Like a diva performer who went on late but still earned a standing ovation, the Save Our Stages relief effort led by Minneapolis music venue First Avenue was finally greenlit over the weekend as part of the COVID-19 federal stimulus bill.
Final approval was still pending Monday evening, but all signs pointed to the bill passing with $15 billion dedicated to aid independently owned music venues, performance spaces and movie theaters across the nation that have gone dark in the pandemic.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who co-authored the Save Our Stages Act in July with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, invoked the words of home-state icon Bob Dylan to voice support for the legislation Monday on the Senate floor.
"Come senators, congressmen, please heed the call," she said while sticking to the main pitch that has accompanied the #SaveOurStages hashtag since April: "Independent venues were some of the first establishments to close down and will likely be some of the last to open."
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also extended his support: "These venues are so important to my state and so many other states across the country. They are the lifeblood of our communities."
Talking afterward, Klobuchar applauded First Avenue owner Dayna Frank and a coalition of other clubs, theaters, performance spaces and promotions companies who teamed up to create the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) in late March
With Frank serving as its president — and about 3,000 signing on nationwide — NIVA spent the past eight months lobbying Congress and the public under the #SaveOurStages hashtag.
"We had everyone from Pitbull to Lady Gaga to Dayna to the owner of the Fargo Theatre pitching in on this," Klobuchar said. "It had to be a grassroots effort. There wasn't enough time to have it be more formalized."
The #SOS cause was consistently pitched as a bipartisan effort based on supporting locally owned, community-oriented, tax-generating businesses. Among its central requests were tax deferments and small-business grants.
A majority of NIVA's members said they would likely go out of business without federal relief before live music and other onstage entertainment could safely return — probably not until next summer or fall.
"We're thrilled that Congress has heard the call of shuttered independent venues across the country and provided us a crucial lifeline," Frank said on behalf of NIVA, offering a personalized thanks to Klobuchar: "She's always welcome in the mosh pit when it's safe for us to reopen."
Frank also welcomed the bill's inclusion of a program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance to "help the millions of people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own."
Most music venues were not eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program loans included in previous stimulus packages because those hinged on businesses staying open and spending 75% of their money on payroll; staying open was not an option for performance spaces under COVID-19 safety guidelines. At First Avenue, more than 95% of the 200-plus employees were laid off.
Other NIVA members in Minnesota who stand to benefit from the legislation include Twin Cities live music hubs such as the Dakota, Cedar Cultural Center, Amsterdam Bar & Hall, Mortimer's, and First Ave.'s sister venues the Palace and Fitzgerald theaters, Turf Club and Fine Line; outstate venues such as Ed's No Name Bar in Winona and Moorhead's Bluestem Amphitheater; more general performance halls such as Minneapolis' State and Orpheum theaters, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, and the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center; and promotions companies such as Sue McLean & Associates, Blue Ox productions and the Mid West Music Fest.
"I am beyond grateful for our small group of thoughtful, committed citizens who never gave up the fight and saved our stages," said talent buyer Shayna Melgaard of Sue McLean & Associates.
Klobuchar said her staff and Cornyn's will immediately begin working on implementing the grants at the center of their legislation.
"We'll be working with the incoming Biden administration, and with the Trump administration, too," she said. "This can't wait."
The first grants will go to venues and other companies that show a revenue decrease of 90% or more for the year, followed two weeks later by ones with dips of 70% or more. Most of NIVA's participants will be eligible.
Klobuchar also said the program will be strictly monitored "so that Ticketmaster or some law firm or whatever won't try to home in on it."
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658