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A Newly Introduced Senate Bill Is Trying to Save the Music Industry

Earlier this summer, we wrote about the National Independent Venue Association’s #SaveOurStages campaign, which urged consumers to sign onto a letter urging their senators and representatives to throw their weight behind industry support. 

North Carolina loves music, and showed it: Josh Wittman, co-owner of Motorco, says that North Carolina led the nation with the most signatures on that letter. 

But saving the music industry will be a long road. The cascade of tour cancellations and refund requests has gutted the industry, and it doesn’t look to be getting better anytime soon. Under Governor Cooper’s multi-phase reopening plan, entertainment venues are still shuttered; a public health mandate that impacts everyone down the line, from club owners and musicians to sound technicians and bartenders. 

“Think about all the artists that have come out of this area,” Wittman says, reflecting on the Triangle’s music scene. “Think about the fact that we’re punching above our weight with bands that want to work in the Carolinas. We’re not a top 10 market, but they still want to play Chapel Hill, Raleigh, and Durham.”

Local venue owners say that the bipartisan Save Our Stages Act, which was introduced on July 29 by Senator John Cornyn and Senator Amy Klobuchar, is getting some traction. Another bill designed to sustain independent venues, the RESTART Act, will also be on the floor. Both pieces of legislation could be voted on as early as August 6. 

Local venues and promoters have been key in NIVA’s push to get the bill before Congress, and 19 across the Triangle, all members of NIVA, have come together in a call for music lovers to show their support by signing onto a letter in support of the legislation.  

If passed, according to the Senate statement, the Save Our Stages Act could “direct the SBA to make grants to eligible venues equal to the lesser of either 45 percent of operation costs from calendar year 2019 or $12 million,” and to “permit recipients to use grants for costs incurred during the COVID pandemic.”

In other words, the bill could be a lifeline with all the overhead costs that venues are struggling to pay, like mortgage, utilities, and taxes. 

Heather LaGarde, co-owner of the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, is part of North Carolina’s NIVA team. 

“[It] has been a unifying experience in a challenging and uncertain time, creating a real sense of camaraderie and solidarity as we work together to try to protect the future of live music,” LaGarde says. “We all love and admire the artists that grace our stages, and we’ve all taken big risks and poured our hearts into creating spaces for people to join together.”

On August 3, Senator Thom Tillis also signed on as a co-sponsor, and Wittman says that Senator Richard Burr has also been in discussions about the bill. 

Local venues are raising awareness about the campaign with a “Golden Ticket” that will give one winner access to shows at clubs and festivals across North and South Carolina during 2021-2022 (participating venues include The Neighborhood Theatre, The Orange Peel, and Cat’s Cradle). Motorco is also giving away one all-access Motorco Golden Ticket; to participate, enter by midnight tonight. 

“We have had so many incredible experiences here over our almost 10 years on the riverside in Saxapahaw, so much energy, so much joy,” LaGarde says. “We hear from bands and fans daily who miss being here as much as we miss them and that means a lot.”

Earlier this summer, the COVID-19 shutdown led iconic Asheville venue The Mothlight to close its doors for good. LaGarde adds that NIVA surveys project that 90% of independent venues will be forced to close permanently, beginning in September, if they do not receive federal assistance. 

Follow Deputy Arts & Culture Editor Sarah Edwards on Twitter or send an email to sedwards@indyweek.com

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