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.)
On Thursday, the Small Business Administration opened the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant portal and then had to shut it down after technological issues. How was that day for you?
Thursday was trying on many different levels. I was talking with people on Thursday who were freaking out and I’m like, “Everybody calm down. Take a breath in. Take a breath out. Take a shot. Take a toke of something. Grab a gummy. Whatever you need to do to just relax. We’ve been waiting a long time. Waiting a little longer is not going to be anything.” I was also talking myself down as well. I was trying to take my own advice. What a mess. The SBA has never done this. This is not their lane.
This was not how this was supposed to go down, but oh well. We’re promoters. We expect sh– to go wrong. Something always goes wrong during a show. It’s all about how you adapt and how you problem solve. That’s what Thursday was — we’ve got to problem solve. The answer was wait until the end of the day and you find out the website got shut down and go do something else. People are concerned they aren’t going to get it. I was telling people, “This grant was designed for your venue. Whatever you do, you are not going to screw it up so badly that you don’t get it.”
The SBA informed everyone that the portal would be down for at least the weekend. Was that helpful to know?
I am really glad they said it would not be back up over the weekend. People were planning on taking off because they were going to spend Thursday finishing the application and then go celebrate over the weekend. Lots of people were planning on checking out so I am glad they didn’t say it was going to be up on Sunday. What’s a few days at this point? It sounds like the SBA will give us enough warning to make sure people know and they are not just going to flip it and be like, “in an hour it will be back online.” They do really seem like they are aiming for equal opportunity. The SBA wants to help out small business owners. It’s just one of those things that we will all look back on and laugh… I hope. [laughs]
Have you been following the news that 50-year old Nashville venue Exit/In is fighting for its survival after the building was sold?
I didn’t know about the GoFundMe until [owner Chris Cobb] said, “Wow, we hit our goal.” Which is phenomenal. Cobb is so awesome. I didn’t know the guy a year ago, but his heart is so in the right place. He would do anything for his NIVA brethren and I would do anything for that guy. He’s got to keep Exit/In. If it is not looking like it is going his way, we need to find a way to make it so that the new owner understands that we will do everything that we can to make sure that nobody wants to do business there. Go buy a different f—ing building. Why this building? A hotel doesn’t need to be on the Rock Block (contiguous street of music venues in Nashville where Exit/In is located). What company is buying them?
It is a company called Adventurous Journeys Capital or AJ Capital. They run a chain of boutique hotels called The Graduate.
I am looking at a picture of one of the rooms online and the headboard is a basketball hoop backboard. These are gaudy. Maybe I don’t know what is cool or what America likes. They have a Graduate Nashville. There is one there already.
Do you think this will raise larger concerns about music venues owning their lands?
Yes. We need to own the buildings. It is too easy to lose them. When all of us started our venues, no one wanted to go to these areas. Now we turn them into these great areas and everybody else profits from them. We also do to some extent, but like if we had the building. That’s definitely a conversation that needs to happen and we need to figure out how to do it.
States like California and New York have started allowing concerts to return. How is Washington looking in terms of reopening?
April 15 is when the governor of Washington said everyone who wants a vaccine will be eligible to get one, which is crazy. We are about to go backwards in our phases. It would be roughly eight to 10 weeks to get everybody vaccinated and another few weeks to deal with whatever hurdles come up. That puts us in June for opening. We were thinking September. We could be having shows in July all of a sudden. This is all moving very fast. Our talent buyer is already back.