Many local concert venues, like The Big Dipper, have struggled due to the effects of the  pandemic on the concert industry.

The concert industry has suffered some of the biggest losses of the pandemic, and an industry that was expected to bring in $28.83 billion in 2020, according to Statista, is a tough industry to lose.

Unfortunately, mosh pits, close contact and belting the lyrics to the words being sung on stage are all huge “no's" at a time like this. While iconic venues around the country have temporarily closed their doors, the question of when their doors can reopen still remains unanswered and the fight for survival continues. 

A number of different legislations specifically providing aid to the concert industry have been halted since Congress took it’s break. The RESTART Act, a bipartisan bill introduced in May, would expand eligibility for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans to event venues.

Since the original PPP expired in August with $130 billion in unclaimed funds remaining, frustrations have grown for those who depend on the concert industry for their livelihoods. 

One local business that has unfortunately already taken action is The Pin, that permanently closed their doors in August according to a post on their Facebook. 

“We have had the best time with you the last few years. We are devastated to announce that we are closing our doors permanently due to the current state of the world, and the unpredictable time before we would be allowed to open our doors again," said The Pin in a Facebook closure announcement. 

The Pin is not the only venue feeling the effects of COVID-19. A statewide COVID-19 relief program, Keep Music Live,  is currently working to provide $10 million in aid to small, independent music venues across Washington.

A study by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) found that without assistance, 90% of indie venues, those with under 1,000 maximum capacity, could cease to exist by 2021. Keep Music Live hopes to reverse these effects by keeping small venues alive through small loans, which would, in turn, drive revenue for their surrounding businesses up. 

OVG Media and Conferences President Ray Waddell conducted a state of the industry survey, to which 54.8% of venue respondents said they believe the industry will return to full capacity by 2021. This gives hope for venue owners as they struggle with keeping doors open, but unfortunately provides no immediate relief.

“We’ll be back to normal by July,” said Brian Ritter, general manager of Fox Theatre.

“It’s tough,” Ritter said. “We still have bills to pay without any shows. We still have to pay the electricity. It’s rough. We’re fortunate that we have good community support and some generous supporters. We’re good until the end of the year thanks to the PPP.”

But not all venue owners agree with Waddell and Ritter on the fate of the live music industry.

“Me personally, and I’m a concertgoer, I’d be hesitant to sit in a crowded theatre without some sort of treatment available,” said Sheryl Stone, a producer and talent buyer at Spokane's Bing Crosby Theatre.

While she wants concerts, and life, to return to normal, she understands the fears and concerns customers would have regarding large events. 

“It’s hard to know what will happen since there is no vaccine,” Stone said. “I think we have to look at what will work in 2021 and beyond. Look at what happened recently in Connecticut with Warren Haynes. He sold out [five] shows in front of fans in pods.” 

These shows were bought out by fans securing 8 foot by 8 foot grid spaces that were socially distant. While it limits the amount of people allowed to attend a live show, it is a change current music venues are considering implementing. In a time where frustration with Congress’ lack of assistance continues to grow, music venues are willing to try anything to get their doors back open. 

Scott Hammontree, owner of The Intersection, spends his days calling Washington and advocating for them to fight harder for federal assistance.

"This isn't a partisan issue,” Hammontree said. “Everyone likes to go to concerts and forget about our problems."

The Intersection is now taking an even bigger hit, as he says his customers have already bought all the venue-themed shirts they can. 

Selling venue-themed merchandise and packages helped keep some venues afloat, but is an unrealistic long-term way to maintain operation.

NIVA argues that “federal intervention is the key to keeping these venues afloat until the virus is under enough control to allow for live music,” and that Congress is disappointing it’s citizens by neglecting to do more. 

One big issue local venues face is the threat of large corporate promoters like Live Nation or venture capital firms trying to buy them out. Similar to what happened with mom-and-pop farms, indie venues are being offered a way out of the debts they have acquired from the coronavirus by selling their venues.  

“You can’t serve artists and fans if money is the main driver,” Hammontree said.

He believes the homogenization of live music is what will damage the industry’s culture more than anything. 

While the fate of local venues is unknown, it is crucial that we support them while we can.

“For many people, The Pin was the first time stepping on a stage as an artist, first time experiencing a concert, a memory of seeing your favorite artist up close and personal,” owners of The Pin said in their final Facebook post.

Local venues are a significant part of a town or city’s identity and are one part of entertainment society can’t stand to lose.

Sydney Fluker is a staff writer.

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