'Save Our Stages': Entertainment venues across Bay Area, US try to drum up federal support amid pandemic

North Bay Congressman Mike Thompson sponsored two bills to help save entertainment venues -- the Saves Our Stages Act and the RESTART Act.

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Thursday, September 17, 2020
Entertainment venues across Bay Area try to drum up federal support
"Save Our Stages" is the ongoing plea from indie music venues around the Bay Area and the country for federal support amid risk of closing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- "Save Our Stages" is the ongoing plea from owners and employees of independent music venues around the Bay Area and the country for federal funding to provide relief amid the coronavirus pandemic.

There are fears the coronavirus could put an end to these beloved entertainment spaces, which have been closed since the shelter-in-place began in March.

On Wednesday, ABC7 News met at Joel Nelson's Los Gatos home. He and his band were streaming their jam sessions over social media.

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This scene has become a weekly norm for Nelson, the owner of The Catalyst in Santa Cruz. "It started with me on piano, and then I brought a drummer," he explained. "And tonight I brought a full band."

All musicians were getting down on Nelson's home deck. This brought a brief distraction from reality.

According to a recent survey by the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), 90% of owners, promoters and bookers said they'll have to close permanently within the next few months if they don't get federal aid.

"We did get a little assistance from the PPP loan," Nelson shared with ABC7 News. "But of course, for people like us who can't open, it's really hard for us to use that money because we don't have anything for our employees to do."

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He continued, "That money is helping us pay rent. We're still paying rent keep The Catalyst open. We're doing our best to do everything to keep it open."

It's the reason North Bay Congressman Mike Thompson sponsored two bills, vital to these venues -- the Save Our Stages Act and the RESTART Act.

"If these venues don't get the funding needed, it could be catastrophic for the music industry and the entertainment industry as a whole," Joanne Desmond said.

Desmond is the assistant business agent for IATSE Local 16. She explained the impacts reach far beyond just owners and musicians.

Desmond said the shutdown is hurting more than 2,000 Local 16 stagehand union members alone.

"I'll use an event like Outside Lands which Another Planet Entertainment does, which is quite a popular event in the Bay Area," she told ABC7 News. "We staff over 400 jobs from just Local 16 on that event alone."

She continued, "That is not including food vendors, beer vendors, t-shirt vendors, security, teamsters to unload drayage and freight. The people that travel with the band..."

Of course, people hope to still be employed once the pandemic is over.

"I canceled probably, at this point, maybe over 100 events that were scheduled for 2020," Nelson said.

"I feel so sorry for my employees. Luckily, there is unemployment. The extra $600, that helped them tremendously," he continued. "When that ended, it really become a problem for a lot of my employees."

Desmond added, "The extra $600 was a lifeline, and that's gone now. And we're just not seeing any movement by the Senate to help the workers out."

Nelson said The Catalyst employees more than 60 people, including bouncers, bartenders, cleaners and more.

"There's so much to make it happen. All the booking people, people who run the club, so there's a whole army that it takes to keep it going."

Nelson anticipates The Catalyst will make it out of the pandemic, but added, "For other smaller clubs, it's going to be hard. I hear a lot of clubs are not able to make it because they can't pay the rent with no income."

"We don't expect any work - if we're lucky - until mid-2021," Desmond said. "Depending on vaccines and whatever else happens. And if you lose these venues, if these venues are forced to be shuttered, you lose your entertainment outlet. Music and entertainment is what sustains us as people."

Desmond also pointed to impacts sustained by surrounding businesses.

"These venues are closed. They still have to pay PG&E to keep the lights on, they still have to pay for insurance. They have to keep the skeletal staff, if they're fortunate. And there is zero revenue coming in," she said. "None of the surrounding businesses are able to thrive from that, too. All the restaurants, bars, parking lot attendants, they're all hurting too. So it's a huge trickle-down effect."

Both Nelson and Desmond are urging people to encourage lawmakers to step up and support both bills.

"Encourage those representatives to support the Restart Act and the Save Our Stages Act. That's pivotal," Desmond shared. "And you also can't look at this in a vacuum. It's not just like one guy getting a handout, it's communities you are saving."

ABC7 News has reached out to North Bay Congressman Mike Thompson's office for comment, but have not heard back.

ABC7 News also reached out to Grateful Dead co-founder Bob Weir, as he and Thompson joined Desmond and others during a Tuesday virtual press conference on the subject. Weir has not responded for comment.

For more information about Save Our Stages and for help contacting your lawmakers, visit this page.

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