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Fight to Save Our Stages

Posted at 9:21 PM, Oct 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-22 23:15:30-04

COLUMBIA, Md. — Some of the $250 million state funding announced by Gov. Larry Hogan will go towards an industry that has felt forgotten during the pandemic.

$20 million is secured for entertainment venues and another $3 million for county arts organizations and local arts.

At this point we don’t how that money will be divided up.

What we do know is that without help there’s a good chance the live concert experience will not exist when this pandemic ends.

An entire year of revenue is already lost at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Empty seats, lost memories and a summer staff of 1,300 employees cut to 11.

It’s difficult for Audrey Fix Schaefer to even meet up for this interview and see how empty the venue is.

“To come here and it be so silent, I stood there and I could hear nature and nothing else,” Fix Schafer said. “Normally that would be a beautiful sound. Now it’s just a lonely sound.”

Even the large venues are mostly owned by small businesses.

They are shutting down for good across the country.

“They are the entrepreneurs that America says it loves,” Fix Schaefer said. “The owners are the people who believe so much in their business and have always been able to make a go of it on their own without any assistance. “

When Congress passed the Payroll Protection Program or PPP it didn’t help independent venues.

The premise is to use the money to hire employees back and pay them.

“I wish we could hire our employees back,” said Schaefer. “We’ve furloughed more than 95% of ours because we’re shut down. There’s nothing for them to do so we had to furlough them. Which means we can’t participate in that program unless we wanted to take on more debt and at a time like this that’s the exact wrong thing to do.”

Merriweather is a member of the National Independent Venue Association or NIVA.

There are about 2800 members across the country.

They are advocating for the “Save our Stages Act”

Right now, as an outdoor concert venue, they can open up with 175 fans in attendance.

They would lose a lot of money if they did that.

“It would be like telling a hotel that’s 20 stories tall, you can open but just rent out two rooms. Doesn’t make sense.”

Even though the 18,000 person venue is empty and will be for the foreseeable future, the bills still have to get paid.

A nationwide survey of venue owners from across the country found that if Federal assistance doesn’t come in the next few months 90% of venues will have to close.

Cathy DiToro is a career musician whose lost her job because of the pandemic.

More than the money she misses the connection.

“This is the time where we need that more than ever,” DiToro said. “We gotta keep these venues going so that when we can all get back together we can connect in that beautiful way that live music connects people.”

DiToro’s husband Chris Kamsch has worked in the music industry his entire adult life.

He’s worked at Merriweather and managed the 9:30 Club which had to close down because of the Pandemic.

“I been working there for 15 years and now all of a sudden I don’t have a job, everything’s changed,” said Kamsch. “I’ve only worked in the music industry my whole life and that’s just gone now.”

There is a stalemate on the second stimulus vote.

Maryland Senator Ben Cardin is the ranking member of the small business committee.

I've been talking to his office for weeks about the Save Our Stages Act.

In a statement he said, "House Democrats passed an updated HEROES act which includes money for live venues similar to the Save Our Stages Act."

But all COVID-19 Relief bills are on standby until an agreement is made in Washington.

“There’s no way to do take out and delivery of the concert experience,” Schaeffer said. “There’s no way to solve the concert experience online. So we just sit and wait.”

All of them leaving Merriweather not knowing if they or the venue will financially survive the winter and make it to next season.

If federal help doesn’t come— we will all have to live with the fact that music venues are gone for good.

If you’re sitting at home thinking man I really need to see a show as soon as it’s safe again how do i make sure that’s possible.

Click here and let your legislators know you want the “Save Our Stages” Act to pass.