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Top acts support federal relief for independent concert venues

(The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

The Ottobar in Baltimore, one of 20 independent venues in Maryland that is part of a national campaign to obtain federal relief because of the economic impact of the coronavirus. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Several popular performers have signed a letter to Congress on behalf of an umbrella group advocating for independent music venues, including 20 in Maryland, asking lawmakers to approve federal funds to keep those concert spaces afloat amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The letter, sent on behalf of the National Independent Venue Association and shared with news media on Wednesday, calls on the federal government to protect spaces that benefit “America’s largest economic export.” Performers urged Congress to support the RESTART Act, which alters the Paycheck Protection Program to provide forgivable loans to businesses completely shuttered by the COVID-19 outbreak with no timeline to reopen.

“We are asking you to support NIVA’s request for assistance so these beloved venues can reopen when it’s safe and welcome us and our fans back in. The collapse of this crucial element in the music industry’s ecosystem would be devastating,” according to the letter.

If these spaces remain closed for six months without assistance, according to NIVA, 90% of the nation’s independent music venues will close for good. That means a lot fewer live entertainment venues to choose from for the 53% of U.S. residents NIVA said attended a concert in 2019.

The letter was signed by musical luminaries including the band Foo Fighters, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, Mavis Staples, and Catonsville-native David Byrne, of the Talking Heads.

Maryland venues that joined NIVA include Ottobar, Rams Head venues, Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club, and Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Music venues remain among the businesses hardest hit by the outbreak of the new coronavirus.  One of the biggest challenges facing these mostly indoor venues, with little ability to accommodate social distancing, is the uncertainty about when they’ll reopen.

The venues also face challenges other struggling sectors don’t, because their revenues depend on a product that can’t be delivered to a customer’s door or picked up curbside.

Owners of local concert venues said customers have stepped up to make donations and bought merchandise to help support furloughed employees.

“It’s a drop in the bucket to what we were doing business-wise, but it became very apparent that the venue means a lot to people, and that they’re willing to go out of their way to support it and the staff,” Ottobar owner Tecla Tesnau told The Daily Record earlier this month.

But venue operators also said they’ll need more formal help if they’re going to stay afloat as the nation and state continue to struggle in keeping COVID-19 in check.

States have started loosening restrictions that closed most businesses after being enacted in March to halt the spread of the virus in the U.S. As those regulations have lifted, however, new cases of the illness have surged in several states.

That’s particularly true in states such as Texas, Florida and Arizona, which implemented the lightest restrictions and reopened the quickest.

More than 65,300 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in Maryland since early March. In the past seven days the state recorded a median of 330 new cases a day. Nearly 3,000 residents have died from the illness, with the median number of daily deaths in the past week reaching 16.

At the same time nearly 800,000 Maryland residents have lost their jobs in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, which pushed the state’s unemployment rate last week to nearly 10%.


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