City Politics

Saving Stages

COVID-19's effect on music venues
2019 Concert at Terminal West / Photo by SAM BASKIN

With the exception of only rare performers, musical acts generally do not begin their careers selling out venues such as State Farm Arena or the Cobb County Energy Performing Arts Center. Singer-songwriters start out at local joints like Eddie’s Attic in Decatur or Smith’s Olde Bar in Virginia Highlands working open mic night circuits whereas rap artists try to earn playing time in downtown clubs such as Magic City. The thriving music scene created by these smaller venues has nurtured artists across the confines of genre. From Future to John Mayer and many people in between, these historic venues have launched once struggling artists into superstardom.

Amid the first great United States wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, concert venues were among the first establishments to close. Live music has managed to pervade via livestreaming services; however, independent venues across the nation have been suffering. Without revenue from events, these venues struggle to pay costs like rent, utilities, and payroll. Whereas other gathering spaces like restaurants, churches, and bars were able to adapt and recover some of their lost costs via streaming services and takeout options, concert venues have not had major success with adapting their services for a virtual world. Given these abysmal numbers, concert industry publication Pollstar predicts that venues could collectively lose close to nine billion dollars if the current conditions of the state do not allow for live entertainment. 

Even while disregarding the enrichment that live music offers people, live entertainment provides value to the U.S. economy that cannot be understated. According to a report written by the National Endowment for the Arts, arts and cultural sectors enrich the economies of rural states, provide room for rapid growth within the industry, enjoy a surplus in exports, and increase the value of the U.S. economy by more than five times than that of the agricultural sector. Though live entertainment may not classify as an essential service in the primal hierarchy of needs, the personal and national enrichment afforded by the live music industry undoubtedly merits action preserving these independent venues. 

To correct for the pandemic-related hardships faced by those adjacent to independent venues, Texas Senator John Cornyn introduced the Save Our Stages Act in July of this year. If passed, this bill would authorize the Small Business Administration to issue grants of up to twelve million dollars to an eligible operator, promoter, producer, or talent representative. This grant must be used to cover costs incurred between the beginning of March until the end of December of this year. This bill would also provide for the eligibility of supplemental grants that could be used to offset costs incurred in the first half of 2021. Since its introduction, artists such as Billie Eilish, Bob Weir, and Atlanta’s own Zac Brown have vocalized their support of the act. This bill has also garnered support from the left and the right—a feat in a presidential election year. Senators from Kamala Harris to Lindsey Graham have signed a letter of endorsement to both Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell. It is far more than reasonable that this bill would receive little opposition. 

Independent venues are the backbone of the arts. Artists pay their dues and find their sound in places like coffeehouses and smaller theaters like Tabernacle before selling out the Infinite Energy Center. The Save Our Stages act would preserve these independent venues and allow them to continue to provide a space for people to gather and appreciate local art, an experience which is not to be dismissed as anything less than essential to experience when the climate allows. 

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