While many independent music venues and theaters around the country have lost 100 percent of their income since being forced to close four months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic, many small and mid-sized businesses, such as restaurants and those in the travel and hospitality industries, are in similar situations.
That’s why Colorado Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and Indiana Republican Senator Todd Young drafted the RESTART Act, a bipartisan bill also supported by Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner, that could provide a flexible loan program to help businesses stay afloat through the end of the year and into 2021.
On Thursday, July 16, Bennet met with Lumineers members Wesley Schultz and Jeremiah Fraites. as well as Z2 Entertainment CEO Cheryl Ligouri and David Weingarden, Z2’s vice president of concerts and events, to discuss the RESTART Act at the Boulder Theater.
“It's meant to allow the hardest businesses in America like this one we're sitting in today to be able to borrow a loan from the government for the next six months, have the working capital they need to keep their businesses afloat, until we get to…I wouldn't say the other side of the pandemic...[but] to a place where there's more certainty about where we are going forward," said Bennet. "[We'll] hopefully bridge the gap and come out on the other side of this intact.
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“I believe if we don't act," he continued, "there are hundreds of thousands of businesses in America that will go out of business and never come back again, and the unemployment rate will only skyrocket as a result. These loans are paid back over seven years, and much of the loan is forgivable based on the revenue loss the businesses have suffered.”
Traction for the RESTART Act has ramped up in recent weeks, thanks in part to the National Independent Venue Association, which organized the #SaveOurStages campaign that's resulted in more than a million emails sent to Congress urging passage of the RESTART Act, endorsements from the GRAMMY Awards and the National Independent Talent Organization, which represents 2,000 artists.
The Lumineers are one of many acts, along with Lady Gaga, OutKast, the Foo Fighters and Dillon Francis, that support the RESTART Act.
According to Lumineers frontman Schultz, venues and restaurants help define a city:
“I think if you don't take care of these places, the richness of these cities goes away,” Schultz says. “It's all about this culture that is through these venues. They're very special places, and not only that, but the human beings that are going into these venues and working them...everyone's struggling right now, but particularly people who don't have an opportunity because you're not going to have shows in the foreseeable future.”
“We've been at zero revenue for months now, with no idea of when we'll be able to reopen,” Ligouri says. “This is an international business, but as a nation, we have to open as a whole for all these independent venues to reopen and get artists back on the road. Also, unique to our industry, while we have no revenue, we are moving shows and refunding tickets, further depleting whatever cash we have as we operate on a skeletal crew and take care of our overhead expenses.
“And while everybody's been really generous, we still have expenses that you have to pay in order to come back, and you still have to have a little bit of money in the bank to be able to reopen," she adds.
Weingarden says the live-music industry isn’t like a retail store where a switch can be flipped and the doors opened.
“You can’t just turn it back on,” Weingarden says. “It doesn't work like that.”
Weingarden says bands have to map out tours, which can’t happen because the entire ecosystem is down right now, because nobody can be on the road.
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Fraites says that places like grocery stores and some restaurants can figure out some band-aid-type solutions, but venues, particularly small ones, have lost all of their revenue.
And I think when things will get better, whether at the end of this year or 2021,” Fraites says, “I feel confident that there'll be great progress made with a vaccine or cure or something like that, but I think people really need a music and culture, and that's really what's going to save us after this kind of upside down here, so thanks for putting this bill forward.”
Ligouri says while the RESTART Act will help support the live-music industry, it isn’t going to recover in a year.
“For a lot of these venues, with debt mounting, it could be three years before life is back to normal, and a lot of people will continue to struggle until they get to that point,” she says. “A lot of what's in the bill is really going to be very helpful in that situation."