Local concert promoter Stephen Chilton has been breathing a little easier since Congress passed the latest COVID-19 relief bill earlier this month, especially since it will offer much-needed funds for cash-strapped music venues in Arizona and across the U.S.
The $900 billion economic stimulus package, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 27, includes $15 billion in financial assistance to independent performance venues and promoters through the Save Our Stages Act.
“I had a pretty big sigh of relief when it passed,” says Chilton, who owns Psyko Steve Presents and local venue The Rebel Lounge. “It’s been a very long year and it’s pretty monumental for people in the [concert industry] who are on the verge of bankruptcy. At least it allows us to end the year on a high note.”
Arizona’s concert industry has largely been on pause since March because of the pandemic. Venues and promoters shut down, losing tens of thousands of dollars of revenue since then as owners struggled to make ends meet. Some survived through fundraisers, while others changed their business models. (Chilton, for instance, turned The Rebel Lounge into a coffeehouse and cocktail lounge in October in order to get by.)
They also banded together. In March, Chilton and venue owners and promoters across the country formed the National Independent Venue Association to lobby Congress and provide support. (It now features more than 3,000 members, including close to 75 venues, promoters, and music festivals from Arizona.)
Chilton, who serves as NIVA’s vice president, says lobbying congressional support for the Save Our Stages Act, which was introduced over the summer by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and John Cornyn (R-TX), was one of the organization’s top priorities over the past nine months. “It was a long and difficult process, but all the work paid off and the end of the road is in sight now,” Chilton says.
So when can Arizona venues and promoters start getting money from SOSA? Chilton says it won’t be as easy as waiting for a check to arrive in their mailboxes.
“It’s is a government-run program with everything that comes along with this sort of thing,” he says. “There's going to be a process involved, [and] hopefully, a simple one.”
Financial aid from SOSA will be administered by the Small Business Administration, which will set up a process and a timetable for applying for funds in the next few months. Chilton says independently owned performance venues and promoters will then apply for aid from the federal agency in the form of grants.
“It's a brand-new program, which means the SBA has to create tangible rules of how they're going to do this,” Chilton says. “So, it is giving out a lot of money very quickly, but having to set up a system of doing so.”
Under the terms of SOSA, grants will be equal to 45 percent of a venue or promoter's gross revenue for 2019. Money can only be used for payroll, rent, and personal protective equipment for employees.
Chilton says independent movie theaters, museums, zoos, performing arts companies, and booking agencies can also receive SOSA funds.
Since the SOSA was aimed at helping only independent companies, large and publicly traded companies, such as multimillion-dollar concert and events promoter Live Nation, wouldn't be eligible, though. Ditto for arenas or other large-scale facilities with sports teams as tenants. Chilton says such rules are intended to prevent large companies from obtaining aid meant for small or independent businesses.
“Everyone has to be independent, so the big chains and stadiums won’t qualify,” Chilton says. “This is intended as small-business relief, so there are efforts being made to make sure that it's actually going to them. This money is meant to help venues and promoters survive and could mean the difference between life and death.”
Bob Corritore, owner of central Phoenix blues bar The Rhythm Room, says the relief will be vital for his venue, especially since it could be another year until concerts start up again.
“We are all gasping for oxygen for right now. I’ve done well with GoFundMe [fundraisers], but a few months from now, all of that will dissipate,” Corritore says. “It’s going to take a while to get to the point that we can open up again. We're looking at end of the summer next year at best, so this will help with enough cash flow to keep us alive.”
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