What's it Gonna' Take to Bring Back the Heartbeat of the City?
The NYC beat stays on pause. Live music on pause, live entertainment on Pause. Indoor Dining on Pause, Favorite Independent Venues on Pause, Musicians On Pause, Club Employees on Pause, Live Music Fans’ Life On Pause. What’s it gonna’ take to bring back the heartbeat of the city?
The pause on live music has devastated the New York music scene, as well as regional and local music scenes across the country. For the moment, New York and the nation’s largest city are holding steady as one of the few success stories in crushing the coronavirus curve. That’s the good news. However, as the original pandemic epicenter, the state and NYC were hit extremely hard on multiple fronts, crippling the lifeblood out of a city that never sleeps.
The NY Independent venues remain closed and the countless musicians and service workers they employ remain idle. What’s a Venue to do?
WHAT’S A VENUE TO DO? SAVE OUR STAGES!
“We’re stopping our businesses for the greater good,” Justin Kantor, co-founder and director of operations at Greenwich Village venue Le Poisson Rouge and vice president of NIVA (New York Independent Venues Association).
Entering six months since New York City went on Pause the independent venues remain closed and the countless musicians and service workers they employ remain idle. With no steady income or government financial assistance, many of the city’s cultural treasures and mainstays will be forced to shut their doors permanently for lack of funds to even pay rent. We ask again, What’s a Venue to do?
We caught up with Le Poisson Rouge founder Jason Kantor, who also serves as Vice President of NIVA for better insight into the ever-growing dire situation and top concerns of club owners. Here’s what he had to say.
“The venues are staying responsible and remaining closed. We are all waiting until it’s safe to reopen” says Kantor.” “We look to the industries that we always support and have incubated and, we look to the government for relief.”
The Safety Factor
New York requires a re-opening plan that includes the safety and social distancing protocols to be filed with the city and state before any venue is permitted to re-open. Most independent venues are on the small size where their already limited capacity becomes non-existent and unprofitable. Some exceptions – larger sized venues with multiple floors like The Cutting Room, Le Poisson Rouge and Elsewhere have the space to easily convert into social distancing venues complete with plexi-glass dividers.
What about air-ventilation. According to Cutting Room owner Steve Walter, “that’s an easy fix if you’re willing to upgrade and are able to purchase the required HVAC ventilation system (“The Murphy”). For us, it’s totally worth it and easily doable.”
The New York Independent Venues Association (NYIVA) was formed a few months ago to unify NY’s passionate and proud independent venue owners, operators, and presenters with the goal of securing the long term future of New York’s priceless live performance culture. There are currently two bills before Congress, The Save Our Stages Act and The ReStart Act, which could prove to be lifesavers for these venues and the performance industry.
It’s not too late to use your voice to join the Campaign. NIVA and NYIVA are in the final push to Save Our Stages. You can write your congressman by cllcking here
“The Governor (Cuomo) could come out and be a leader,” Justin Kantor
“We are not asking for a bail out. The venues are seeking temporary relief from eviction in order to keep their doors from shuttering for good until such time that it is safe,” says Kantor. “We want to make it safe and seamless for the businesses to reopen and to be a part of that conversation.”
The Value of the Independent Venue
Musicians and bands don’t start out playing in arenas. Theatrical shows don’t start on Broadway. Comedians don’t begin their routines at the major comedy clubs. They start out at the 200 and smaller capacity clubs on the neighborhood corner. Multi-Grammy award-winner and recent VMAs award-winner Lady Gaga began playing at clubs as the Bitter End and the Cutting Room, where she was first signed by a label. If that option is gone, it will do major damage to the careers of musician hopefuls, not to mention the music media, and change the entire music industry forever.
“Music is a major thread woven in the fabric of NYC, so we need to Save Our Stages now! I long for the days of stopping by the Cutting Room and seeing a drummer onstage who just played MSG the night before…THAT’S what makes this city so great!” – Maria Milito, on-air personality Q104.3 FM / IHeartRadio
A large part of income for a musician comes from being able to play live in support of their new album. Brooklyn’s hip hop/bluegrass hybrid sensation Gangstagrass just released a new album “No Time For Enemies“ to rock’n reviews. Yet, even with rave reviews and digital downloads, maximum exposure and income from album sales is hurting with no live performances.
“I know that as I see all my gigs and tours gone, its not just the experience for me and my fans that is disappearing, its the livelihood of venues and their staff, bookers, sound engineers, a whole web of interconnected livelihoods that is in crisis and needs support right now,” — Rench, Gangstagrass founder.
There Goes The Neighborhood
“We are the ‘central perk,’ the real value of the neigbhorhood” – Justin Kantor
The true value of the city’s Independent spaces is that they are the originator of the identity of the neighborhood, says Kantor. NYC iconic venues as SOB, Blue Note, LPR and the Cutting Room have been in the neighborhood for decades and “have staying power.” Restaurants come and go with the trends, he adds. We keep the neighborhood going. In many cases, these clubs have been the impetus to revitalized neighborhoods.
The Scenario Begs the Question, What’s Going to Replace Them?
According to Kantor, “it’s a catch-22. When the legendary club CBGB closed its doors forever, the whole East Village neighborhood changed its identity.
Developers will not be able to charge astronomical rents if the anchor (the venue) and personality of the neighborhood is gone. Nor will they want to build in that area any longer. The same holds true for restaurants, retail stores, etc.
The Save Our Stages Campaign
In July, two New York City councilmen formed the “CBGB’s Caucus” to support the city’s independent music venues. And last week, Senator Chuck Schumer held a press conference to announce his support for the Save Our Stages Act.
More than 1.5 million emails have gone to Congress through saveourstages.com asking legislators to help independent venues while they are forced to remain closed. More than 2,500 venues across America, from New York’s Bitter End to Tulsa’s Cain’s Ballroom to LA’s Troubadour – and everywhere in between – are at risk of shuttering forever. Neither the House-passed HEROES Act, nor the HEALS Act nor the Prioritized Pay Check Protection Program Act (P4 Act) address the needs of long-shuttered businesses like independent venues.
A recent Rolling Stone article describes the situation most perfectly, “The fate of the live-music industry — along with that of millions of other small businesses and unemployed Americans — remains up in the air now that both chambers of Congress have left Washington for their August recess without passing a new Covid-19 relief bill.”
“Music venues will be the last to open and the powers that be (as in feds, state, and city) need to figure something out very soon, or else it will all be lost. And that would be criminal!,” — Maria Milito
As a born-bred New Yorker who enjoys frequenting our independent venues and taking in live performance, and as one of the thousands of people who work with or in the music industry, this cause is extremely near and dear to my heart. Our lives are On Pause. Our independent venues are On Pause. Live Entertainment is On Pause. Our country is On Pause.
As quickly as many states allowed their business and restaurants to reopen, they are now returning to an “On Pause” phase as resurgence in the virus rears its ugly head. Then we have New York City, which has risen above the doom and gloom of the epicenter and rallied back to an under 1% COVID-19 infection rate for close to a month. Times Up Governor Cuomo. Times Up Mayor DeBlasio. Times Up Mr. President. Help the heartbeat of the city – our independent venues – and the music industry remain afloat. Help music fans remain Socially Sparked®. #SaveOurStages #ReStartAct #SociallySparked — Tweet us @sosparkednews @asparks01