Running Out the Clock on Austin Music Venues *UPDATE*

Music Matters

Running Out the Clock on Austin Music Venues *UPDATE*

Posted by on Dec 7, 2020
photo by Julia Reihs/KUTX

By Jeff McCord

***UPDATED 12/14/20***

City of Austin Opens SAVES Applications for Music Venues

Venues can apply now through January 11

On December 11th, the City of Austin’s Economic Development Department opened applications for SAVES (Save Austin’s Vital Economic Sectors) funding it has been promising, which includes five million set aside specifically for music venue assistance. Venues meeting requirements can apply through the Long Center until 5pm on January 11th. Approved applicants will receive $20k in relief, which the city is promising this month. With this will come legal and accounting advice and assistance. 

In the second part of the process, approved applicants meeting certain requirements may apply for monthly assistance of $40k, with a cap of $140k. 

The application is here: https://thelongcenter.org/save-austin-venues/

Questions can be directed to saveaustin[email protected] or 512-457-5181


With Delays in Emergency Funding, the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ Hits the Eleventh Hour

As the days of pandemic multiply, so do the number of Austin music venues that aren’t coming back. The roster includes Threadgill’s, Barracuda, the Townsend, the North Door, the One-2-One, Scratchouse, and the Shady Grove. All will be missed. They are each in their own way incalculable losses, and enough to cripple most city’s music scenes. 

AUSTIN, TX. September 16th, 2020. Justin Smith, a venue worker who has been furloughed, attends the Come And Save It rally at Austin City Hall. Julia Reihs/KUTX

But this is Austin, home to, by some estimates, over a hundred places to see music. Yet, with live performance effectively muffled since early March, and the touring business shut down nationwide, how any of them -including iconic venues like Antones, the Continental Club, ACL Live, Stubbs, the Cactus Cafe, and the Mohawk – have survived this long is hard to imagine. 

Like the rest of Texas, Austin has never shied away from boasting about its music scene. The city adopted the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’ slogan long ago. The state has a Texas Music Office, which trumpets music’s large contribution to the state’s economy. Yet as musicians and venues struggle, members of the local scene are repeatedly gathering on the steps of city hall to demand further help needed to stay afloat, and Governor Abbott is reportedly sitting on nearly 6 billion of CARES act funding still undistributed. 

AUSTIN, TX. September 10th, 2020. Rebecca Reynolds, President of the Music Venue Alliance Austin. Julia Reihs/KUTX

My concern,” says attorney Rebecca Reynolds, president of the Austin chapter of the Music Venue Alliance. “focuses more on how much CARES money the city of Austin is sitting on. They allocated the CARES funding without setting aside money for the music venues (only 800k in aid made its way to some venues this summer, from $31 million in CARES funding the city received) and now they’re having trouble spending all of that money. And yet we still can’t get rent assistance for our live music venues.

Even pre-pandemic, downtown Austin venues were closing, caught in the vise of rising rents and property values. A Creative Space Assistance fund was set up to help. And in August of 2019, the city agreed to distribute a portion of hotel taxes towards the cause, though no system to distribute funds has yet to be set up. (The December 3rd Council meeting just directed the City Manager to come back next month with a plan for distributing 2.5 million from this fund to restaurants and venues.)

Bowing to public pressure, Austin announced the SAVES program back on October 1st.  They found another 5 million in aid to distribute to venues, with another 5 million set aside for ‘legacy businesses’ (not just music venues). At the December 3rd Council meeting, the city agreed to grant 20k in ‘immediate’ help to venues through two grant programs – the Live Music Preservation Fund and the Austin Legacy Business Relief Grant – if they can prove they’re at risk of closure. They can also apply for monthly grants of up to $40,000 that could last six months or until they reach the $140,000 cap. Finally, on December 11th, the city opened applications for this funding.

These delays have greatly frustrated the music community. Deputy Public Information & Marketing Manager David Gray, who emphasizes how city staff is sympathetic and doing all they can for venues, says Launching a new program of this scale usually takes about six months, and we’re trying to do it in less than two.”

 

AUSTIN, TX. September 6th, 2020. Cheer Up Charlie’s remains closed during the sixth month of venue closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Julia Reihs/KUTX

Cody Cowan with the Red River Cultural District told KUT News’ Andrew Weber he hopes the grant applications come online sooner.

 

“We expect the same thing from government that we expect in private business, which is accountability and delivery on a reasonable timescale – not excuses or pushbacks. They can do this. Nashville got a million dollars out to venues in 15 days and another million out in another 15 to 20 days. So, City of Austin, what gives?”

As the wheels of bureaucracy grind,  the governor has reopened bars at limited capacity, and with COVID rates are again on a dramatic rise, he has vowed not to shut down the state again. Venues have responded in a variety of ways. Some are staying shut, others are dabbling at high-dollar, limited capacity shows, and venues are utilizing outdoor spaces when they have them. Some activities seem relatively safe, others, particularly in smaller indoor spaces, not so much. 

A recent episode of the KUT/X podcast Pause/Play featured two musicians talking about playing the same show. One thought it was perfectly safe, while another was alarmed at how dangerous it felt.

[The venues] are driven by pressures from landlords,” says Reynolds. “Some of them are having to do things that they’re not comfortable or ready to do. It’s a matter of public health.”

And a matter of survival.I’ve been trying,” says Reynolds,” to encourage [venues] not to make any permanent decisions because we really believed that we would get this emergency funding for venues out of the city in time. But now that it’s being drug out, they’re going months and months into that based on the word of the city that help is on the way.”


The clock is ticking. The extended ban on evictions for restaurants, bars, and music venues, something many have been relying upon, currently lasts only through year’s end. 

Reynolds is trying to persuade the city to extend the moratorium.  “If we’re really looking at a program that’s not going to be launched until spring,” she says, “It’s going to be too late.”