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L. Kent Wolgamott: Music venues asking Congress to #SAVEOURSTAGES
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L. Kent Wolgamott: Music venues asking Congress to #SAVEOURSTAGES

Bourbon Theatre

The Bourbon Theatre marquee shares a reassuring memo with those who pass by on March 19.

The National Independent Venue Association, a recently formed group of more than 800 venues and promoters from around the country, has sent a letter — as well as a hashtag — to Congress in its lobby for government assistance in getting clubs and theaters through the coronavirus pandemic.

#SAVEOURSTAGES

It's pretty self-explanatory, but it's worth a story anyway.

America's entertainment venues — from the large arenas to the small clubs — were among the first to close their doors in March. And based on the plans various states have put forth for reopening their economies, those venues will be among the last businesses to resume.

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“Even once venues are permitted by the government to reopen, our industry will require months to return to usual schedules, due to the intricate and complicated process of artists’ planning, scheduling, and tour routing," NIVA wrote in an open letter to Congressional leaders last month. "Further, capacity limitations and other restrictions will likely inhibit our ability to fully recover for years.”

The Bourbon Theatre, one of three Lincoln NIVA members, provides a perfect example of the impact of the forced shutdown on venues. The largest downtown venue with a regular slate of concerts has had 46 shows canceled or postponed, which equates to about 150 bands not taking its stage. Its summer calendar is empty and the fall schedule is facing uncertainty.

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So hundreds of musicians, along with countless crew members for the touring bands and venue techs, security, box office personnel and bartenders are unemployed and thousands of dollars aren’t coming into the local economy.

Bodega’s Alley and the Lincoln Calling music festival are the other Lincoln members of NIVA along with Mammoth, the Lawrence, Kansas, promotion company that has close ties to the Capital City via the Bourbon and by booking shows at Pinewood Bowl and Pinnacle Bank Arena.

They join Omaha’s The Waiting Room and Slowdown in the group that includes iconic venues across the country, such as L.A.’s Troubadour and Whisky A Go-Go.

Specifically, NIVA is asking Congress for modifications in the Paycheck Protection Program by providing separate funds for businesses that are completely closed in accordance with government-mandated social distancing guidelines and are severely distressed. If that can't happen, NIVA is requesting the creation of a separate program for those businesses.

It is also seeking tax relief, extended unemployment insurance for employees and forbearance of mortgage and rent.

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In Lincoln, most of the venues that offer live music have resorted to selling off-sale beer, carry-out cocktails and some special food offerings while waiting for the restrictions to be loosened. The hope is that allows them to make enough money to keep the doors open until live music returns.

Others, most notably the Bourbon and The Royal Grove, exist primarily to present concerts and host other large gatherings. A loosening of restrictions to allow bars to operate will provide some benefits for the bigger rooms as they would be well-suited to holding socially distanced shows for local bands. But those couldn’t make up for the lost national touring shows that might not be returning for months.

And the promoters, well, they’re pretty much out of business until the tours can return, perhaps in the fall — and maybe not until a vaccine is available, likely in early 2021.

The government assistance would allow the businesses to survive and recover — it’s sure to be a slow return for shows and, it has to be assumed, audiences will follow suit. That will keep live music alive, which is both an economic driver and a cultural imperative.

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The venues are enlisting public support for the lobbying efforts, asking those who want to support the push for government assistance to go to the NIVA website and complete a form that will be sent to senators and representatives.

“We can’t pick up or deliver live music to your doorstep,” the Bourbon Theatre’s Andrea Fabiano wrote on Facebook. “There is nothing like live music. We need your voice now more than ever. Please help us take action. Until we can all lean against a barricade, sweat in a mosh pit, dance with a friend and sing along, we will keep asking for your emphatic support while we wait for an encore.”

A bit of advice, based on my experience in Washington D.C., a letter, email or phone call is taken more seriously by members and staff than any form-based communication. So if you intend to support the NIVA proposal, take the time to personally contact Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse and ask them to #SAVEOURSTAGES.

Photos: Lincoln during the pandemic

Reach the writer at 402-473-7244 or kwolgamott@journalstar.com. On Twitter @KentWolgamott  

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Entertainment reporter/columnist

L. Kent Wolgamott, the recipient of the 2018 Mayor’s Arts Award, has written about arts and entertainment for Lincoln newspapers since 1985, reviewing thousands of movies and concerts and hundreds of art exhibitions.

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