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Neumos in Seattle, in a Pandemic: ‘These Venues are Getting Knocked Down and Becoming Condos’

Steven Severin, co-owner of independent venue Neumos in Seattle, says his local non-profit launched an attention-grabbing campaign because "we had to do something to get people to pay attention."

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?

We launched the [The Washington Nightlife Music Association] Keep Music Live campaign. We launched the campaign at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. It is amazing working on something for so long for one day to finally launch. We all got on a call at 10 a.m. on Tuesday and celebrated and put whiskey in our coffees. We all hit send at the same time and had something to celebrate. Then there were still so many millions of things to do. I emailed hundreds if not thousands of people asking them to help donate or promote Keep Music Live. I said, “I don’t ask for favors but this is my time asking for a favor. You need to return this favor. This is a favor I need.” The response has been amazing. If it is $25, amazing. If it is $25,000, awesome. Every bit counts. We got so many under $100 donations. That’s just so rad to see. You would have bought two tickets to a show for $50. Give that to us so we can do this. Then spread the word. Tell other people, because you never know who you are hitting.

I saw the image of a “Coming Soon” sign for condos on Neumos and, honestly, my stomach sank. Once I read more it clarifies that this is what could happen if Washington venues don’t get help, but it stopped me in my tracks.

I did too and I worked on the fucking thing for months. I saw it and it was the most I realized that this is all real. It really could go away. We are on the precipice. This is crazy. We’re all hanging by threads. Seeing that on our venue and the tractor at Central was like, “Oh man. This is horrible.” I’ve had people hit me up and say, “Man, I just heard about Neumos. I’m so sorry. Fuck. I never thought it would come to this.” And I am like, “You don’t read.” [Laughs] But that’s also the point. That’s what we were trying to do. We wanted to get people to understand because we get so numb to everything. We had to do something to get people to pay attention. [This] has done it.

How long ago did the banners go up?

They went up on Tuesday and I’ve heard everything from “I’m sorry you’re losing Neumos, this is devastating” to “Holy shit that was an incredibly smart campaign. You guys are geniuses.” I didn’t come up with it, but sure. The banners are going up on six other places in Seattle. El Corazón’s is 70 ft long. Ours is maybe 20 ft. El Corazón’s is off of the highway and it is massive. Because of it, we are in the Seattle Times. We’ve got a couple of TV pieces coming out. [U.S. Senator] Maria Cantwell’s (D-Wa.) chief of staff [Jami Burgess] called me. He didn’t call because everything is going great. He called because he saw everything happening and they want to do something to help. He’s been great.

Have you gotten the reaction you were hoping for from the campaign?

I went on a Reddit thread about Keep Music Live and people do not get it. Somebody said, “Someone else will just open another club, no big deal.” Who is going to open a club right now? That’s the stupidest investment you could possibly make. We don’t know when the pandemic is going to be over. We don’t know what the music industry is going to be. Why would you do that and pay that kind of rent? These venues are getting knocked down and becoming condos. We know that because we have been told that. This isn’t a hypothetical. One is going to be a bible factory. The people who own that building make bibles and they said that if the club ever goes away, it is turning into a bible factory. Which is just so weird on so many levels.


Last week the National Independent Venue Association announced the #SOSFest and Macklemore played your room for the virtual event happening this weekend. How was that for you?

He is such a good dude. I have known a lot of artists that have gone on to do big things and fame changes them. It’s not really possible to have really huge fame and not be changed. The week that Macklemore’s big record came out, The Heist, he had sold out WaMu Theater which is 7,000-capacity. Then he did a secret release show at Neumos for 600 people. Artists don’t really do that anymore and he did. When his next record came out, he did the same thing. I think he did five Key Arenas, sold out to 13,000 people. But earlier that week he did Neumos. When we asked him about #SOSFest, he was like, “Yeah. Totally. I’m in.” To get to see him as part of #SOSFest with some killer names is rad. I am going to be glued to my couch all weekend. I am starting with FINNEAS. Steven Sternschien, he is the dude that put this together and he knocked it out of the park. I mean, he got the Foo Fighters to play the fucking Troubadour. Is there anyone he asked who said no? This better raise a cagillion dollars.

How has NIVA been feeling about the Save Our Stages (SOS) Act since the president did not agree to the package a few weeks ago?

The lobbying group for NIVA are some of the most resilient fuckers there are. I say fuckers with adoration because that is what we all call each other. The amount of work that they have done and staying on top of things. Something happens and you immediately get an email. They are pretty phenomenal. We know that something is going to happen. The SOS or the Restart Act or whatever it gets called is going to happen. We are going to get that, we just don’t know when. The scary thing and the thing we are pushing so hard for, is getting them to do it now.