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 will be speaking with Severin regularly to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the last installment here and see the full series here.)
What has changed for you in the past couple weeks?
I have been in the worst mood today that I could be in. I skipped my 11 a.m. NIVA [National Independent Venue Alliance] local call and pulled the covers back over my head. Over the weekend and on Monday I talked with both our senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. With the [Save Our Stages] Act, we are almost at 60 co-sponsors in the Senate, which is fucking phenomenal. They are working on the skinny bill which would give a bunch of money to small businesses and it passed the House [of Representatives]. I found out that [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell (R-Ky.) said that if it passes the house, he’ll let it go to the Senate floor and allow a vote. Which meant that we were getting it. Then he dismissed the Senate and so they can’t vote on it. They are gone until Nov. 9. It just broke me. I’m trying to stay positive for many reasons but I feel like we keep getting stomped on. It is everybody lying and nobody really seems to give a shit. I keep thinking there is hope because we are doing all these great things and… ah shit. I just couldn’t believe it.
What was the reaction to the Keep Music Campaign you launched last time we talked?
We worked with this group called World Famous who did all the creative with us. It was all free because they are rad and we have no money. They came up with the ideas for the campaign and the logo. They have been super awesome. The campaign has gotten so much play. It has been everywhere. The picture of Neumos with the construction banner got shared so many times that Facebook started filtering it out. It was showing up on everybody’s feed. People did such a good job of blanketing it everywhere. All kinds of people have reached out and asked about being part of it and what they can do to help.
Did the campaign help bring in donations?
We have gotten so many donations. That part has been awesome. They are small. It’s grassroots. We are asking the people who don’t have big money to help and those people are helping. We are still asking people with big money but that stuff takes so long. My god there is so much red tape. We’re trying to get Amazon to do some kind of match with their employees, but it is so hard.
What are the campaign’s next steps?
We brought on a new development director, Shannon Halberstadt. She is somebody who used to run an arts foundation called Artist Trust. She was a major part of the Vera Project which is a non-profit, all-ages room with classes and all kinds of things. She has sat in rooms asking for huge sums of money from these same businesses before and has their numbers. That is not something we have had in the past. We are switching gears and trying to get big money now. We are raising money, but to get to $10 million we’ve got to raise a lot more. We need to get to $10 million to get us, without any government help, to get us through the year.
You’re seeking funds to get Washington venues through the end of the year?
Who knows when we are going back. It’s crazy. We have no idea when we are going back. We could be closed all of 2021. We’re just trying to get further down the road to keep figuring out what we can do. It is insane what we are having to do, but it’s what we’ve got to do.
How do you feel #SOSFest turned out?
It was good for us. That was a blast. It was so fun to sit on my couch and see my stage and see Macklemore playing it. Talking with other NIVA folks, no one was dry-eyed. We were all watching each other’s rooms and there were some Zooms going on. I can’t get over how phenomenal of an event that was. The fucking Foo Fighters played The Troubadour. It was good to go through that weekend and get a bit of respite, if you will, and raise a bunch of money. It was close to $2 million.