For Roger Picone, the Greek Theatre in Berkeley and San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorium have always been magical venues for live shows and concerts. But “on March 13, the magic stopped and we were dead in the water,” says Picone, who manages the 118-year-old Berkeley amphitheater on behalf of Another Planet Entertainment, the largest indie promoter in the United States.
Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the COVID-19 shutdown of music venues like the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium and live music performances. A day earlier, Live Nation and AEG issued a joint statement suspending all events and concerts organized through the end of March. The next day, California Governor Gavin Newsom requested the postponement or cancellation of all events across the state anticipating crowds of more than 250 people, paving the way for a global lockdown that sidelined the events business far longer than anyone expected.
In honor of that painful day, independent music venues across the country will be showing solidarity by sharing messages such as “One Year Dark” and “No Shows Since 3/13/20.”
“Everyone’s been withering on the vine for 12 months,” Picone told Billboard. “We’ve already lost a lot of venues nationally and people’s runways are running out every week right now. There’s a real existential crisis for independent venues that couldn’t be overstated.”
Late last year, Picone and Casey Lowdermilk joined a number of groups from around the state to form the California chapter of the National Independent Venue Association and testified before the California legislature about the challenges facing independent venues.
Despite passage of an aid package for shuttered venues late last year, the Small Business Administration has not begun dispersing funds to troubled venues due to administrative challenges the Biden Administration says it is now working to fix. While states like California have offered some venues and independent promoters direct relief in the form of grants, Casey Lowdermilk with Another Planet says more needs to be done to help venues, which were the first to close in the pandemic and will be among the last group of businesses allowed to reopen.
A recent study linked to the National Independent Venue Association found that the live events and entertainment industry contributes over $877 billion to the economy and that for every $1 spent on a ticket at a small music venue, $12 are spent in the local economy on related services.
Picone says NIVA CA is asking for additional help from Governor Newsom to pass an employee retention credit, similar to a federal program tied to PPP, as well as additional guidance on California’s reopening plan.
“We want a seat at the table for reopen guidelines, because we’re just sitting out here in the ether with no idea of what kind of timeline we have for reopening,” says Picone. “It takes a long time to put a show on sale before you have an artist on the stage and we need more information about what it will take to reopen our doors.”