s businesses are shuttering by the thousands and its workers are struggling with basic expenses. According to Yelp, more than 163,000 businesses have already closed, 60% permanently, and that number rises daily. 22 million jobs have been lost due to the pandemic and less than half have been recovered. The National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that 42% of recent layoffs will be permanent losses. Without swift action by Congress, the businesses that sustain families will evaporate, and millions of people will be left utterly stranded. There won’t be other options for us. This would have a devastating ripple effect across all industries.

You must act NOW. Please do not abandon us. We cannot wait for more assistance. The performance of the stock market doesn’t reflect the reality that many of our businesses and workers are on the brink of bankruptcy. State reopening plans have left us behind. The unique nature of our businesses means that we are still either completely shuttered or can only operate with severely restricted capacity. Our statistics are extremely troubling: 95% of live events have been canceled; other businesses have lost upwards of 75% of our revenue because we closed for the sake of public health and to prevent further spread of COVID-19, but we have not been made whole.

To help see us through this crisis, we need Congress to come together on a deal that provides robust economic assistance for the hardest-hit businesses and extends enhanced pandemic unemployment compensation and assistance into 2021. There are solutions on the table that carry wide bipartisan support and would ensure we can keep our doors open. We urge you to press Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, and others in leadership to bring these plans to a vote. Absent such assistance, we will be left with no alternatives other than widespread business closures, the permanent elimination of millions of jobs, and the loss of cherished American experiences. We are in this position from no fault of our own. This would be irreparable damage to the social, cultural, and economic life of our communities. Congress should focus on a solution that addresses the severity of this crisis. Please do not abandon us.

Thank you for your consideration of our needs at this challenging time.

Sincerely,

Arthouse Convergence • ExtendPUA.org • International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Association • League of Historic American Theaters Live Events Coalition • The Main Street Alliance • National Association of Theatre Owners • National Independent Talent Organization • National Independent Venue Association

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