AUSTIN (KXAN) — Through January 11, music venues are able to apply for grant funding the city of Austin has set aside in hopes of helping places that have earned the city the title “Live Music Capital of the World.”

For months, members of Austin’s music community have been advocating at city council meetings and posting on social media, pleading for more financial relief to help the people who make their living in live music last until the time when it’s safe to host crowded live shows again.

For some music venues, this could mean a shot at some financial relief before we enter the new year.

There is a total of $5 million the city can distribute through the Austin Live Music Venue Preservation Fund. The funding is not from federal coronavirus relief, but rather money the city worked to find in its own budget.

How to apply

Music venues can apply for this funding through the Long Center for the Performing Arts, which is administering these grants until Jan. 11 at 5 p.m. To learn more about the application, look here.

Who can apply

In order to qualify, venues must be located in a City of Austin Council district, must meet or exceed the city’s COVID-19 guidelines, must meet the city’s definition of a music venue and must have significantly reduced operations since March 2020.

What money is available?

This grant money will be distributed in two phases, the city said. The first phase will offer dollars to venues who face immediate risk of closure. Those selected will receive a $20,000 grant, which the Long Center will distribute in December 2020. Venues who get this funding will also have access to legal and accounting services, real estate advice and other help with long term planning from community experts.

The second phase will allow applicants to apply for up to $140,000 in grant funding (not including grant funds received in the first phase). In order to be eligible, venues have to complete a technical assistance evaluation and an equity strategic plan. This funding will be distributed in monthly payments with a maximum payment of $40,000 each month.

  • For eligibility questions and application assistance, contact the Long Center by email or by phone 512-457-5181.

The City of Austin’s Economic Development Department has been spearheading the city’s relief efforts and has a goal of having that first phase of money available to live music venues before the end of the month. The department has made it clear that the city believes these venues strengthen Austin, both economically and culturally.

Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors

This funding came about as the council pushed the city earlier this year to locate additional funds to support three sectors deemed “vital” to Austin during the pandemic: music venues, childcare providers, and legacy businesses. City staff was able to secure additional dollars through switching payment models and postponing less-critical maintenance for this fund which has come to be known as SAVES (Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors). SAVES consists of $15 million city dollars, $5 million for each of the three vital sectors.

This process required months of council actions and revising of guidelines until applications for two of the funds opened this past week.

City leaders have acknowledged while these funds are designed to help some local organizations weather the pandemic, the need for financial relief in the Austin area is greater than what the city has to offer. City council members have encouraged Austinites to urge their state and federal officials for more relief dollars as well.

Keeping the music playing

Music venues operations have been limited by both state and local pandemic precautions as well as proactive measures by venue operators to cease or limit shows to avoid the spread of COVID-19. Presently, bars are not allowed to be open in Travis County, unless they have a special permit from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission to serve food.

This has pushed some bars to begin selling food.

The Elephant Room jazz club in Austin has not hosted shows since March. The club will be applying for the city’s newly-launched music venue relief grant funding. December 12, 2020. (KXAN Alyssa Goard).

At the Congress Ave jazz club Elephant Room, managers briefly considered selling peanuts as a snack to operate under these guidelines, then ditched the idea.

“But being a basement bar, it’s probably not the safest environment and we’re not going to risk our employees, our musicians, our public safety to open a peanut restaurant,” said Michael Mordecai, the trombone player, talent manager, and booking agent with the Elephant Room.

Consequently, the Elephant Room has not had a show since March (though the team there has a vision for a virtual show and is in search of someone to help them produce it). Mordecai explained, while the revenue has dried up at the nearly thirty-year-old jazz club, the monthly expenses continue.

The Elephant Room applied for previous COVID-19 relief funding through the city but was not selected and was not offered an explanation as to why. Mordecai said.

Michael Mordecai, trombone player and Booking Agent for Austin jazz club the Elephant Room goes over music with the band “Beto and the Fairlanes” at One World Theater. Elephant Room is applying for the city’s newly launched Live Music Venue Preservation grant program. December 13, 2020.

But the jazz club has already submitted its application for this new fund and is feeling more optimistic this time around.

“The SAVES fund looks really promising, we haven’t gotten any checks in the mail yet, but I understand that they are coming and the process, the application process this time was very easy,” Mordecai said, noting the application only took his colleague around ten minutes this time around.

He added that he is heartened that the Long Center will be administering the grants this time around as they “know the Austin music scene better and will be able to distribute the funds to those that can still be around after the pandemics over.”

Speakers line the stage at One World Theater as the band Beto and the Fairlanes prepares for their Christmas live stream show. December 13, 2020. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

If the Elephant Room is selected for this funding, Mordecai said the dollars will go toward the club’s rent.

“The owners have kept the staff on all this time, but rent is by far the largest expense, and if it were just covering the rent, it would be a blessing,” he noted.

To keep his skills fresh, Mordecai has performed virtually or on live streams with different music groups. On Sunday, he played with the band Beto and the Fairlanes for their Christmas show which was live-streamed from One World Theater. The team working on the performance included people who also work at three Austin area music venues, which Mordecai explained, is just another sign of how tight-knit the live music community is.

The band performed socially distanced, with masks when their instruments allowed, with plenty of sanitizer, and with plexiglass separation.

Mordecai explained that over the course of the pandemic, Beto and the Fairlanes have had both band members and family members of band members who have gotten sick with COVID-19.

“There was a time when COVID was something that was happening in New York and other places, nobody that we really knew had it,” Mordecai noted, “now it’s more the exception to the rule if you don’t know someone personally affected by this disease.”