Music

Save Our Stages

Because they’re not safe yet

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Last week, I wrote a story about how live music was trickling back to restaurants and other spots that have the ability to host it safely. It was a welcome sign of hope during a time when we can use all of that we can get.

A day later, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a clarification of Phase 2 and Phase 3 Safe Start rules that said, among other things, that buffets, salad bars, salsa bars and “other similar communal food sources and drink stations” could resume service. But the first thing the clarifying document stated, in bold print, was “Bar-style seating and live music are hereby prohibited in Phase 2 and Phase 3.”

The balloon of burgeoning hope was swiftly deflated.

While questions remain as to whether the order pertains to all live music, specifically the kind that happens outdoors and is thought to be safer than the indoor variety (and possibly as safe as buffet-style eating, although I don’t have the hard scientific data to support that supposition, so don’t quote me on it), it’s certainly a setback.

And it’s a setback that once again brings into sharp relief the plight of music venues. Granted, no music venue of which I’m aware was planning to capitalize on the limited reemergence of live music, however, Inslee’s clarification is illustrative of how far we are from any kind of concert or concert-like activity being deemed safe in the time of COVID-19.

I’m not trying to make a case that there is a responsible way to throw shows and keep people safe and neither is any local venue owner that I’m aware of. They are united in being cognizant of COVID’s risks and are committed to remaining dark in order to do their part to halt its spread.

They may have no choice in the matter, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re taking a big one for the team, and they’re doing it not just at their own expense, but also at their peril.

With Phase 4 a long way off (for the love of science, wear your damn masks, everyone) and most forms of government relief being unavailable or unpalatable for indie music venues—among several other industries—the risk that they will fall through the cracks isn’t merely real, it’s happening right now, in real time.

However, this isn’t intended to be a pessimistic piece about the state of the live music industry. Because potential relief is on the horizon, in the form of S. 3814, also known as the RESTART Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation put forth by Senator Todd Young (R-IN) and Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO). The RESTART in the act stands for “Reviving the Economy Sustainably Towards a Recovery in Twenty-twenty,” which is not the catchiest way to get to an acronym, but it does the job.

The measure is intended to assist those businesses that have high overhead in terms of rent, zero revenue due to COVID and no hope of generating any, and are at the furthest end of the reopening timeline—a description that fits just about every venue in the nation.

If enacted, S. 3814 will finance up to six months of payroll and operating expenses and allow for flexibility in terms of how those funds are applied that is not found in current relief efforts such as the PPP Program. It will also expand loan eligibility and repayment terms, with as much as 90 percent of the loan eligible for forgiveness for those small businesses that have experienced the greatest revenue losses. While it may not quite live up to its optimistic RESTART moniker, the act would certainly be instrumental in helping venues weather a storm that is only increasing in pressure and intensity as the COVID case count grows and temporary shutdowns become long-term facts of life.

Introduced in late May, the RESTART Act is in the initial stage of the legislative process. It must wend its way through committee on its long journey to Senate approval. A sister bill is making a similar odyssey through the House of Representatives.

That all sounds real great, but the reality of the situation is the RESTART Act has little chance of making it to a full floor vote and its likeliest outcome is that it will die in committee.

Unless…

This is where we come in. Any and every piece of legislation stands a better chance of success if it is vigorously backed and lobbied for by the public. I’m cynical enough about the modern political process to wonder whether elected officials at the federal level really care about serving their constituents, but I know for a fact they’re real keen on reelection and the road to remaining in office is often paved with passing feel-good legislation that has the effect of making them look like the good guys. Which is pretty much exactly what the RESTART Act is.

But our senators and representatives won’t know that unless we let them know that, loud and clear. Since the 2016 presidential election, we have seen, time and again, that a critical mass of public pressure can generate results. A fair number of us have some extra time on our hands these days, and I implore you to use yours to email and call your elected officials and ask that they throw the full weight of their support behind the RESTART Act. Don’t know how to reach your legislators? Get out to me and I’ll give you the info. Don’t know what to say? Get out to me and I’ll help you. Nervous about making a fool of yourself? So am I. Do it anyway, and get out to me if you need a pep talk. I can be found at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). More info about the RESTART Act can be found at http://www.nivassoc.org. Until shows can happen again, this is the only show in town.

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