DMV entertainment venues to light up Tuesday night for pandemic Red Alert

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews Red Alert Restart

If you see red lights outside D.C. concert venues Tuesday night, don’t be alarmed.

On second thought, be alarmed! Our entertainment venues are barely hanging on.

The North American coalition We Make Events is hosting Red Alert RESTART, inspired by a UK event that lit up 715 buildings and a barge on the Thames River.

“We’re doing that here in America, but bigger,” director Brad Nelms told WTOP. “We’re going to have at least 1,500 buildings or structures lit up all across the country. We have 53 regional teams working diligently in their local markets to make this a really eye-opening event to show the scope of our industry and how much we’re hurting.”

That includes here in D.C., where landmark venues are participating.

“We’ve got a number of confirmed venues across the DMV,” regional director Justin Lang told WTOP. “Downtown, we’re looking at the National Theatre, Warner Theatre, Shakespeare [Theatre], we’re talking with The Anthem. One of the most iconic ones in the National Harbor area is the National Harbor ferris wheel is going to light up red.”

The campaign kicks off with a rally on the National Mall from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“We’re going to have industry leaders, we’ve invited some politicians,” Lang said. “Then from 8 to 10 p.m. we’re going to have the Silent Stage. …  All of our brethren [will] stand at attention with socially distanced face masks, of course, with red lights to show Congress just how many people are affected by this.”

If you’d like to attend, be sure to download an app to turn your phone red.

“We’re asking people to take as many pictures and videos as they can and share them on social media and tag us,” Nelms said. “Please include our hashtags: #WeMake Events, #RedAlertRestart and #ExtendPUA and then also #SaveOurStages.”

After dark, the venues will throw the switch with red lights.

“Some of the buildings have red LED architectures or RGB-mixing LED fixtures already installed,” Lang said. “There’s [other] buildings that of course don’t, so we partnered with a number of production houses … that rent gear. They’ve donated thousands of dollars of gear and labor to go around to these venues and help light them up red.”

The red lights will shine a light on all of the folks affected by the pandemic. Concert cancellations don’t just affect wealthy rock stars — it trickles down to sound companies, lighting companies, concession stand vendors, parking attendants and security teams.

“We used to say that if we do our jobs right, nobody knows that we exist,” Nelms said. “Now we have this problem that no one knows we exist. … Our backs are up against the wall, people are on the verge of bankruptcy and homelessness. … All they want to do is get back to work and be able to take care of themselves and feed their families.”

The numbers are staggering when it comes to economic impact.

“The live events industry encompasses around 12 million people,” Nelms said. “Over 95% of live events have been canceled due to COVID-19, 96% of companies have cut staff/wages, 77% of people in the live events industry have lost 100% of their income. And of that, 97% of the 1099 workers in that pool also have lost 100% of their income.”

The National Independent Venue Association told WTOP last month that 90% of venues will have to permanently close in a few months without federal assistance.

One tangible goal is urging Congress to pass the RESTART Act for small businesses.

“[It’s] relief funding for small businesses by way of PPP and EIDL loans and grants,” Nelms said. “What is special about the RESTART Act [is] the lack of restrictions, so there’s a lot more flexibility about how much money you can get, how long you have to use it, how long it will last, what you have to be able to do to pay it back or not.”

They’re also urging Congress to pass the Save Our Stages Act.

“There is an unfortunate hole in the RESTART Act that Save Our Stages addresses, which has to do with some nonprofit venues and things and how the language is written,” Nelms said. “So, that is a nice filler that picks up anybody that’s missed.”

In addition, they want an extension of PUA and FPUC relief funding.

“We have all these displaced workers that are unfortunately not employed,” Nelms said. “PUA and FPUC are the mechanisms that allow the additional $600 a week for people on unemployment and that allow 1099 workers access to unemployment.”

Congress is back in session Sept. 8, so they hope to create buzz all this week.

“We can use this as a kickoff to the messaging and come in with a really strong force and generate a lot of content and ammunition, including a bunch of celebrity spots,” Nelms said. “There’s 30 or 40 of them that we’re going to release over the coming days and weeks; just generate all of this stuff to go bombard congressional leadership.”

It’s an impressive movement for an entirely grassroots campaign.

“We Make Events North America is an organization that’s really nothing official,” Nelms said. “The UK event happened on a Tuesday, and the next morning, a Wednesday, there is a weekly virtual happy hour that happens with a bunch of industry folks, largely lighting people, and we said, ‘Wow, this is really cool. We should do this.'”

That Friday, nine volunteers formed a committee to plan the Red Alert Restart.

“In 14 days, we have taken inspiration from the UK [and] turned it into what is now in over 50 cities with regional teams,” Nelms said. “Our current count of confirmed participating venues is 708. … We’re close to 5,000 people. … So it’s gone from literally nothing to this massive event that is a freight train moving down the tracks.”

In the end, it’s all about easing the pain of so many in the industry.

“We want them to see that our industry is hurting,” Lang said. “That’s why it’s called Red Alert Restart, because we’re in red alert here. A lot of our industry brethren are hurting and on the brink of bankruptcy and we need help. … We’re not coming back until early 2021. There are people asking for assistance and we’re not getting it.”

Listen to our full conversation.

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