Live music venues across the country are begging Congress for help in the next round of COVID-19 relief.
“We are in a crisis. There's no other way to put it. So many hundreds of venues have gone under already, because you can't exist without revenue and high overhead,” said Audrey Fix Schaefer, a spokesperson for The Anthem, 9:30 Club and several other popular music venues in Washington, D.C.
Like the venues in D.C., Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado has furloughed its employees and has taken a huge hit after being forced to shut down.
“We will have lost $50 million this year — just on the venue side. That doesn't take into account all of the jobs that have been lost for caterers, drivers, stage hands, stage and light technicians and everybody else who's involved in this part of the industry,” said Brian Kitts, a spokesperson for Red Rocks Amphitheater.
Fix Schaefer— who also represents the National Independent Venue Association — told Yahoo Finance it’s up to Congress to avert a “mass collapse” of the industry. NIVA is pushing lawmakers to include the Save Our Stages Act in any coronavirus relief bill.
“For the greater good they've basically taken our businesses by shutting us down — which we understand because of health and safety — but, they took the business. We can't operate and they're leaving us hanging out to dry in the meantime. And that's just not sustainable.” said Fix Schaefer.
The bipartisan bill, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), would create a $10 billion grant program for venues with fewer than 500 full-time employes. The grants would be capped at roughly half of 2019 revenue or $12 million, whichever is less. The money could cover things like payroll, mortgages, rent, utilities and other expenses. Public companies would not be eligible for the relief and organizations that accept grants would eventually have to return unused money.
Red Rocks is owned by the city and county of Denver, so Kitts said it’s not going shut down for good —but he warned smaller venues might not survive.
“There’s a real danger that those places are closing and can't come back,” said Kitts.
According to the latest Economic Impact Report from Yelp, as of Aug. 31, 163,735 U.S. businesses on Yelp have closed since the beginning of the pandemic in March, a 23% increase since July 10.
Fix Schaefer and Kitts told Yahoo Finance previous relief programs, like the Paycheck Protection Program, don’t work for music venues that have not been able to operate for most of the year.
“When you have PPP loans, the whole premise is to be able to hire your employees back and pay them,” said Fix Schaefer. “We’re still shuttered, so we can't hire them back, but we still have expenses like rent and utilities, mortgage and insurance.”
Congressional leaders are still trying to hammer out a stimulus compromise and it’s not clear what provisions for venues will be included in their agreement. Sen. Ben Cardin (D., Md.) told reporters on Thursday he had heard anywhere from $10 billion to $17 billion could be set aside for venues in the package.
“We are just hoping against hope that they pass the next COVID relief bill, but it's not just for our businesses. It's for the tens of millions of people that are still unemployed through no fault of their own,” said Fix Schaefer.
Jessica Smith is a reporter for Yahoo Finance based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter at @JessicaASmith8.