Fort Worth

Bill Could Give Live Music Venues ‘Lifeline' Amid Pandemic, Lawmakers Say

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Touted as a possible lifeline for live music venues, a bipartisan proposal could aid independently operated venues bearing the brunt of COVID-19 shutdowns.

The “Save Our Stages” Act has been introduced by U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, (R-Austin) and Rep. Peter Welch, (D-Vermont.) It would provide grants from the Small Business Administration to independent music venues impacted by COVID-19.

“It’s a $10 billion program that allows for recipients to pay for necessities like utilities, rent, PPE, and maintenance,” Williams said. “Independent live music venues have been hardest hit as they actually were the first to close. Now here we are, they’re last to reopen.”

Williams was joined by tourism and entertainment industry leaders in Fort Worth at a press conference at Billy Bob’s Texas on Friday highlighting the proposed measure. Venue shutdowns have been tough on the business owners themselves and it directly affects artists and crews who would be performing on their stages, North Texas native and country singer Casey Donahew said.

“When you see bands out on stages, it’s not just that artist. It’s the 12 people that travel with me. It’s their families. It’s the bus driver,” Donahew said. “I know for a fact, several musicians I’ve known that have been in this business for two decades have already hung it up. They’re out trying to find other jobs. We may have lost some great musicians forever.”

Similar to the Paycheck Protection Program, Williams said the proposed legislation would have aid thresholds set depending on the size of a business. If the measure passed, places would like Billy Bob’s Texas would be eligible to apply.

They closed for a second time in late June under an executive order which closed bars for indoor service across Texas. Recently, establishment officials announced they planned to reopen this month but under a new permit. If approved, it would allow for Billy Bob’s Texas to operate as a restaurant.

“Legally, we’re a bar based on the 51% but TABC has got what’s called a subordinate permit called a FB certificate and it allows people to follow the qualifications of permanent kitchen, entrees, food available, any kind of alcohol is available,” general manager Marty Travis said.

However, not all venues have that option.

Diana Cox is the director of operations for Kessler Presents. Their venues in Dallas and Houston were closed in March, and they have not opened since then.

“Food is not our forte. We’re a live music venue and that’s we do,” Cox said. “We’ve just continued to look forward and try to plan forward. We’ve made all of our preparations so as soon as we are able and comfortable to open, we have protocols in place to do that.”

The proposed legislation can be critical for their industry, Cox said.

“We’re confident in our businesses currently weathering, but there is a real risk to the industry as a whole,” she said.

A companion bill has been introduced in the U.S. Senate by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, (R-Austin) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, (D-Minn.)

To read the bill, click here.

*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.

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