Club owner: ‘Possibly between life or death’ on COVID-19 music relief bill

U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX) filed the “Save Our Stages Act” in Washington on Wednesday, which would create Small Business Administration grants for independent live music venue operators across the country affected by COVID-19 closures.

The live music industry was one of the first to close due to COVID-19 and could be one of the last to fully reopen.

"You can’t sugar coat it, for performing artists, musicians, anybody who needs an audience in order to feel ‘the thing’ they need to feel in order to perform it’s devastating," said Minneapolis-native John Munson, a musician.

Before Munson took the national stage with groups including Semisonic, whose hit “Closing Time,” remains on the radio, he played “The Cameo” inside First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis.

"So great and so supportive of the scene and always have been and still are,” Munson said. “That’s what makes First Ave ‘tick,’ it’s the people."

First Avenue is one of more than 30 Minnesota music venues that are part of the Save Our Stages campaign in Minnesota; the club has been closed due to COVID-19.

"When the lights are off, and the stage is dark, it’s pretty crushing," said Ashley Ryan with First Avenue. “We’re really part of a fabric of the community, it’s not just us."

The $10 billion dollar grant program would help the nation’s smaller live music venues and those connected to the industry with COVID-19 losses, including rent and employee pay, according to Klobuchar’s office.

The bill is backed by the National Independent Venue Association, which represents 2,000 independent live venues and promoters and said the industry stands to lose $9 billion in just ticket sales alone if COVID-19 closures continue through the end of 2020.

National Independent Venue Association

"Music is one of those things that unifies us, that really becomes a shared experience, through every demographic in the country, imagine being without that what your life would be like without that," said Lowell Pickett, co-owner of The Dakota in Minneapolis.

Pickett said previous COVID-19 relief measures this spring for business owners weren’t specifically targeted to the critical needs of the live music industry that mostly remains shuttered with an unknown fate.

“It’s the possibly between life or death, I know that sounds dramatic but it’s absolutely accurate,” said Pickett.

If the local clubs are gone after COVID-19, Muson says the music just won’t sound and feel the same.

"I know performing artists and musicians are just dying to get back on those stages,” Munson said.

The bill has bipartisan support in Congress.