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Bill could give live music venues like Billy Bob’s Texas a ‘lifeline’ amid COVID

Aug 7, 2020
In The News

Casey Donahew can’t wait to get back on the stage and sing for crowds.

“Music does heal,” the country music singer said. “It happens every day.”

Donahew on Friday showed up at Billy Bob’s Texas Friday to talk about the proposed Save Our Stages Act, a bipartisan bill U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, is trying to pass through Congress.

The measure, also filed by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, would funnel financial help to independent music venues that have been shut down by officials to slow the spread of coroanvirus. A companion bill has been introduced in the Senate.

“Independent live music venues have been hardest hit,” Rogers said during a press conference Friday, noting they were the “first to close, last to open.”

Williams stressed that this industry has been hit. But the venues still have to pay bills such as rent or mortgages, utilities, taxes and more.

And live events such as concerts may not be a possibility at many places for months, possibly until a vaccine is ready.

Williams said a number of venues in his district, which stretches from the edges of Tarrant County to Austin, have been “devastated by this pandemic.”

This bill, he said, is designed to “give them a lifeline.”

The bill would create a grant program in the Small Business Administration that can provide as much as $10 billion in economic relief for independent live music venues that have been impacted by coroanvirus.

That’s especially important in cities such as Fort Worth, which received the first designation as a music-friendly city in the state of Texas, said Bob Jameson, president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth.

“The music story here in Fort Worth is as rich and diverse as you would find absolutely anywhere,” Jameson said. “It spans cultures, genres, and reaches into every neighborhood in the city of Fort Worth.”

In May, a letter supporting the act, which was signed by Williams and more than 90 colleagues, was sent to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy

“These venues support the economies of communities across the country, are a crucial component of the music industry’s ecosystem, and serve as incubators and launch pads for the most popular talent in the world,” the letter stated. “We can provide a vital lifeline for the industry that will help to sustain the iconic venues that are central to the social, cultural, and economic fabric of so many of our communities.

“This industry is not going to make it without our help.”

At Billy Bob’s, officials are trying a new approach.

They are applying for a permit to operate as a restaurant and hope to re-open soon. They already have a schedule of concerts lined up once it does open.

It “is a little bit of a challenge to our business model,” said Marty Travis, general manager at the honky-tonk.

But he stressed Billy Bob’s will follow safety protocols and have limited tables.

In late June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott closed all bars across the state through an executive order coronavirus cases began flaring up in Texas. His order let restaurants stay open, but only at 50% capacity.

Before closing, Billy Bob’s sold food through its Honky-Tonk Kitchen that served food during lunch and dinner.

Now, Travis said, Billy Bob’s wants to “lead by example of how everything should be done.”