The D.C. government last week launched a pilot program to gradually bring back live music.
Though six venues — City Winery, GALA Hispanic Theatre, Pearl Street Warehouse, the Kennedy Center, The Hamilton and Union Stage — will participate in the initiative, the city’s biggest concert promoter, I.M.P., chose not to apply on behalf of its trial of stalwart stages: The Anthem, 9:30 Club and Lincoln Theatre.
“This pilot is a maximum of 50 people in the room; the 9:30 Club is normally a capacity of 1,200 and The Anthem is 6,000,” I.M.P. spokeswoman Audrey Fix Schaefer told WTOP. “The only thing worse than being completely shuttered is to open partially. … It would be like saying a 20-story hotel can reopen, but they can only rent two rooms.”
Though it’s not cost-effective to staff a mostly empty building, Schaefer added that it doesn’t make financial sense to open a venue that relies on touring acts that aren’t touring.
“If you think of a band as our inventory, we have no access to our inventory,” Schaefer said. “They are staying home. … They wouldn’t want to get on a bus and travel to a town when they have to drive through 10 other towns that they normally would play.”
A number of high-profile acts have postponed indefinitely since March 11.
“This weekend would have been Nick Cave,” Scheafer said. “We were supposed to have Nathaniel Rateliff and Sturgill Simpson and Phantom Planet. … The list is so long, and I know that these artists are raring to go when it’s safe; I know that the people who have those tickets want to come see, but it’s got to be when it’s safe.”
When the venues reopen is anyone’s guess.
“Right now, we’re not permitted to open until there’s a vaccine,” Schaefer said. “Until that time, I’m sure people are not going to be coming out in droves into tight rooms. This is why it has been absolutely devastating to have no revenue, to have the enormous overhead and no vision into when we can be open.”
As such, Schaefer spearheaded the National Independent Venue Association, which is urging Congress to pass both the Save Our Stages Act and the RESTART Act.
“The only way that we can hold on is to get some federal support,” Schaefer said. “We do have a bill that’s on the floor of the House and the Senate, the Save Our Stages Act, but we need Congress to come together and come to the next COVID relief package. We were hoping that that would have been approved back in July.”
A recent study out of Chicago showed for every dollar spent at a small music venue, $12 of economic activity is generated for area businesses, restaurants and hotels.
“We did a survey probably four months ago that if the shutdown lasts six months or more and there’s no meaningful federal assistance, 90% of independent venues said that they feared that they would have to shutter forever,” Schaefer said. “Twins Jazz [and] 18th Street Lounge, they had to shut forever. It’s because it’s so expensive.”
Listen to the full conversation below.