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My View: A glimmer of hope for independent venues

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By Samuel Orazem EBS Contributor

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues and the prospect of further shutdowns looms over the country, people have slowly forgotten how integral certain activities used to feel. For me, one of those bygone pastimes is attending concerts.

Unfortunately, for those who own and work at music venues around Montana, the cancellation of nearly all live music performances is far more impactful than simply needing to find a new weekend hobby.

The live music industry has erupted in the past few decades as musicians and labels sought a suitable replacement for the revenue lost by the waning popularity of CDs. Montanans have been fortunate enough to share in the industry’s explosive growth with a number of new venues cropping up across the state. The pandemic, however, has stopped that momentum in its tracks.

Montana’s live music scene is comprised almost entirely of venues that are, in every sense of the term, small, locally owned businesses. These independent outfits lack the capital to survive an extended loss in revenue along with the ability to lobby the federal government for stimulus relief without substantial grassroots mobilization.

In March, the National Independent Venue Association was formed to advocate for the interests of smaller venues across the U.S. as they attempt to weather the storm. NIVA currently has 1,300 members, including 25 in Montana and five in Bozeman, as well as the locally based Arts Council of Big Sky.

In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, NIVA’s President Dayna Frank said the future of small, indy venues is uncertain. “In surveys,” Frank said, “we’ve found many venues aren’t sure if they can operate beyond six months.” That number, as high as 90 percent when polled in early May, paints a dire picture for the future of the recently booming industry since the return of concerts before 2021 appears increasingly unlikely.

NIVA has endorsed two pieces of federal legislation, the Save our Stages and the RESTART Acts, both of which would provide funding to its members. The Save our Stages Act was introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX) and focuses specifically on independent music venues. The RESTART Act is a broader piece of legislation introduced by Michael Bennett (D-CO) and Todd Young (R-IND) that would provide funding to other hard-hit small businesses, such as bars and restaurants.

With negotiations over a second round of stimulus funding still in full swing as of press day on Aug. 12, time is of the essence to ensure that independent, Montana music venues can survive the pandemic.

It’s easy to think that funding for luxuries like concerts is inessential as looming concerns like evictions, unemployment benefits and direct stimulus dominate the news cycle. However, these venues should be included in the discussion about supporting small businesses alongside retail shops, bars and restaurants.

The shuttering of independents venues is an imminent threat to both Montana workers and small business owners. Furthermore, if these venues are not given the support they desperately need, the things we most look forward to after the pandemic, including live music, will not be there for us to enjoy.

Visit nivassoc.org/take-action to voice your support for independent music venues.

Samuel Orazem is a political science student at UCLA with a passion for music, its contributions to cultural development, and its potential to empower social and political mobilization.

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