The pandemic has put a vise grip on the music industry that a business agent for stage technicians hasn’t seen in her 35 years on the job.
“I have seen after 9/11 what happened, after the 2008 crash what happened … after the Loma Prieta earthquake what happened. Nothing compares to this,” said Joanne Desmond. “We have members leaving the state to go home and live with their families.”
Rep. Mike Thompson, D, St. Helena, and other legislators acknowledge the devastated music industry, with two bills being present in Congress: The RESTART ACT and the Save Our Stages Act.
Both are bi-partisan, with the RESTART ACT establishing a loan program and Save Our Stages a grant program for small live venues and talent representatives.
“The coronavirus has not been kind” to the music industry in dealing “a crushing financial blow,” said Thompson, joining a handful of music and recording industry representatives in a Zoom press conference Tuesday afternoon.
Other panelists included Grateful Dead icon Bob Weir, producer and Blue Note Records president Don Was, Another Planet Entertainment head of concerts and festivals Allen Scott, Blue Note Napa and JaM Cellars Ballroom managing director Ken Tesler, CEO and Owner of Ultrasound, Derek Featherstone, and Desmond.
“Everyone knows music feeds our soul, especially in these tough times,” Thompson said. “It’s a way to feel connected through distances and a way to build bridges. Music and local venues are important to our communities and have long been a critical part of our tourism economy as well.”
The RESTART ACT would “give these venues the capital and flexibility needed as they move toward recovery,” Thompson said.
Because both bills are bi-partisan, “they stand a good chance of passing,” Thompson said.
That was music to Tesler’s ears as the Blue Note has been shuttered since March 15 along with almost every other venue in the state.
“These bills can be difference-makers,” Tesler said. “And not just for my business but businesses like this (the Blue Note) across the country.”
Though Tesler said he supported local and state elected officials and health specialists, he admittedly was discouraged in attempts to open the club — even at minimal capacity.
“Napa has a low rate of COVID and everyone is doing a fantastic job. That being said, there seems to be a misconception with regard to live concerts as it relates to COVID. It’s really been frustrating,” Tesler said.
Weir used the “Chitlin’ Circuit” in the south during the 1930s as an example of how entertainment can provide that “economic ecosystem” even during distressing times.
Though Weir said he has a financial safety net, roadies, venues, agents, ticket takers and others don’t.
“It’s an endless number of people involved in this industry” who are hurting, Weir said. “I employ a lot of people and I feel their angst. We need help from the government. Music crosses party lines. Everybody needs music.”
“Music brings people together and raises our spirits in the way nothing else can,” said Was. “In a year like this one, we need the power and sound of music more than ever.”
Young talent can’t thrive without performing “night after night, honing their craft” at various small venues across the country, Was added.
“Without venues, the whole (industry) network collapses,” he said. “Anyone who cares about music needs to support these bills.”
Scott emphasized that it’s far more than the performers and venue owners ravaged by the pandemic and impacted if venues shut down.
“So many people are touched — security, ticket takers, catering, stage hands … the list goes on,” Scott said. “It’s a spider web that reaches out to thousands and thousands of people. We need the help of the government for these small venues to survive.”
Featherstone said there is “unparalleled loyalty” in the industry, with “no retirement, no pension, no 401k. So we look for the government to support these behind-the-scenes people. We need these people when we return.”
Stage technicians, noted Desmond, “scramble to find ways to pay rent, pay health insurance and keep food on the table. This is not an industry that has the luxury of working remotely. We count on these venues to stay alive.”
Venues possibly impacted by the pending bills include the Empress Theatre in Vallejo, the Downtown Theatre in Fairfield, and the Vacaville Performing Arts Theatre.
“I’ll do everything I can to get these bills passed and signed into law,” Thompson said. “We’re in this together and we’ll get through it.”