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Neumos in Seattle, in a Pandemic: COVID Is ‘Not Going Away’

As part of Billboard's efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we have been speaking with Steven Severin regularly to chronicle his experience throughout…

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.)

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How are things going out in Washington? 

I saw the tracing from the Watershed country festival in Washington and they came up with 200 cases that came from it. It was 25,000 people so that was 1% and they weren’t required to be vaccinated. That crowd is also less likely to be vaccinated, so that’s not bad. The numbers are way lower than I would have thought. There wasn’t a mask to be seen anywhere. I was pretty impressed [with the low numbers]. It was the same for Lollapalooza. Those numbers are low and those are just cases. Those aren’t hospitalizations. I don’t think the world should stop because people are going to get COVID. I think the world should stop if people are going to get hospitalized or get long COVID. That’s where my thinking is.  

Have vaccination requirements continued to rise near you? 

More and more people are requiring vaccination proof or negative tests. AEG came out for vaccine requirements since we last spoke and Live Nation clarified its half step. Their whole thing of ‘We’ll require vaccinations if the artist requests it’…well, no sh*t. Now they have said you need to be vaccinated or have a negative test and I think that’s great. It needs to be uniform for this all to work.  

Does it seem like the industry is becoming more uniform about vaccination requirements? 

The new thing that I am seeing is the PCR test being required in addition to vaccination to see a show. I think that is going to be the step that is too far. Because it is already a problem. It is a problem in hip-hop and urban shows. Across the country, hip-hop shows are cancelling, and numbers aren’t what they would normally be. Same for dance nights. There is a very good reason for the BIPOC community to not trust the government and vaccines, so the numbers are going to be down. For a lot of shows, there are going to be enough people who will pass [rather than take a PCR test] and the margins are already so small that I think this is the step too far.  

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Do you think this is because PCR tests are harder to get? 

Yeah. It’s not just going down to Walgreens and buying a rapid test. You’ve got to go in. It’s an official test. It’s not simple. A medical professional has to do it. I mean, I would skip stuff. I have to take time off of work, go get tested and that’s harder for someone with a 9-to-5 job. It takes 48 hours to get the results. You’ve got to be thinking ahead and planning. I think people won’t want to bother with unless they are really excited to see the artist.  

Are venues and promoters going to have to grapple with the idea that a small percentage of folks who attend their shows will get COVID? Maybe there is a specific percentage they are ok with? 

That is something that I need to ask more people. What is your level of okay-ness of people getting COVID? I have been talking for a few weeks now with people about the fact that people are going to get COVID. It’s like the flu. It is not going away. People won’t engage me on it, because they don’t want to admit it. If I wasn’t a venue owner, maybe I wouldn’t either. It is something I want people to embrace more because it is not going away. We don’t want to admit it because it’s scary. We all just want to stick our heads in the sand.