At Austin’s Broken Spoke, Roger Williams makes case for Save Our Stages Act
Political and musical voices came together Thursday at a hallowed Austin landmark with a shared message: Don’t let the music stop.
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, held a morning news conference at historic country dance hall the Broken Spoke in support of the federal Save Our Stages Act, which seeks to earmark $10 billion to help independent music venues survive the coronavirus pandemic.
“During COVID-19, independent live music venues have been hardest hit, as they were first to close and they’d be among the last to reopen,” Williams said. “They generate billions of dollars in our national economy and create thousands of jobs every year, and are a cultural staple in Central Texas, and all of Texas.”
U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., introduced the bill in the Senate in July, with Williams and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, introducing companion legislation in the House shortly thereafter.
Williams played up bipartisan congressional support for the act, which now has 37 co-sponsors in the Senate and more than 100 in the House. “It’s vital that these venues have a flow of capital during this time while they are shut down,” he said.
The National Independent Venue Association helped bring the Save Our Stages Act to the fore. The advocacy group includes more than a dozen Austin music venues among its members. Rebecca Reynolds of Music Venue Alliance Austin, which has worked closely with national venue group, also was present at Thursday’s event.
“We’ve gotten our hopes up so many different times, and then things stall out or the clock runs out,” Reynolds said. The Save Our Stages Act was left on the table when Congress adjourned last month, and efforts to get local government assistance for Austin venues have fallen short of the music community’s expectations.
With Congress back in session this month, “we’re trying to be cautiously optimistic,” Reynolds said.
Austen Bailey, a talent buyer for Red River Cultural District venue the Mohawk, on Thursday stressed the interconnected nature of the live music circuit beyond Austin.
“Nationwide, this is devastating, because it’s a touring ecosystem that’s shut down,” he said. “If the clubs in another city don’t make it through, how do bands get from point A to point B? We need the ecosystem to be healthy in order to sustain even locally.”
That ecosystem also expands well beyond venues, a fact that helped give rise to the National Independent Talent Organization, a sort of sister group to the National Independent Venue Association that formed this spring. Frank Riley of High Road Touring, a Bay Area-based agency that has four employees in its Austin office, helped establish the talent organization to represent independent booking agents, managers and others whose livelihoods are directly tied to the live music industry.
The National Independent Venue Association announced Wednesday that it has partnered with YouTube to “work on unique programming that will help bring live performances back into music venues safely.” Details on such programming have not been announced, but YouTube also is helping to call attention to the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund, which “is intended to provide short-term relief for independent music venue owners and promoters on the precipice of eviction or permanently shuttering” amid the pandemic, according to a statement from the venue association.
Austin musician Monte Warden also attended the Thursday event at the Broken Spoke; his country band the Wagoneers played a monthly gig at the venue in recent years. “It became our mortgage payment and our groceries for the month,” Warden said, adding that the Broken Spoke shows also often led to offers for private party performances.
Warden said he’d like for some venues to have the means to reopen for psychological reasons. “I think there’s going to be venues that will need to be open before folks are ready to go back,” he said. “Even though they might not have very many patrons for a while, I think people just need to see places being open safely. No one’s for no safety, but the first act is just getting them open.”
Williams — a multimillionaire whose car dealership in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburb of Weatherford received funds from the federal Paycheck Protection Program in the spring in an amount that was between $1 million and $2 million — voiced similar sentiments.
“It’s my hope that our venues, with the help of Congress and our community, will be able to once again reopen and welcome their next act to the stage,” he said.