The recently formed National Independent Venue Association has launched a campaign to focus on keeping its members above water during the coronavirus lockdown. It reports that 55 percent of venues will run out of cash after three months of closure, and 90 percent will fail if they remain shut for six months.
The coalition includes 1,300 independent owners, whose #SaveOurStages campaign seeks to educate politicians on what venues really do and how many aspects of local economies they benefit, in the hope of securing more effective federal aid. While a concert planned for May 15 is set to feature “fan pods” and capacity reduced by 80 percent to ensure distancing rules are kept, it’s thought unlikely that most independent venues could make the finances of shows like this work.
“It’s really depressing what the landscape looks like,” NIVA president Dayna Frank told Rolling Stone. “We are in a low-margin business just like the restaurants, but it is a high-liability business and capital-intensive business. We have massive spaces of retail — giant storefronts and high rents. We are located in popular neighborhoods, and most of our members are in expensive districts. We still have to carry insurance, because we know that when the economy gets bad, people get more litigious.
“We are still rearranging shows and trying to return product, but most people are carrying full health insurance benefits for furloughed employees, and we still have HVAC repairs, capital improvements, debt obligations. We have sales tax, property taxes. And we have zero cash flow.”
Frank said the lockdown had come at the worst possible time for owners, who use the quieter first quarter of the year to invest in maintenance and improvements, in anticipation of those costs being covered as sales increase later in the year. “We were prepared to be down for three months. Six months,” she reported. “But now, is it starting to look like 12 months, 18 months? That’s when the existential crisis ensues. We all have personal guarantees out on all this debt. We have no corporate parent. If we can’t pay this debt, they take our personal assets. I think that’s a six-month timeline from here.”
Frank argued that the main goal of a privately owned concert business is to “gather people who have a love of music and want to pay for it. … That’s all we do. … If we can’t get venues the type of support they need until they can start operating at full capacity, where are the artists going to play? They’re going to get on a bus and have no place to pull over to.”
Meanwhile, electronic musician Marc Rebillet announced the first drive-in tour in the U.S. after similar experimental events took place in Europe. Consequence of Sound reports that Rebillet will play six shows in June – in Charlotte, N.C., Kansas City, Tulsa, Houston and Fort Worth, Texas – with audience members watching the show from their cars parked at appropriate distances. A cut of the takings will be contributed to GlobalGiving’s Coronavirus Relief Fund.