Skip to main content

Neumos In Seattle, In a Pandemic: The Omicron Variant is ‘Giving a Lot of People Pause’

Co-owner Steven Severin says uncertainty around the new coronavirus variant is an issue of "concern" for venue owners.

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.)

What does the rest of the year look like for you?

[My restaurant] Life on Mars is bonkers. It goes into hyperdrive. We have a party every night. Neumos is doing its thing. VenuePilot is sort of wrapping for the year, but a lot of business owners take this time to look at their operations. Everything slows down, so I’ve been talking to a lot of people who are looking at their operations and looking at the VenuePilot dashboard to see how it can make their lives easier. I’ll probably keep talking to people about that for the next week or so.

How do you think the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 is going to impact shows?

There is the fear that we don’t know about Omicron and it is giving a lot of people pause. When you’re looking six months down the road, buying a ticket is not as straightforward as before. There is definitely concern. Venue people are concerned because the media drops these articles saying Omicron is way more contagious than Delta. That’s not what we want to hear. Then they come out and say booster shots will help against Omicron, which is great. But there are still a lot of unvaccinated people.

We’re going to need to find ways to live with COVID. All bars in Seattle now have to require proof of vaccination. Maybe that will help. I don’t know what is going to get people to make the choice to get vaccinated.

How are things going in the local Seattle music scene?

Seattle’s mayor-elect [Bruce Harrell] created a nightlife committee for his transition team and I got selected to be on it. I went to City Hall the other day and met with a bunch of people. We talked about the kind of policies the nightlife and music industry wants to see happen. It was a three-hour meeting. It’s nice to have a mayor that cares about the music and the nightlife industry. Our last mayor couldn’t have cared less.

Did you and/or The Washington Nightlife Music Association support Harrell during election season?

Yes. Once the primaries pass, we try to meet with the mayoral candidates. We meet to say, “Hey, we’re an important piece in Seattle.” We are major players in this city and we weren’t being treated like it. We all have massive email lists and social media followings. When we say, “You should vote for this person because they care about the arts,” people who don’t want to do the research themselves will see that and think, “Bruce Harrell cares about the arts. Great.” [Harrell] met with us and the other candidate wouldn’t. We called Harrell’s team out for their terrible policies about nightlife and he turned around and met with us. That alone was impressive and then he was great.

It has been almost a year since the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant was signed into law. Have you gotten your supplemental grant yet?

We did! Everything is done. Holy crap, that was a good day. It felt good to send those texts to the partners. It took a long time, but the process was super simple. It still amazes me that SVOG even happened. I don’t think I will ever fully understand and accept that Save Our Stages got pulled off. I still think I’m dreaming.