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Endangered Indie Music Venues Band Together to Seek a Lifeline

Bleachers perform at The Glass House. May 24, 2018 | Taylor Wilson, Courtesy of The Glass House Concert Hall
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After 25 years of live music, The Satellite (also formerly known as Spaceland) in Silver Lake will remove its performance stage along with the infamous shimmering, sparkling, blue-and-silver curtain that served as a backdrop to thousands of nightly concerts as the owners transition the business into a restaurant for the COVID-19 era.

“We can no longer afford to wait for the day we will be allowed to have shows again,” reads a statement on the venue’s website. “If we do that, we will not have the money to continue and will be forced to close forever.”

The future of live music venues, especially independent ones, in SoCal and across the nation, looks bleak, and the present-day situation is already precarious. Venues have had no source of revenue since the announcement of the pandemic in early March and continue to struggle to survive. The statement by Satellite owner Jeff Wolfram is just one example of the extreme measures some owners are taking to keep their businesses alive in any way possible.

The marquee at the Viper Room reads "Stay Safe." | Courtesy of the Viper Room
The marquee at the Viper Room reads "Stay Safe." | Courtesy of the Viper Room

Wolfram’s statement ends with a plea to the reader to support the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), a nonprofit organization working with nearly 2,000 independent venues in the country. The nonprofit is currently working with several partners to help these venues keep their doors open, in a manner of speaking, with help from Congress.

The Satellite is one of over 100 NIVA-member venues located in Southern California on a list that includes venues in the counties of Ventura, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Diego. That list includes many staples of live music such as The Glass House, Levitt Pavilion, Chain Reaction, Hotel Café, Pappy & Harriet’s, Soda Bar, the Teragram Ballroom, Silverlake Lounge, The Viper Room and dozens of others.

“Primarily, we're asking just for consideration within existing programs,” explains Rev Moose, who serves as executive director at NIVA. “We’re supporting the RESTART Act that's being led by Senators Todd Young and Michael Bennett, and, essentially, would tailor the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] to work for our business model. We're fighting for tax credits that would help significantly and assistance through insurance and being able to reopen in a safe way and do so in a manner that protects both the staff and the patrons.”

NIVA was founded in April of this year as an extension of Independent Venue Week (IVW), which originally began in the United Kingdom. Marauder, a marketing firm Moose co-founded, brought IVW Stateside years ago and built their own network of independent venues. As the pandemic made its way through the USA, IVW went to work uniting independent venues throughout the country. They soon realized that there wasn’t any body or group working to fight for the survival of the little guy in the live music industry.

A show at Pappy & Harriet | Courtesy of Pappy & Harriet
A show at Pappy & Harriet's | Courtesy of Pappy & Harriet's

“There wasn't an organization or a voice on Capitol Hill that was looking out for our best interest in the legislation that was being passed,” explains Moose, “that didn't fit the specific needs of what a venue or a promoter would need to be able to stay operational. And that's nobody's fault that it just wasn't considering a business model like ours. It was rushed through and helped out quite a few people and, I would like to think, had good intentions, but, unfortunately, the independent venues and independent promoters were left out.”

“The hardest thing has been telling fans that they don't get to see bands,” says Jenn Salvadori, the general manager at The Glass House. “And telling my employees they don't have work.”

The Glass House is a music venue in the heart of downtown Pomona that, on a normal, non-pandemic day, is surrounded by locals shopping and eating in a small but lively commercial area that hosts a biweekly art walk. The pandemic put an end to the city’s beating heart where the venue sits near its center.

“It’s a ghost town!” exclaims Salvadori, who grew accustomed to seeing throngs of concertgoers lined up outside the venue, as well as the crowds that made up the day and nightlife in downtown Pomona.

“It's sad,” Salvadori continues. “There are still places that you can go there but, you know, I go to one of those places and then I see my venue standing there like a solitary glass monument. It’s an all glass fronted building and even the glass has gotten a little bit damaged. It's not a big deal, but it's just … this venue is intended to be used. There's supposed to be bodies in there.”

The Paranoias perform at Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles in MacArthur Park | Courtesy of Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles
The Paranoias perform at Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles in MacArthur Park | Courtesy of Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles

“The best, most rewarding part of my job,” she adds, “is when there's a packed house and there's a band playing. There's always that point in a song where everyone starts moving the same way behind the sound booth, and I will stand up there and it almost brings tears to my eyes every time. It's just so great.”

The Glass House typically employs anywhere between 30 to 50 employees depending on the type of show it hosts on any given night. All employees except for three, including Salvadori, are currently out of work because the venue simply doesn’t have any work hours for any of them.

The Glass House, like other independent venues, also serves as an engine that spurred economic activity in its surrounding area. As Moose explains, independent venues not only generate economic activity for themselves and the artists involved but also for the local economy as well. According to a statement by NIVA, every dollar spent on a ticket at a local venue generates more than $12 in local economic activity. This totals nearly $10 billion in estimated direct annual economic impact.

Cults perform at Soda Bar | Courtesy of Soda Bar
Cults perform at Soda Bar | Courtesy of Soda Bar

“You think about all of the concerts that you've been to in your life and you realize to what trouble you've gone through with your friends and your relatives and your family to be able to make an evening out of one of these shows,” explains Moose, “and how much you've traveled locally or internationally to be able to catch that once in a lifetime gig or all the different components that go into it. You realize that it's about more than just the lights going down and the performer playing a song. It's about all the other interconnected businesses and events and memories that come out of it.”

For industry veteran Matt Himes, the pandemic has put his entire life on hold. He is currently furloughed from his day job as the director of programming & production at the Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park where the pandemic forced them to cancel their entire summer program of concerts.

“We started talking about it like in February, early March,” he recalls. “That's when I started seeing the writing on the wall.”

Himes, who has worked for the Eagle Rock Music Festival, the LA Philharmonic, Anderson Paak’s Paak House in the Park, and Spaceland Presents, has also lost a lot of other gigs he had lined up for the rest of the year. He had to cancel tours with bands he planned on traveling and working with as their tour manager and lost a few gigs as the front of house sound engineer for a couple of production companies.

Chain Reaction exterior | Courtesy of Chain Reaction
Chain Reaction exterior | Courtesy of Chain Reaction

“I lost all that money,” he explains. “It’s not even just the money. For me, personally, this isn’t just a career. It’s my life and to have it all canceled hits hard at home because it’s what I love to do. Even when I come home, I’m still listening to music, I’m looking up different ways to be a better sound engineer or how to produce better bands and taking different kinds of courses for certifications to be able to be better at this job because I love it.”

“I'm really happy that a lot of different venues … that I've worked with are all kind of getting behind NIVA,” he continues, “by trying to have some sort of lobbying arm and letting Congress know like, hey, if you don't do anything about this, this is going to change the culture of music drastically.”

To that end, NIVA have launched the #SaveOurStages initiative to have people pressure Congress to support the RESTART Act to save independent venues nationwide. Last month, Billie Eilish, David Byrne, Lady Gaga, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and hundreds of other artists and celebrities signed a letter to Congress “in support of NIVA’s request for federal assistance for independent music venues and promoters across the United States.”

Most recently, numerous companies such as Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, YouTube, Spotify, and others signed their own letter to Congress urging them to “support NIVA’s request for assistance so these venues can live long enough to reopen when it’s safe — and once again serve as the economic engines that fuel local economies.”

Top Image: Bleachers perform at The Glass House | Taylor Wilson, courtesy of The Glass House Concert Hall

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