I represented my fair share of what the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) reports as 172 million American concert attendees last year. I was stoked to keep that going in 2020, starting with a Testament show in April, and Megadeth / Lamb of God in August.
Then the coronavirus swept those, and most other shows/tours away. Now, over 600 musicians are supporting “NIVA’s request for federal assistance for independent music venues.”
They run the gamut from bands I listen to (Exodus and Power Trip), to what I grew up around (Randy Travis and Alabama), to more mainstream acts (Coldplay and John Mellencamp), to what my daughters listen to (Logic and Madison Beer). Even comics like Ray Romano and Lisa Lampanelli have joined the chorus.
The signatories cut across political lines as well, including (past) republican voters Alice Cooper, Pat Boone and Lee Greenwood.
There’s one other thing these artists have in common: they’re all wrong.
The arrival of the coronavirus has provoked a harried response from people. We didn’t know what we were dealing with. We heard it was worse than the seasonal flu. We saw traumatic firsthand accounts from emergency room and intensive care units.
Elected leaders acted.
Whether or not forcible lockdowns were necessary is debatable, given the measures that prudent people and businesses were already starting to take. Alas, they happened, and we’ve had time to learn more and prepare for any continued fallout.
That’s one reason there shouldn’t be too many worries that “the shutdown last(s) six months,” after which the petitioners believe “90% of independent venues … will never reopen.” Consequently, there should be no more “federal assistance.”
At some point the gravy train to the federal trough needs to come to a screeching halt, for ALL who ride it.
Comedian Dennis Miller once joked about Uncle Sam’s budget deficit “do we actually owe somebody that money? And if we do, (expletive) ‘em, don’t pay ‘em.” Though that was two presidential cycles ago, policymakers have been testing the limits of deficit-spending well before his quip. A couple generations in, it has become accepted orthodoxy in some economic circles.
Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is what they call it. Basically, since we print our own currency, we can have all the goodies we want, and never have to worry about defaulting on the debt we’ve accrued getting them.
Among the points of contention with MMT, one that pops up in this discussion is spending, which is the real problem regardless what we think about the subsequent debt.
Since it is politically-directed by people who did not earn the prospective funding, it requires next to no market discipline, and is therefore subject to a heightened likelihood of waste. Moreover, as with all bailouts, motivation to change with the times is eroded.
In order to provide peace of mind to customers these days, businesses have to adapt. Just as we now see social-distancing stickers on the ground at grocery stores, and plastic partitions at nail salons, perhaps some seats need to be pulled from venues, for example.
More than a few acts however, don’t envision a return to the live music experience many of us have come to know, including the kind to which I’m partial, where “standing room only” is more like “stand if you can.”
What then of all these established venues asking for an “investment” (a scene in “Goodfellas” comes to mind, when Sonny Bunz asks “Paulie” Cicero to “take a piece” in his restaurant)? Will we see follow-up requests? Is that when taxpayer-funded drives for “historical preservation” kick in?
Milton Friedman wasn’t just being witty when he said there is “nothing so permanent as a temporary government program.”
In the meantime, a creative mind might very well come along with an imaginative new venue design for performers itching to get back on stage. Incidentally, one group of folks that might have some ideas are the artists themselves.
Between well-established performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Lady Gaga, Billy Joel and Ozzy, they’re quite likely able to seed some of these ideas with financial capital, both for new venues and the current, struggling ones. If they’re genuinely passionate about it, there should be no need to tap the taxpayer.
One thing they should probably stay away from though is economic analysis.
Some of these places with which I’m familiar, in Austin and Corpus Christi as well as here in the Alamo City, aren’t exactly “driver(s) of economic renewal.” Even a venue surrounded by trendy shops and restaurants like the Cynthia Woods Pavilion in Houston doesn’t fit that bill.
This is the same faulty reasoning employed to sell a public on raising taxes on itself (or passing the cost on to tourists, essentially disinviting them from visiting, but nevermind) in order to build a new sports stadium.
Unless a venue has the effect of attracting a manufacturing plant, or a software development company, or an engineering firm, it’s not an “engine” of anything other than the most over-credited part of an economy; consumption, the last part of the cycle that literally destroys all value created to that point.
Regardless, there’s less activity of any kind happening if these venues are sitting empty. Fortunately, that’s not necessarily the case, as some shows are starting to fill their respective calendars. That begs the question; why the plea for “not a handout?”
Come and Take It Live, the place in Austin where a buddy and I saw Obituary last September, has fourteen shows scheduled for July, but for an average cover of only around $10. A particularly appealing one, Slaterica (“the world’s only Slayer / Pantera / Metallica cover band”) is a free benefit for autism.
I’d be happy to hand over a few bucks for that show, but not if in their other hand they have a hat extended to congress.
It’s safe to say that the events of this year, between the shutdowns, protests and rioting, have worn out many of us, and shown the value of coming together, physically, around common interests. With family and friends sure, but also with strangers.
For most of my adult life, I’ve looked like the oddball at these concerts. But as with sporting events, for example, we’re all there for the same reason: to enjoy a common interest. This is arguably one area that genuinely weaves a community a bit tighter together.
If venues require a face-covering to get in, I’ve built up a sweet collection of masks and bandanas. If they want to zap my forehead to take my temperature at the door, that’s fine. If they close off the (mosh) pits due to safety concerns, so be it. That would also serve as a lengthy barrier between the fans and the performers, as would a massive, clear curtain that some restaurants have employed.
I can’t be the only one who’s ready for these events to return. Let’s do this!