Published Together: Indie venues working hard to make sure the show can go on with #saveourstages

Will you take a minute and go back with me to your last live concert? Can you remember the crowd, the sounds, the smells? Can you still feel the emotions that you felt? How exhilarated you felt as you were leaving the show? Hold onto those memories as long and as hard as you can, because if concert venues here in Grand Rapids and throughout the country do not get aid from our government, the opportunities to experience that again will be few and far between.

A live concert is a place where we are all able to come together for a moment in time, whether it is to escape our everyday struggles or to celebrate a special moment with friends. As a partner/talent buyer for The Intersection here in Grand Rapids, there is nothing more gratifying for me than seeing our venue filled with people bobbing their heads and waving their hands to the music coming from the band on stage. I don’t care if it is thrash metal or hip-hop, country or jam, electronic or pop – I immediately get the chills.

Grand Rapids is a shining example of the wide variety of venues that exist in cities throughout the country. The City of Grand Rapids and Experience Grand Rapids market this to help draw in the thousands of tourists that, while in town for a show, frequent our bars, restaurants, retail stores, hotels, and use our transportation services.

A Chicago Loop Alliance economic impact study showed that every $1.00 spent on a concert ticket results in an additional $12 spent in local economies at surrounding businesses. In Michigan alone, the 66 charter members of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) have more than a $600M impact per year on the economy and directly employ nearly 2,500 people in our state. If you include the artists that grace our stages, the number of jobs we help support is well over 100,000.

Today our venues remain closed and our staff members are all furloughed. At The Intersection alone we went from over 65 employees to zero in three weeks. Live events provide 75% of all artists’ income and that income is currently non-existent. When the Coronavirus pandemic hit, our venues were among the first to close and will absolutely be the last to reopen. Although live streams and other forms of entertainment have emerged as a result of the pandemic, there is no true replacement for the live music experience, and as a result, many of us face the reality of hundreds of thousands of dollars in refunds to our customers because of postponed or cancelled shows.

The indefinite hiatus affecting live music is likely to extend into 2021 and beyond as indoor concert venues are situated to be amongst the last of local businesses to re-open. We want to resume live concerts in our venues when it is safe to do so and with proper guidelines so that we can do our part to bring our community back to pre-COVID levels of safety and economic sustainability. Unfortunately for us, doing business on a reduced level isn’t as viable as it is for many other businesses, and only when it is safe to resume our business at full capacity will we be able to begin to put back together what so many in this community have helped to build over the years.

Currently, instead of booking, coordinating, and managing the over 300 concerts we do at The Intersection on an annual basis, my days mostly consist of working side-by-side with venues here in Grand Rapids and throughout the country as a proud member of our NIVA organization.

Together, there are more than 2400 independent venues working hard to educate our House of Representatives and Senate, urging them to pass meaningful aid for our shuttered businesses. Typically, our industry is among the last to ask for help, but without meaningful legislation and aid, it is estimated that up to 90% of independently owned concert venues will close as a result of the pandemic – for good. Let that sink it for a minute because every time I say it, I have to fight back tears. These venues that are part of NIVA’s coalition are amazing, diverse, community-minded businesses that are run by thoughtful, caring, and hardworking people. I have had the pleasure of meeting more of my counterparts from around the country in the last four months than I ever thought I would. They care about their businesses, just like I do, but more importantly (just like I am), they are distraught knowing what might happen to our employees financially as the Federal Unemployment is likely to be taken away and we do not have jobs for them to return to.

Almost every artist you see on TV, listen to on radio, or catch headlining a festival started their careers playing small, independent clubs. Venues like ours will always play a vital role in the development of tomorrow’s superstars in the music industry, but most importantly, venues like ours will always play a role in those memories that will last a lifetime for you, your family, your friends, and your community.

I compare it to working your way up in a company to then be VP or President of a department. I started at The Intersection working in production and over 17 years have invested my blood, sweat, and tears and became a partner here in 2010. I have seen more amazing shows on our stages than I probably deserve to. Many of our employees have been here for a large part of those 17 years and The Intersection as whole is a family and a huge part of my life. Our employees, customers, business partners, and artists immediately become a part of our family.

We are asking our US Senators and Congressional Representatives to support the RESTART ACT and the SAVE OUR STAGES ACT. Both would provide the aid for us to get to the other side of this and allow us to open our venues when it is safe to do so. Our time is running out. Please go to saveourstages.com and fill out the form – it takes 30 seconds. If our venues do not get consideration from this current legislative session, our stages will go dark, guest lists will be empty, bands won’t tour, and only our memories will take us back to that one show.

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Scott Hammontree is the General Manager, Partner, and Talent Buyer for the Intersection in Grand Rapids.

Photo courtesy Scott Hammontree.
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