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‘Now there’s hope’: Washington entertainment venues relieved as Congress backs stimulus

UPDATED: Sat., Dec. 26, 2020

Members of the Spokane Symphony perform Dec. 18 on stage at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox for the symphony’s virtual New Year’s Eve concert.  (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Members of the Spokane Symphony perform Dec. 18 on stage at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox for the symphony’s virtual New Year’s Eve concert. (DAN PELLE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

When Congress finally passed a COVID-19 relief bill Monday that will provide funding for independent music venues, Matt Meyer sighed in relief.

Prior to the announcement, the entertainment director of the Spokane Arena and the First Interstate Center for the Arts was justifiably concerned.

Now, Meyer is singing a different tune.

“It’s great,” he said. “It’s going to help save our industry and venues. It’s a huge relief. There is still some stress, but this will help large and small venues make it. The overhead venues like ours have with utilities and beyond, is massive. We’re going to generate a game plan for the money. We’re thrilled.”

There is $15 billion to be divided among the myriad American entertainment venues. “We all desperately need the help,” Meyer said. “We’re very happy.”

Elizabeth Kelley, president of the Spokane Symphony Board of Trustees, is also pleased with the package, which will benefit the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox.

“We needed help, so we welcome it,” Kelley said. “Our earned revenue for the year plummeted to zero.”

Another $1.275 million was raised for the year thanks to donors.

“We appreciate that, but it still isn’t enough when you consider everything,” Kelley said. “Musicians’ health insurance must be covered, vendors need to be paid, as well as a small staff. We have to raise another $400,000 by June. We’re thankful for any assistance that we will receive. It’s been a terrible year, but we’re hoping for a much better 2021. This aid helps us move in the right direction.”

Those in the Spokane entertainment industry could thank Steven Severin for helping secure the aid. It was by necessity that Severin sought assistance, since the club owner had no idea how he was going to cover his bills.

Severin, like many Americans who have been professionally devastated due to the novel coronavirus, lost it over recent months.

“I bawled my eyes out wondering, how am I going to deal with all of this debt,” Severin said while calling from his Seattle home.

It’s not surprising that Severin’s emotions would overwhelm him. Like many independent club owners, Severin, who owns the Seattle venues Neumos, Barboza and the Runaway Bar, was uncertain how he would overcome a massive deficit caused by the pandemic without assistance.

Severin formed the Washington Nightlife Music Association in April. Severin, who is the president of WANMA, and club owners who are part of the group crafted a Save Our Stages (SOS) act and raised awareness of the jeopardy Washington’s live music scene is in. The collective effectively lobbied members of Congress for aid.

“We helped craft the legislation and hoped something would happen, and it did,” Severin said. “I’m blown away we’re getting this aid, but we did work on this for nine months. Without it, we were all in major trouble. When you think about the Lucky You Lounge, where else would the Lucky You get help? The Lucky You and venues like it aren’t getting bailed out like Live Nation.”

Severin is referring to Saudi Arabia purchasing 5.7% of Live Nation for $500 million in April. “None of us can get what Live Nation got, but all of the venues around the country are getting a slice of a $15 billion pie.”

When Congress passed the relief bill, Severin uncorked a champagne bottle. Severin then celebrated via Zoom with a number of other Washington club owners.

“I was just floating when I heard the news,” Severin said. “I was in disbelief. The funding is much needed for me and every other independently owned venue in the country.”

Severin is ecstatic that he will receive a cut from $15 billion that will aid venue owners. “Without such help, 90% of independent music venues would be doomed,” Severin said. “I can’t imagine what would be left, in terms of music venues in Washington, without this aid. You can’t be closed for nine months or two years without help. Now there’s hope when the day comes when we’ll be able to open our doors to the public.”

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