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Concert Venues Join National Effort Seeking Help Saving Their Industry

Crowd shot at Zanzabar during "We Are Louisville" event.
Jonese Franklin
Crowd shot at Zanzabar during "We Are Louisville" event.

More than 1,000 independent music venues across the country have teamed up to lobby federal lawmakers to help their industry through the pandemic. 

The National Independent Venue Association, or NIVA, which includes nearly 30 Kentucky venues and concert promoters, was established in April in response to the COVID-19 pandemic's financial impact on the live music industry. 

“Not only are we not earning anything, as shows cancel,” Billy Hardison of Louisville-based promotion company Production Simple and NIVA’s precinct captain for the state of Kentucky, said. “We're refunding tickets, so we're going backwards.” Hardison is former marketing and special events coordinator at Louisville Public Media.

The members of NIVA have been lobbying Congress to make changes to the federal relief package. 

“We quickly realized, as the PPP (Payroll Protection Program) started rolling out that it didn't fit our industry,” he said. “We knew we didn't have a large enough voice separately, but together…if we had a collective voice, we knew that's what it needed to get all the way to Washington.”

On April 22, NIVA sent a letter to Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, laying out their case. They requested changes, such as re-evaluating the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program, modifying it for industries that are entirely shuttered and will be so for a long time. 

Hardison said they’ve asked for an extension on the current eight-week period for covering payroll and facility expenses, especially after growing concern from some political and industry leaders that concerts and festivals might not be able to safely resume in some parts of the country until fall 2021 or until there’s a vaccine. 

According to a NIVA member survey, 90 percent of the nation’s independent concert venues will close indefinitely if they don’t host shows in 2020. NIVA board president and owner of First Avenue in Minneapolis Dayna Frank told Rolling Stone that, “there is legitimate fear for our collective existence.” 

NIVA has also asked Congress to increase PPP’s loan cap and to “do away with the percentage breakdown to make it forgivable,” Hardison said. 

PPP requires that 75% of the loan go to payroll and 25% may be used for expenses like mortgage, rent or utilities for it to be forgiven. 

“We need this forgivable,” Hardison said. “We are small companies…and we don't have any work for bartenders, sound engineers, ticket takers, security personnel [right now].”

Additional requests include a business recovery fund for businesses that have to stay closed, a continuing expansion on unemployment eligibility and some tax relief for the industry.

“A big thing was all the tickets that are having to be refunded to be considered distressed inventory for tax credit,” Hardison said. 

As the precinct captain, Hardison has been working with venues like Zanzabar in Louisville, RiverPark Center in Owensboro and The Burl in Lexington, helping them hone their messages to local, state and federal political leaders about why this industry is worth keeping alive. They sent their own letter to Kentucky state delegation on Tuesday.

“Beyond the fact that just because these are people's livelihoods...but their effect on the community, being neighborhood anchors for direct and indirect economic impact,” he said.