AUSTIN (KXAN) — The first to close and the last reopen. That’s the tough reality live music venues across the United States are facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As struggles continue, a club downtown announced Wednesday it’s closing permanently.
Barracuda is the fifth place in Austin to announce closing during the pandemic. Visit Austin confirmed permanent closures for:
- Threadgill’s (original location)
- Shady Grove
“Every place like Barracuda is going to be gone in the next six months. That’s what we’re looking at here,” said Stephen Sternschein, Managing Partner at Heard Presents, which owns Empire Control Room and Garage and the Parish.
“We’re all very scared,” Sternschein added. “It’s just a really unfortunate, terrible situation, and it really comes down to rent.”
Venue owners explained, no shows mean no ticket sales, and that means no money to pay rent.
Additionally, the City of Austin still doesn’t recommend gatherings bigger than 10 people.
The state regulations allow bars to open at 50% capacity, but even if they were to reopen, Sternschein said, “If you have a 25% capacity limitation, right, if you have a 1,000 person venue, and you can only bring 250 people in there, I still have to pay 100% of rent.”
Sternschein is also a board member of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). The group said all venues across the country are experiencing the same challenges. They “have zero revenue, but obligations like mortgage/rent, bills, loans, taxes, and insurance continue.”
In a survey, NIVA found 90% of its members would close in the next six months without any help from the federal government.
The group is pushing for Congress to act to help independent music venues.
Sternschein said the music industry is unique in that venues in different cities are interdependent.
“In order for artists to be able to afford to go out on tour and for people to be able to afford to see them, they have to play 20-30 shows,” he explained. “They can’t do just one show because it’s too expensive to do it otherwise.”
Locally, the Red River Cultural District has suggested the city buy some venues to help preserve them.
Sternschein said that could help protect existing venues from redevelopment. He said, “preserving the actual real estate, the land in a way that keeps it operating as a creative music space” would be “the best thing we can do as a community.”
Austin musician Nakia told KXAN something needs to be done to make sure local venues can reopen.
“Every time a music venue closes in Austin, we lose a portion of our culture,” he said. “Live music venues are who employ Austin musicians. We’re artists, but we’re also workers. We can’t go back to work until they’re open, and they can’t reopen unless they get some assistance.”
The City of Austin is currently accepting applications for the Music Disaster Relief Fund.
In April, the Austin City Council approved directing $1.5 million to the fund to help musicians facing economic hardship during the pandemic. It gives $1,000 grants to those who apply and qualify.
Nakia said the venues need relief, too.
“All small businesses have been affected by this. All musicians have been affected by this. But we have to admit that live music needs some special attention in Austin,” he said. “We need the city of Austin to step up and really help large music venues.”
“We’re grieving, and we’re mad, we’re sad,” he said.
This coming weekend, Nakia and his new band were supposed to play at Saxon Pub.
“What makes being an artist so fulfilling is connecting with people and having them connect with the art that I create,” he said. “And it’s so hard to do that through a zoom call. It’s so hard to do that through a live stream.”
Musicians, venue owners and promoters hope music can once again bring people of all ages and backgrounds together in the Live Music Capital of the World.
“That is what brings us together in those physical spaces, and we can’t have live music without live music venues,” Nakia said.