Without Federal Help, San Antonio Music Venues Are Dying. Here's How You Can Help.

click to enlarge OSCAR MORENO
Oscar Moreno
Unable to stage shows due to the pandemic, independent music venues are suffocating right now. And they're calling on music fans to help them breathe again.

The newly formed National Independent Venue Association — a coalition of 1,300 independent venues, including a dozen in San Antonio — is seeking federal help such as tax relief and grants to weather the crisis. But to make its case to Congress, the group needs those who enjoy live music to fill out an online letter to explain just what's at stake.

NIVA estimates that 90% of its members don't have enough cash to last more than six months without government help, according to a recent Rolling Stone story. More than half say they don't expect to last more than three months.

And, yes, that latter group likely includes some of the venues where you regularly catch your favorite bands. 

"We gather people who have a love of music and want to pay for it. That’s all we do," NIVA Board President Dayna Frank, who also runs Minneapolis's First Avenue Productions, told Rolling Stone. "And we don’t have any business right now, only the expenses."

NIVA has been lobbying lawmakers to explain the economic and cultural importance of locally owned venues, from neighborhood bars to thousand-seat theaters. Its online letter campaign generated 200,000 messages during its first 24 hours, and the group is also asking fans to spread the word using the #SaveOurStages hashtag.

In San Antonio, venues ranging from Paper Tiger and Faust to Lonesome Rose and Floore's Country Store have thrown in to help with the lobbying effort, local promoter and Saustex Records owner Jeff Smith said. While giant Live Nation is likely to survive the shutdown, he worries an entire strata of performance spaces is about to dry up.

Indie venues operate on razor-thin profit margins, providing stages for everyone from local bands to longtime touring acts to reach an audience and maybe, just maybe, scratch out a living. Faced with bankruptcy and lost leases, many owners will face little choice but walk away, Smith added.
"These venues not going to reappear as easily as they disappear," he said. "Without some kind of help, we're probably talking about 80% of venues going away."

Blayne Tucker, owner of San Antonio's The Mix and head of NIVA's Texas lobbying efforts, said saving music venues also benefits the local economy. According to NIVA data, those businesses account for $41 million in direct economic impact in San Antonio and employ roughly 1,000 people.

"Beyond the cultural and entertainment aspect, jobs are at stake," Tucker said. "An industry's at stake."

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