In July, Senators Amy Klobuchar (a Democrat) and John Cornyn (a Republican) authored the Save Our Stages act, which requests $10 billion in pandemic relief for independent venues. A hearing on the impact of the pandemic on the live-entertainment business, as well as that act, a similar version of which passed the House as part of the “Heroes” act in November, was held in the Senate on Tuesday. The act, part of the larger Heroes Small Business Lifeline Act, is likely to be voted upon this week — and Klobuchar tells Variety below that she is optimistic about its chances.
While much of the country has been ravaged by the lockdown, live-entertainment was one of the first to be shut down and will be among the last to return. According to the National Independent Venue Association, 90% of the country’s independent venues will close within weeks without federal aid; and that musicians on average derive between 70% and 90% of their income from live performance, which has been virtually nonexistent since mid-March. Witnesses at the hearing also said that it will be summer “at best” before concerts and touring might resume even at a limited level. (Head here for more about the hearing.)
You seem optimistic about at least some version of Save Our Stages passing — how has it survived while so many others haven’t?
We are working to make it better, of course, and that’s why we spent the last few weeks educating not just the group that was negotiating, but everyone on the Hill about it. I think one of the reasons it’s survived where others have failed is because it’s had such strong bipartisan support. We had actually worked out a really hard agreement on how we would do this, and everyone was in agreement, so when people started trying to stop it, it was hard, because we had such a strong coalition. So that’s one of the reasons why … what’s the song? “I Will Survive”? (laughter)
But we had such diverse political support, which reflected the music — you heard in the hearing, everyone from Merle Haggard to Prince was mentioned, so it was a real team effort. Now — it’s not over yet, we have to get the whole package done. We cannot get this done if we are not part of this package
Senator Jon Tester [of Montana] seemed skeptical about its chances.
I don’t quite agree — I think he meant the [entire larger] package, not [Save Our Stages]. I do know that the four leaders — [Senators] Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, [Reps] Nancy Pelosi and Kevin McCarthy and are meeting today, so there are major negotiations continuing. And usually, it’s not the case where you have this much work go into something and then be left on the cutting-room floor with nothing — I don’t buy that at all. And we also have to get the vaccine distribution money out, there’s $16 billion in [the package] for that, and there’s also an omnibus bill at the end of the year that has to pass or the government shuts down, so that is a vehicle where we could be a part of it — not just Stages, but the entire pandemic package.
How much of a priority is SOS in the larger scheme of the legislation before the Senate?
The money, of course is something akin to 1% of the total $900 billion package, and I think there is a really strong understanding now that some businesses, especially smaller businesses, are hit harder than others — the tech industry is doing fine; restaurants and stages are not. That’s why you see more attention being paid, in addition to the PPP loan program, to these kinds of grants, to businesses that are harder hit.
During the hearing, Senator Blackburn seemed to be advocating for more aid for the broader industry than SOS, although it wasn’t clear exactly what she was advocating for.
You’d have to ask her! But I think they’re all acknowledging that Stages is a good place to start. I support the RESTART Act too — that’s a broader thing that may take time to get into a package, and there’s still going to be more work to do. And we knew that when we put it together, and that’s why it’s more focused — there are things you do right away, and things you do in a few months. But right now, Stages is the bill to watch as part of the year-end package.
The hearing mentioned more than 2 million emails sent to Congress about SOS, and there was a letter signed by more than 600 top musicians — is that a high level of support in Hill terms?
It just shows incredible grass-roots activism. I thought it was funny when [a witness during Tuesday’s hearing] defined it as a “band of gypsies” — you wouldn’t think that a Broadway theater and an amphitheater in Moorhead, MN would have a lot in common. And I think a lot people tailored their messages to different senators and it’s been incredibly effective, even though it doesn’t have a huge lobby behind it. And I also think Senator [SOS cosponsor John] Cornyn and I, who have a history of working together on bipartisan bills, have been helpful in that — in knowing which buttons to press with different senators.
I have to go — we have a caucus lunch, and Stages has come up in every meeting and I’m in leadership so I have to go… as well as saving the electoral college to make sure we get an inauguration for Joe Biden, I’m in charge of that too!
One more question: what can people do to help you get SOS over the finish line?
The old-fashioned way: Call your member of Congress and make sure the Stages bill is included. They’re still taking calls and emails, social media, it makes a big difference. At this point we’re literally a few days away from finding out if we’re going to pass this or not.