As co-owner of Seattle’s popular independent venue Neumos in Capitol Hill, Steven Severin has been a staple in the Seattle music industry for more than 20 years. Roughly 10 years ago, he helped create the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association to bring together the area’s live event insiders, and for the past 16 years has helped run Neumos with its sister club Barboza and the accompanying Runaway bar.
As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be speaking with Severin every two weeks to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the last installment here and see the full series here.)
What has changed for you in the past couple weeks?
[Our bar Life on Mars] is open five days a week right now for eight hours a day. It is going good. The food is good. I had a mound of it Friday for dinner. You can order drinks. It has been good. It’s been smooth. The first day was hectic. We didn’t get our vegetable order until 30 minutes before opening. We are an all plant-based place so vegetables are important. It was not the end of the world but it was starting with shit that was difficult. By day two, everything was good. We wanted to make sure we were all dialed in so that we weren’t putting our staff into a difficult situation and running super hard or anything. It has been slow, but we will get it out to press that we are open for takeout.
Can you be open for dine-in services in Seattle right now?
We are allowed to do 50% dining inside. Most people aren’t doing it because it is not safe. It’s just not. I’m sorry. The numbers don’t lie. The government just moved us back [in phases]. They just banned all live entertainment in Washington. It already was in Seattle, now it is the whole state and it is because our numbers keep going up. I think in the next two weeks, we will be sheltered in place. I think a lot of the country will be. It sucks, but we aren’t doing the right things. Most of the people I know who run restaurants aren’t opening because they are just going to get shut down again. It is not easy to get open. It is also not cheap. It is expensive. It costs a bunch of money to open and close and that’s what is about to happen. I think we are about to go backwards.
National Independent Venue Association made another push to #SaveOurStages and get support for the Restart Act in congress. How did that go?
It has been amazing! Music people and club owners, we get a bad rep with people saying we aren’t professional and we’re not business people. It’s a stereotype. I have never seen a group of people work together so well and so hard than these club owners and promoters. It is absolutely historic what we have all been able to do when we never spoke to each other. We didn’t talk or work together. Now we put together 1.16 million messages to Congress. We hit over a million messages in 48 hours. It’s absolutely incredible. The response has been amazing. I just got off the phone with [U.S. Senator from Washington] Maria Cantwell’s office talking about the campaign. We are trying to get the federal government to understand that the indie clubs contribute $35 billion to the music industry. NIVA represents $35 billion…. We are really trying to impress upon them this time that we are gone if you don’t come step in and help us out.
Is there hope for another or a different stimulus bill that helps indie venues if this one doesn’t pass?
This is the stimulus bill. This is it. Nobody is talking about another one. Every stimulus bill that has come up, they have talked about the next one. But people are talking about this one being the last one. The election might change things but who knows. I talk to venues all day long who are like, ‘I can’t make it through the month.’ I want to just give them money but I don’t have any because it is expensive to be closed.
We all know we aren’t doing anything until there is a vaccine. There is some good stuff happening with the vaccine, but it is not like it is coming out next month or the month after that. It’s going to be a long time still.
You said you had a lot of good feedback from elected officials. Do you feel like the Restart Act is going to get passed?
I do. Nobody really cares what the act is called. It is going to be called a CARES Act or something. All these legislators put their proposals forward and then other officials go and take pieces out of it. All we care about is that they take our pieces. We are the last to reopen. We are phase four businesses that need support. We’ve gotten really strong support. There is talk of a stronger bill coming out now from the Republicans. It is supposedly stronger than what we helped draw up, which is crazy. It is amazing. Republicans seem to get it in a way that maybe a lot of people wouldn’t think they would. I think it is because there is so much for individual rights and they think everybody should have the chance to have their business be the American success story. And music crosses all lines and we contribute a lot of money to the industry. We employ a lot of people. Between Neumos and Barboza, I paid 10,000 people last year. The Republicans seem to understand that. It seems like the act has great support.
When does Congress need to make the decision on the Restart Act or another stimulus package?
They have two weeks. They can’t keep yo-yoing us all fall. There have been a lot of times where I was depressed and I was able to pick myself back up and say, “This is the new reality. I have to accept this and I have the choice of either making an effort or just letting it envelop me.” It was situational depression. I have been able to pick myself up, but you can only go up and down so many times. But you can’t give up.