Local music venues are still in danger of closing—and they need your help

Reach out to your state representatives to let them know how important independent venues really are.

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long
Destroyer Metro
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

Yesterday, Governor J.B. Pritzker laid out his plan to reopen Illinois, detailing the benchmarks that regions of the state will need to hit before businesses like restaurants, bars, cinemas, salons, gyms and theaters can welcome in customers (under new safety and capacity guidelines). Gov. Pritzker didn't mention music venues and concert halls because, under his plan, gatherings of more than 50 people won't be able to take place until the final phase, which will only arrive when new cases drop off entirely or a vaccine or highly effective treatment becomes available.

This news doesn't come as a surprise to independent venue owners in Chicago, who recognized their unique situation back before the first "stay-at-home" order was issued. "We were among the first to close, we will likely be the last to reopen," Sleeping Village and the Whistler co-owner Billy Helmkamp told Time Out Chicago last month when discussing the uncertain future of local venues.

The losses are adding up quickly, and without an end in sight, concert venues across the country will require assistance to stay afloat. According to figures released by 16 venues that are a part of the Chicago Independent Venue League, during the six-week period from March 15 to April 30, more than $7.1 million in revenue was lost after the cancelation of 1,219 events.

Venues throughout Chicago have joined a coalition of 1,200 businesses in the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) to draft a letter to lawmakers, seeking federal support to weather the ongoing lockdown. "Our passionate and fiercely independent operators are not ones to ask for handouts," NIVA board president and owner of First Avenue in Minneapolis Dayna Frank said in a release. "But because of our unprecedented, tenuous position, for the first time in history, there is legitimate fear for our collective existence."

"The response from lawmakers in both red and blue states has been overwhelmingly positive," Helmkamp told us. "Most of them understand the economic impact our venues have in our communities, and they're beginning to grasp the uniqueness of our situation."

A positive response to a letter likely won't be enough to get money allocated in the next stimulus bill, but repeated reminders from constituents could help keep the issue in the spotlight for lawmakers. NIVA is encouraging supporters to reach out to their state representatives by filling out a simple form on its website. There's a sample letter provided, but users are welcome to flesh out the message with personal stories that demonstrate exactly how important independent music venues are.

"Think back to your first concert, or your last, or that time you fell in love," Helmkamp said. "We all have such personal connections to live music and we need our elected officials to hear these stories."

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