In simpler times, it wasn’t uncommon to see Brooklyn-born New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer out and about in the city — but it was a little surreal to see him standing outside the indie mecca Baby’s All Right, located in the city’s hipster-centric Williamsburg neighborhood, on Tuesday afternoon, alongside LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and several of the owners or managers of the city’s top independent venues.
The senator was stepping up to show his support for the $10 billion bipartisan Save Our Stages act (S. 4258), authored by Senators Amy Klobuchar (a Democrat) and John Cornyn (a Republican), which aims to bring aid to the independent music venues that have been clobbered by the pandemic.
Some 90% of America’s independent music venues expect to shut down within the next few months if they do not receive federal aid, according to a poll conducted by the National Independent Venues Association (NIVA) in June. The coming weeks are crucial for hundreds of shuttered venues across the country, which include such legendary rooms as Tipitina’s in New Orleans, the Troubador in Los Angeles and the Bitter End in New York — Great Scott in Boston, Threadgill’s in Austin, the Eighteenth Street Lounge in Washington D.C. and Spaceland in L.A. have already closed.
Congress went into recess last week without rendering a decision on the act, so Schumer’s presence was a welcome and encouraging show of support.
Also present at the conference, which took place on a noisy sidewalk in front of the shuttered venue, was live music veteran Reverend Moose (not his real name), executive director of NIVA, whose 2,700 members are working to rally support on Capitol Hill and throughout the country for the bill and other means of support for venues (head here to find out what you can do to help).
While noise from traffic and a nearby elevated train made some of the conference’s livestream hard to hear, there was no question about Schumer’s message. He began by recalling seeing an outdoor concert while riding his bike in the area a few years back — a 2009 indie-music JellyNYC party that was also attended by Jay-Z and Beyonce — and liking the vibe so much that he jumped off and joined in.
“We’re here today because all of us believe that independent venues are vital,” the senator said. “But due to covid, there’s no revenue coming into these places. Independent venues were among the very first [businesses] to close during the pandemic and will be among the last to reopen — so we have to make sure they get federal funding.
“I am here to tell these people that I am fully behind this [bill], and I will use whatever muscle I have to get this passed,” the senator continued, citing the 28 bipartisan cosponsors the bill has in the Senate, and the dozens of major musicians who signed a letter to congress supporting it, a list that includes Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish, Robert Plant (“My generation!,” he said) and Leon Bridges, who Schumer noted performed during the Democratic National Convention on Monday night.
“This is a $10 billion small-business administration program, and it’s vital not just for New York and Brooklyn but all states and even rural areas. Getting just $10 billion doesn’t seem like it should be that hard,” Schumer said. “We need to get them the funding — and I will do everything I can to get this done, because it is so effing important!” the senator pledged, before encouraging everyone to contact their senators to ask them to support the bill.
Reverend Moose spoke next, noting that the pandemic is an “extinction-level event” for independent venues. “The government shut us down for health and safety reasons, which we understand, but it has hung an entire industry out to dry,” he said. “We are at the precipice of a disaster.” Representatives from city venues the Blue Note, Elsewhere, Iridium and Le Poisson Rouge made similar statements.
Murphy spoke as well, and although his height (and consequent distance from the microphone) rendered most of his comments difficult to hear on the livestream, his advocacy was clear: “These venues are places that occupy parts of cities that nobody wants to be in when they start. They fill in the gaps and communities spring up around them. They take those warehouses that nobody wanted to be in and they build places that foster the most diverse music scene in the world. Thank you to the venues that let me play and let me work for the 30 years I’ve lived here. Write your senators and ask them to support this bill – it’s critical, or this whole industry is going to go away without it. The very nature of being independent means these people, these centers, don’t have the kind of voice that bigger companies do have – they need your voice, so please do your best to support them.”