As pandemic closures stretch into their seventh month, one question keeps coming up in regards to the arts scene: What's going to happen to live music? With national tours at a standstill, local concerts on hold and no major federal relief in sight, most small music venues are perilously close to shutting their doors forever.
Keep Music Live is a new COVID-19 relief effort that's hoping to prevent that alarming prospect from becoming a reality, targeting Washington venues and nightclubs with capacities of fewer than 1,000 people. The group was formed earlier this year by a coalition of venue owners, musicians and arts organization stalwarts, and among its chairs is rapper and Seattle native Sir Mix-A-Lot.
Ginger Ewing, co-founder of the Spokane arts organization Terrain, is on Keep Music Live's board of directors, and she says the group approached her to expand its reach beyond the live music hubs of Seattle and Olympia.
"It was music lovers and music venues coming together to try to figure out a way to save small independent music venues," Ewing tells the Inlander. "As someone who runs an arts non-profit in town and has a close relationship with venue owners, it was a no-brainer for me to join the board."
Keep Music Live isn't the first initiative of its kind to spring up mid-pandemic, and other like-minded organizations are still campaigning for the future of venues and lobbying the federal government for funds. Although bills focused specifically on theatrical and music venues have been introduced to Congress — including the Restart Act and the Save Our Stages Act — gridlock over stimulus negations have held them up.
But venue owners are becoming more aware that they can't sit around and wait much longer, which has inspired grassroots initiatives like Keep Music Live to carry the torch. The National Independent Venue Association, the group behind Save Our Stages, is one of the more prominent of those groups: This weekend, they're hosting the Save Our Stages Festival, a virtual fundraiser that will feature performances from the likes of Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews, Miley Cyrus and Macklemore.
Keep Music Live is still in its nascent phases, and it just began its first social media push this week. The group is aiming to raise $10 million, which will fund grants for indie venues to stay afloat during the pandemic.
Karli Ingersoll, owner of Lucky You Lounge, has also been involved with Keep Music Live, and she acknowledges that her own venue could benefit from the initiative.
"There's been this realization that it doesn't look like we're going to get any level of federal funding," Ingersoll says. "We want to save our music venue, so we have to kind of go for more grassroots-oriented fundraising efforts."
And it's not just tiny clubs: Ingersoll points to Neumos, a well-established venue in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle, as a beloved indie mainstay that won't be able to survive with its high monthly rent much longer.
"That area of Capitol Hill is high traffic because of live music," she says. "It has made it so those other businesses can be successful, because it's bringing people into that neighborhood several nights a week."
Ewing says that the argument for keeping concert venues alive is multi-tiered. Concerts draw crowds (that is, of course, the main reason they're closed right now), which in turn bolster the nightlife scene, with nearby restaurants and bars benefitting from an influx of people looking for food and drinks before and after concerts. A healthy live music scene is also a boon for tourism, she says, as touring bands draw people from neighboring cities.
But there's also that more intangible, nebulous benefit to seeing live music — the cathartic emotional release, the sense of community, the spark of creativity.
"It's all those aspects — from the visitors bureau perspective, from an economic perspective, from a spiritual perspective," Ewing says. "They're the heart and the soul of our communities."
If we let our indie venues simply close down, Ewing says, "they won't be easily replaceable."
Read more about the initiative and donate at KeepMusicLiveWA.com.