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Neumos in Seattle, in a Pandemic: ‘Hopefully the Federal Government Steps Up’

Steven Severin, co-owner of Neumos in Seattle, says the lack of action on Capitol Hill to save music venues was devastating but the fight isn't over yet.

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.)

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Since the last time we spoke, Congress left on recess without passing any of the bills that could help save indie music venues. What were your thoughts when they went on vacation?

That was crazy. We’ve had that date circled for a long time. That was when they were going to vote and they were going to give some type of bailout for us. We were waiting for that Sunday and I could not wait to sleep on that Monday. Then it was like, “Nope!” They went home. I don’t think it has anything to do with our industry. They are in pissing matches with each other because it is government and we’re the casualties. Our government can’t just leave people without jobs or any kind of income. What are we supposed to do?

What is the tone with the community at National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) after congress left for recess?

The NIVA folks are really good. It’s really positive. There is a lot of good stuff that has come out. Montana venues just got funding — $10 million. I talk to the guy who made it happen multiple times a week and I am super stoked for him. He worked really hard to make that happen. Denver got $2 million. Memphis got $100,000 for 10 venues. Portland got a little under $10 million. 

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Were your venues able to collect on the King Country grants awarded to music venues?

The list of who got funded just got released. The King County money that we fought for ended up going to more than just music venues. A non-profit got double what we did. You’ve got to be kidding me. The money has been distributed. This is going to help some people a lot. Other people, it’s a drop in the bucket. This is kind of tough to look at. There are people who got a lot more money than us that don’t have the same amount of impact, whether it is the economic multipliers or the amount of people we employ. I’m happy but I want everybody to get help. It shouldn’t be a zero-sum game. This was our lifeline and it’s not doing a whole lot. We knew it wasn’t going to be a ton of money, but the way it is split up is not quite the way the music venues were thinking. [Public records show Neumos and Barboza received $19,500 each out of 35 venues that were splitting $750,000.]

What are venues in other cities/states doing now?

If somebody doesn’t step up, we go away. That’s how it works. Hopefully the federal government steps up. We keep hoping and wishing and nothing is happening. More places are going to go down while waiting. And, people are losing more money trying to stick it out longer. At some point, everyone has to make that choice of whether they think they are going to get saved or they just keep throwing money out the window.

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Is NIVA still pushing for the Save Our Stages Act and other bills for when Congress returns?

Absolutely. [Sen. Chuck] Schumer (D-NY) said it. He said, you guys have these giant lists. You need to activate them and all the musicians and the security people and the sound people. Everybody. Tell them to call their Congresspeople. We’re doing it. We are up to 1.8 million emails and calls to Congress. And it’s still going up. We’re going to continue beating that drum. That’s all we got.

On Monday, Sen. Schumer stood outside of indie venue Baby’s Alright in New York and announced his support of the Save Our Stages Act. Was that a good sign for venues?

That was gigantic. That was the legislation that we worked on with senators to help save our industry and the leading Democrat in the Senate came out in support of it. That is as big as it gets. He is out there telling everybody that we need to be supported. That’s what we have been fighting for. We have been fighting to get the federal government to recognize music venues. We have been hurt the most and we have a huge impact. That’s killer. The only other thing we could ask for is [Sen.] Marco Rubio (R-FL) saying the same thing so all the Republicans would get behind it. [Sen.] Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he’ll go with whatever Rubio says about the music venues. So if Rubio was to come out and support us, it would get other people on board and we’d get funded.

What is happening with the non-profit you’re helping to set up to receive donations for Washington venues?

We are still working on Keep Music Live over here. We are making sure that it is right. Rolling it out has to be right. We are having incredible conversations with people. The list of people who want to help us out is getting bigger and bigger. Their influence is getting bigger and bigger. We are already getting donations and we don’t know how. There is just a landing page and you can donate, but we haven’t promoted it yet. We’re working on updating it and we’ve gotten a couple of handfuls of donations. Just knowing that people Googled “keep music live” and found us is pretty sweet that they are interested enough just to do that. We know that people care. People care so much. What we do affects so many people.

What is holding up the roll out?

Just making sure everything is perfect. So the messaging and getting the website finished and the launch plans. When we come out, we’re coming out with a splash. There is going to be a giant marketing campaign. We expect the kinds of things we’re doing will get national media attention. All of that stuff takes so much time.

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