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.)
How was Band Together Washington, the Keep Music Live benefit concert?
That was pretty fucking phenomenal. None of us had ever done anything like this before. We were flying as blind as could be. We ended up doing way more live than we had originally intended. We had all these people waiting in online green rooms and all of a sudden there is Rainn Wilson or Joel McHale. It was really fun. When it started, there was a hot mic on during sound check. It was set up so that all the stuff you hear at a sound check with bands and front of house people is hilarious. I was getting more messages during the 30-minute fake sound check from people who run venues and artists than I was the whole rest of the event. People were dying of laughter because we’ve all done it. We’ve all heard the jokes and the banter that goes with it. The artists were amazing. It was killer.
Did the fundraising efforts go well?
It raised a bunch of money. It is still raising money. We had almost 2,300 donors which was pretty amazing. I think there were around 20,000 people who watched which was a lot more than we thought we’d get with only five days notice. Venues needed money last month, last year. [Shuttered Venue Operators Grant] isn’t opening until April 8, so we banged the event out and we are going to get checks to people are quickly as we can.
This was your last fundraising effort, right?
We started WANMA (Washington Nightlife Music Association) and we launched Keep Music Live as our fundraising arm. It was designed to do what we did. We accomplished our goals. It’s looking like we saved our stages. We will know for certain when the SVOG actually comes out so now it is time to look to the next thing. We’re trying to figure out what we’re going to do to keep WANMA going. Hopefully we have a few weeks to breathe.
That’s incredible. Do you know how many venues Washington lost during the pandemic?
We don’t know anymore. Venues that were going to close because the SVOG was signed and people stopped saying they were closing. People who were thinking of closing are waiting because if you are closed, you don’t qualify. So if you are able to stick it out, then you have a chance to get back. We have no idea who is actually closed now. The SVOG is going to save so many people, so many venues.
How did you feel when the Small Business Administration finally announced that applications would open on April 8?
Oh my god. The day before we [venue owners] were sending messages to each other like, ‘do we have to wake everybody back up again? What’s going on?’ I don’t want to chase people anymore. I just want it to happen. We woke up the next morning and there it was. It was absolutely incredible to have a date. The SBA asked us how long we would need between them telling us and the applications opening and we were like, ‘24 to 48 hours.’ [National Independent Venue Association] has scoured the country. If you are a venue, you know this exists. We are ready to go.
How are things looking in Washington with getting concerts going again?
Things are coming back quicker. Everyone who wants a vaccine should be able to get one by May in Washington. We were hoping we were going to be able to open this fall and now suddenly we just moved to summer. We book pretty far out so the touring stuff is gone for the summer. That will all be next year, but what do we do? We’re going to put together some local shows and some parties. We thought we had a few more weeks before we had to start thinking about it. We’ve got to jump right back into it. I’m taking it all in stride. If I can get through this year, I can get through anything.