AUSTIN, TX — Congressman Roger Williams this week introduced the Save Our Stages Act to provide grants from the Small Business Administration to independent music venues impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Live music venues have been uniquely affected by the government’s actions during COVID-19, especially here in the Austin area,” Williams, who represents the state’s 25th congressional district, said in a prepared statement after introducing his measure on Monday. “Unlike some businesses on the road to recovery, music venues that have been cultural staples for generations will continue to bear the negative impacts of the pandemic for the foreseeable future.”
His initiative aims to stem the tide of closures, he explained: “I’m proud to introduce the Save Our Stages Act to help preserve these iconic venues that define states like Texas and create thousands of jobs while generating billions of dollars into our economy. It’s my hope that with the help of Congress, our venues will once again be able to open their doors to thousands of concertgoers and welcome their next act to the stage.”
The measure gained immediate support across the musical landscape. Singer-songwriter Robert Earl Keen was among those praising the effort.
“Music is my life,” Keen began in a prepared statement. “After thirty years of touring coast to coast, my band and I are grateful for all the people who devote their lives to the presentation of live music. I’m talking about the folks who operate the bars, beer gardens, house concerts, country stores, night clubs, dance halls, sheds, festivals, and auditoriums. Bottom line, the unwavering individuals and the bands who play their venues do this for the love of live music. Live music is as much a part of our American culture and heritage as baseball. Its history actually precedes the advent of baseball, and it would be tantamount to a crime to stand by and watch our music venues die. Can you imagine trying to describe and explain to your grandchild the magic, the exhilaration, of seeing your favorite music artist perform and knowing that child may never know the joy of the live music experience?”
Keen decried a conservative-led effort to slash funding for the arts, which has had a corrosive effect on the state’s live music scene: “The recent years of pseudointellectual assault on music and the arts is shameful. As a result, and through no fault of our own, the vitality, the passion of making music by the people for the people might disappear. Close your eyes and open your hearts and think about your all-time favorite live music experience. Who would you be without that memory? You’ll find there is no substitute.”
Songbird Live from Cleburne, also supported the move: “I am hearing a chorus of professional musicians saying that they are in a hurry to get out of professional music. If you are not aware, the music business has always been very difficult. Making a living as never been a given, just because one decides to become a professional. For the lucky few who have the sufficient amount of talent and training, as well as organization skills, marketing skills, technological skills, and business savvy, the business still requires a few required ‘lucky breaks or fortuitous opportunities.’ Even still, this business is difficult for one to earn a living sufficient to support a family. Not to mention, traveling extracts a heavy toll on touring musicians.”
As if those challenges weren’t enough, the spectre of coronavirus has eroded the industry further, Songbird Live added: “Now that almost all of the performance opportunities have evaporated, due to the Coronavirus, the effort to maintain the necessary practice to perform professional music takes on an even greater burden. Consequently, this pandemic is driving many professional musician out of the business. Any help that congress can give the music presenter industry may make the difference in whether or not the music industry collapses.”
Floore’s Country Store, 502 Bar, The Mix, Limelight issued a joint statement in support of Williams’ move: “Led by Texans, SOS fortifies the future of independent venues, not only within our great State, but throughout the nation as a whole—a lifeline forged on the bedrock of just compensation from our Constitutions.”
Nutty Brown Amiptheatre, Graceland Grocery, Lone Star Jam and JJ’s Ampitheater in Austin also voiced support for the measure: “ I firmly believe that live music and the independent venues that host live music are as much a part of what we know to be Texan and American culture as anything else out there. We have been absolutely decimated by this pandemic. Unlike major corporations that operate airlines and cruise lines we are almost all small businessman trying to make it on own. I truly believe if those big corporations can receive help then we should be eligible for help as well. We don’t have anything near the advantages that they possess. It would be wonderful for our federal government to step up and help out this vital part of American culture.”
It’s not just music that is to be saved, but a considerable financial windfall stemming from the entertainment industry explained Music Venue Alliance of Texas: “Texas represents more than 800 small to mid-sized live music venues across the state. After being among the first businesses to close, and likely the last to reopen – legislation like RESTART and Save Our Stages (SOS) Acts are critical to industry survival. This is not just about salvaging arts, culture, and performance – this is about the bottom-line impact of almost 200,000 jobs and $9.6 billion in economic activity in Texas alone. We applaud Senator Cornyn and Congressman Williams for introducing the SOS Act in both the House and Senate. These pieces of legislation are the only real lifelines for our industry.”
Red River Cultural District issued a statement of support as well: “Austin is known as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World.’ We built this city on rock n roll and without dedicated disaster relief our live music venues, shuttered due to COVID-19, will close permanently by the end of the year. What is Austin’s culture and economy without Live Music? And what is our great Texas culture without the Texas two-step? Please support live music and Save Our Stages.
“Music is the soundtrack of many of our lives and sees us through the good times and the bad. Live music venues employ musicians, grow careers, and host festivals. Music economy drives cultural tourism, promotes livability and all the while drives growth for local service and hospitality jobs like restaurants, bars and hotels. We live in hard times, but music makes life better. Support Save Our Stages and dedicated funding for live music venues.”
In San Antonio, Paper Tiger said: “One of the most rewarding parts of running Paper Tiger is that you’re surrounded by people who love the work for the same reasons I do…virtually everyone in this industry undertakes this work despite the long hours, high stress, and low pay. There’s not many industries left in the world that work that way…where the only real motivation is making something beautiful & memorable. And we get to share that with the fans and the artists.”
Paper Tiger noted the innate challenge of being a musician, let alone one struggling to survive amid a pandemic that has resulted in the shuttering — temporary or otherwise — of venues.
“It was always a tough, marginally-profitable-at-best, high-risk business,” Paper Tiger said. “And this pandemic has put virtually every music venue in Texas at risk. It’s cliché-but-true: we were amongst the very first businesses to close, and we will surely be the last to reopen. The Save Our Stages Act gives independent venues like mine a fighting chance to survive…and to reopen our doors when the time is right…so we can get back to doing what we love to do.”
From Deep Ellum/Fair Park in Dallas, Double Wide loss of such venues is aking to losing a treasured natural resource: “These independent venues you would be saving are a home and breeding ground for up and coming artists, we are also a support system that helps build community. People gathering, sharing & creating music is an important part of our society. Texas is a travel destination known for its electrifying live music and good times, I would hate for the great state of Texas to lose such a wonderful resource if all music venues die.”
Billy Bob’s of Fort Worth also addressed the financial front, hinting at the economic implications of further closings: “The live music and entertainment industry fuels such a big part of the economy. It’s not just the performers – it’s thousands of bartenders and waitresses, chefs and waitstaff, customer service and security personnel, janitorial staff, ushers, ticket office staff and the list goes on. Live music venues – large and small – are the soul of many districts – and are the heartbeat for tourism in every community. Speaking for our venue, Billy Bob’s Texas, we are a driver for tourism in the Fort Worth Stockyards. Billy Bob’s, along with all other entertainment venues have been closed for 5 months, we’ve laid off nearly 200 loyal and longtime employees. This is revenue that is impossible to recoup. No matter how successful the future is, there are months of revenue that we will never regain.”
Warehouse Live in Houston related personal experience on the negative financial impact of the pandemic: “During the months of closure we furloughed employees, we have no rent relief, no tax relief, utilities to pay and all with no revenue coming in. We did receive grants and loans, but several months into the closure we have almost exhausted this. Our business is only successful if we can gather large groups of people, which is not feasible now or in the near future. Without assistance from our Federal Government, closure of our independent, small business is right around the corner.”
In McAllen, The Historic Cine El Rey Theatre added: “Woven together, Independent Venues form the core fabric that makes American culture unique. Collectively, our economic impact is extremely vital to a wide range of industries. Historically, the dividends paid out with our investment into the ARTS is priceless. The SOS Act will compound that investment by ensuring America’s most iconic and historical independent venues that have been on the cultural front lines continue their work. Work that, until the COVID-19 pandemic, was profitable, successful, and most importantly; essential to the human spirit.”
The Lowbrow Palace/Splendid Sun Productions noted the dwindling number of venues at its home base: “The Lowbrow Palace looks like it may be the last remaining independent music venue in the city of El Paso. It has been a staple in the local music scene providing local musicians and touring acts a platform for their art. We need the support that the SAVE OUR STAGES ACT could provide more than ever if want to continue serving our community.”
Williams’ expansive district stretches from Fort Worth to Austin.