AUSTIN, Texas — It's no secret that many businesses are struggling to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic – including one industry crucial to the culture of Austin.
Live music venues exist as spaces where groups of people can find an escape, huddled together in a communal space. But during a time when large gatherings and close proximity are discouraged, in-person concerts are basically impossible.
According to the National Independent Venue Association, about 90% of venues could close for good within six months. Now two lawmakers have introduced a bipartisan bill to try to stop that from happening.
On July 22, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) introduced the "Save Our Stages Act," which would provide Small Business Administration loans to live music venue operators affected by COVID-19. The grants would provide six months of financial support.
"Texas is home to a number of historic and world-class small entertainment venues, many of which remain shuttered after being the first businesses to close," Cornyn said. "The culture around Texas dance halls and live music has shaped generations, and this legislation would give them the resources to reopen their doors and continue educating and inspiring Texans beyond the coronavirus pandemic."
Austin's The Saxon Pub has been closed since mid-March. The iconic venue on South Lamar Boulevard has caution tape lining the front of the building to send the message that they're still closed.
"We miss our customers, and we miss our band members a lot," owner Joe Ables said.
Ables told KVUE that The Saxon Pub has done a few live-streamed music events, but they hope to have a crowd back enjoying the music once it's safe.
"You know, music venues out of business, that's not only their staff ... but all these musicians, all these musicians not making money. That's the thing," Ables said. "And all these young musicians have no place to start. And it just, you know, we'll have a big void in the whole industry. We are going to have a big void. There's no question because we've been closed so long. Everybody."
Ables said that The Saxon Pub isn't going anywhere, and they'll be okay in the end. But he's also worried about his fellow music venue owners.
"I think we will stay, and we'll stay closed until we need to open," Ables said. "I know we're going to see some venues, we already have seen some venues, shut down. And that's what's bothersome. That's why we can't drag our feet on any opportunity we have as far as grants or loans or whatever. Get it going. Because I know, I know they're not maybe as fortunate as we are."
The Save Our Stages Act would:
- Narrowly define independent live venue operators, promoters and talent representatives to prevent large, international corporations from receiving federal grant funding.
- Direct the SBA to make grants to eligible venues equal to the lesser of either 45% of operation costs from calendar year 2019 or $12 million.
- Allow the Small Business Administrator to issue supplemental grants in the future if funding remains available and applicants can demonstrate need.
- Permit recipients to use grants for costs incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Require recipients to return remaining funding after one year from the date of disbursement.
- Permit recipients to use grants for rent, utilities, mortgage obligations, PPE procurement, payments to contractors, regular maintenance, administrative costs, taxes, operating leases and capital expenditures related to meeting State, local or federal social distancing guidelines.
- Authorize the appropriation of $10 billion for the grant program.
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