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.)
How is the new year starting off for you?
We had to shut down [my restaurant] Life at Mars. There was nothing we could do. The staff got sick. So we shut down until people are healthy again. We already had some staff that was sick and then we had three more that it happened to and we don’t have [COVID-19] tests. If you’ve been exposed to COVID, our thing is you have to get a negative test before you can come to work. But people can’t get tests.
[Omicron] is so contagious. It is knocking people out left and right.
Has Neumos had any issues with staffing?
No, but between December and mid-January, we canceled almost everything. There was a benefit we were doing for an organization called Mary’s Place that we let happen on New Year’s Eve and everything else we axed. We don’t have anything on the books until Jan. 15. We are waiting and seeing what is going to happen. Stuff is canceling and postponing left and right all across the country. Tours are getting pushed back and we are going through the same thing again. It’s insane.
At what point did you realize it would be best to not host shows until mid-January?
Starting in the middle of December, it became clear how much omicron was going to start wrecking us. We started looking at what we had and canceling a few things here and there. Two days later, you’d hear about the [COVID-19] rates going through the roof so we’d cancel a couple more or the artist would call and say they’re not comfortable with it and want to cancel. Once something is two weeks out, you kind of know whether it is going to play or not. We have Jeff Rosenstock on Jan. 15 and I think it’s going to play, but I have no idea. I’m done trying to read crystal balls.
The days leading up to New Year’s Day are usually big money for live event spaces. Did not having events during that week hurt you or other venues?
A lot of places ended up not doing New Year’s events, but a lot of it was because tickets didn’t sell. If you’re already not selling and it’s not a great idea…
But there were some people, they needed that New Year’s to pay rent that month. [Neumos] needed December. December is corporate party time. We usually do lots of holiday parties, but this year I don’t think we had any. So that money we make in December to get through the lean months of January and February, that’s gone. I can pay my rent. I am okay. But I know people who run small venues that can’t. It’s tough.
It seems like it has been a rough start to 2022 for venues.
What I keep reminding people about is the live music ecosystem. When venues cancel shows that means staff doesn’t get paid. There are no unemployment benefits when you’re not working for a week or two. The government needs to figure something out. It’s the exact same thing with musicians. Artists aren’t getting paid to keep pushing things off.
Are fans purchasing tickets for shows after the forecasted drop in cases, so March and beyond?
No. I was talking to a venue the other day and they said they had gotten more cancellation requests for refunds that week than tickets sold. Ticket sales have stopped. I just looked at our ticket counts and they are not pretty. I can’t blame people. I get it. I want people to buy tickets because hopefully this will all go away and we’ll be back in no time, but I get why they don’t. It’s not fun. A whole lot is not fun right now.