Business

Neumos in Seattle, in a Pandemic: Venue Owners 'Have Never Been In This Much Debt'

Nuemos Steven Severin
Roy Atizado

Nuemos owner Steven Severin.

Co-owner Steven Severin says the new CDC guidelines allowing vaccinated people to not wear masks indoors will definitely speed up the return of live music indoors.

As co-owner of Seattle's popular independent venue Neumos in Capitol Hill, Steven Severin has been a staple in the Seattle music industry for more than 20 years. Roughly 10 years ago, he helped create the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association to bring together the area's live event insiders, and for the past 16 years has helped run Neumos with its sister club Barboza and the accompanying Runaway bar.

As part of Billboard's efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we have been speaking with Severin regularly to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the last installment here and see the full series here.)

Last week the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention announced that fully vaccinated people could go without masks indoors and outdoors. What are your first thoughts on that?

I drink from the fountain that is Dr. [Anthony] Fauci. If Fauci says it, it is gospel to me. I follow the science. You have to trust somebody. When he says, if you are vaccinated you don’t have to wear a mask,’ then ok. Cool. That’s what I am going with. I’m still wearing my mask around and it is going to take people some time to get used to that.

Does the CDC news mean the country is going to get back to indoor shows faster?

Oh, yeah. July 1, I bet everybody starts having shows. There is some shell shock that this might really be over. Not completely, but over in the sense that people can go back inside Neumos and see a show without a mask on. That’s amazing.

In Washington, the Governor’s office says we should be opening at 100% capacity on June 30. He said we might be able to open even sooner if we can get to 70% vaccinated. He said by June 30, we should be there and no masks inside if you’re vaccinated. If you’re not vaccinated, you’re taking the risk. That is in six weeks. I can’t book shows and get them on sale and marketed and all that stuff in six weeks. So, July is screwed and August will have some shows. We’ve turned down so many shows because we didn’t think we were going to be open.

Does Neumos have a plan for checking if people are vaccinated?

I have no idea. It just got announced and I don’t want to have to do the vaccine pass. People are already selling fake vaccine cards. If you are not vaccinated and you come to a small music venue and there is someone else who is not vaccinated and you get it from them, I can’t do a whole lot for you. You’ve had every opportunity to get vaccinated. And there are some people that can’t get vaccinated for health reasons, but anybody who can just needs to get vaccinated so we can lower the probability of catching it. I don’t see why we would need to be checking. If they are comfortable coming and being around all those people and all the mandates have been lifted.

Is there a show you’re ready to go see?

Dead & Co at the Hollywood Bowl. I know the tour manager. I will probably hit him up for a friends and family hook up. I’ll pay for tickets though. Just because I haven’t talked to him for a while and then the whole pandemic thing. If I don’t know you and I didn’t help make you money, then I will pay for tickets.

How do think comp tickets are going to go as everything opens back up?

Nobody is going to ask me for free tickets. And if you do… My two best friends, they get free tickets. Everybody else, they got a job. They can pay.

The Small Business Administration says 12,200 businesses have applied for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. Another 12,000 were started but not completed. What do you think happened there?

A lot of people bailed on the SVOG application and went to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund because you could make more. You could make way more money, but you have less things that you can spend it on. If you’re not open, I don’t know how you spend that money. You can’t spend it on band guarantees or ticket refunds. And any money you don’t spend, you have to give back.

With the SBA saying they except the majority of grants awarded to be around $1 million each, that leaves roughly $4 billion still in the fund. Do you think there will be enough money for everyone who needs it?

Not really. We’ve been closed for what will be 18 months by the time we’re back. The grants are going to help. They’re going to help massively. The people who run venues have never been in this much debt. How are we supposed to recover from this? People think we’re getting all this money and I’ll be driving a Maserati. We’re not getting a new car. We’re still going to be in debt. If there are supplemental grants and they extend the criteria another six months (January through June 2021), that would be huge. That would be a game changer.

Coronavirus