Independent music venues face extinction amid virus shutdown

Published: Aug. 31, 2020 at 4:06 PM EDT
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(CNN) - Think of your favorite band. Imagine their biggest hit.

Now imagine you never heard that song, because the band never had a stage to start out on. That’s the harsh reality for musical artists emerging during this pandemic.

James Murphy, the lead singer of the Grammy-winning band LCD Soundsystem, says he owes his career to the decades he spent perfecting his craft in small independently run music venues.

“This is a kind of like natural ecosystem that can’t be built,” Murphy said. “It’s like a coral reef of venues. It’s like a natural national asset that if it goes away, it doesn’t come back.”

He was scheduled to play at Knockdown Center in Queens, New York in April. The gig has been postponed indefinitely.

“It’s really rough - there is no timeline on when we could reopen,” said Tyler Myers, executive director of Knockdown Center. “Our industry was the first to close and will be the last to reopen.”

Knockdown and nearly 3,000 other independent music venues have banded together to form the National Independent Venue Association.

The group, along with 600 other artists from Lady Gaga to Billy Joel, are calling on Congress to take action.

“We’re about to lose all of the Carnegie Halls of independent small music - all at once,” Murphy said.

NIVA has endorsed the Save Our Stages Act, a bi-partisan bill that would provide a 6-month grant to independent venues.

In Atlanta, Josh Antenucci runs Center Stage, another independent venue.

“This is where young artists grow up; this is where the young talent hones their skills,” he said.

He says he received a PPP loan, which has helped him stay afloat until now.

But with live events indefinitely on hold, he has no other source of revenue.

“There is no sustainable pivot for music like ours,” Antenucci said. “You can’t do live music to-go.”

NIVA estimates that independent music venues generate hundreds of thousands of related jobs, and 90% of venues say without federal assistance they won’t last 6 months.

“If we don’t have capital investors, if we don’t have a stock market supported business, how will we possibly continue to pay the bills?” Antenucci said.

Tobi Parks just opened her music venue, xBK in Des Moines, Iowa, before the pandemic shut her down.

“It’s not just hurting us and our venues, it’s hurting all the small businesses,” Parks said. “It’s hurting the pizza place that’s next door to me, the coffee shop that’s next door to me. It’s hurting the community.”

It was a dream years in the making, but she’s now looking at closing for good in just months. She said as a minority-led business owner, the prospect is heartbreaking.

“That’s why I’m fighting so hard, particularly for people like me who are a black queer woman,” Parks said. “It’s incredibly important to be able to maintain it and to continue on for the next generation of people to take my place.”

Copyright 2020 CNN Newsource. All rights reserved.

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