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#SaveourStages: The uncertain future of Merriweather Post Pavilion and America's Independent Venues

All 2020 concerts at Merriweather Post Pavilion are now cancelled.* This will mark the first year in the historic amphitheater's 53 year history that the venue will not host a single summer performance. Many of the concerts that had been planned for this summer already have makeup dates on the calendar for the summer of 2021. These include: Marren Morris (6/24/21), Halsey (7/13/21), Dave Matthews Band (7/17/21), Rod Stewart and Cheap Trick (8/11/21), Luke Bryan (8/12/21), Wilco & Sleater-Kenney (8/20/21), Kenny Chesney (8/25/21), Alanis Morrissette (8/31/21), Hall & Oates (9/18/21), and the Pet Shop Boys / New Order (9/28/21).

But for the music to return next year; two things need to happen first. One is obvious. A vaccine, treatment, or government response to the novel coronavirus that would permit such large public gatherings to happen safely. The other thing is not quite as obvious. Merriweather Post Pavilion needs to remain in business. Music venues face an ominous uncertain future, as we in Columbia, MD have already seen with the closing of The Soundry.

#SaveOurStages is hashtag, slogan, and rallying cry for the newly formed National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), which already represents nearly 2,000 music clubs across all fifty states and DC. According to a survey, 90% of independent concert venues across America will be forced to permanently close without support from Congress. And it's not just concert venues; theater, comedy, and other performing arts venues are equally impacted.

Entertainment venues have huge overhead costs - rent, insurance, taxes, utilities, etc. These fixed costs must continue to be paid despite the absence of operating revenue due to their closure. There is no alternative source of revenue for these venues (venues can't sell concerts for curbside pickup). Entertainment venues were the first be closed and will be the last reopen. In fact, some states (for good reason) may not allow concert venues to open at all, in any capacity, until there is a vaccine or treatment.

In the meantime, there is no relief. Entertainment venues are unable to acquire Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) government loans because the terms of these loans require a minimum percentage (currently 60%; previously 75%) to be used for payroll, which is not practical for an industry that cannot operate at all during the pandemic.

That is why a coalition of venue owners, bookers, and promoters formed NIVA to lobby government officials to create more protective legislation for independently owned and operated performance spaces. There mission is to preserve and nurture the ecosystem of independent live music venues and promoters throughout the United States. They are working to convince legislators to reform the PPP program, provide business recovery grant funds, rent relief and unemployment insurance for contract workers and artists so that independent venues can survive.

The Restart Act is a new piece of legislation that will provide these venues the relief that they need in order to stay in business and reopen on the other side of this pandemic. NIVA is hoping that this bill can pass Congress before it goes into recess next month. makes it easy for fans of live entertainment to fill out a simple form to contact your Congressional representation urging them to pass this legislation and help save independent venues. Merriweather Post Pavilion's independent promotion and production company- I.M.P. - which also operates DC venues The 9:30 Club, The Anthem, U Street Music Hall, and The Lincoln Theater - is one of the primary organizers behind NIVA.

Losing Merriweather Post Pavilion would be devastating for music lovers and our community. But it would also be devastating for the Downtown Columbia master plan. It's the centerpiece and primary draw that makes our burgeoning urban core unique from other mixed used developments springing up in suburban environments across the country. The restaurants, hotels, and retail establishments being planned around Merriweather Post Pavilion are counting on the hundreds of thousands of concert goers to frequent these businesses before and after a show. A NIVA study estimates that $1 spent at an independent venue results ins $12 of economic activity at neighboring businesses.


*The M3 Rock Festival rescheduled for Sept 4-6 is still listed on the MPP calendar, but I'm presuming it's only a matter of time before that is removed as well; as no other 2020 concerts are listed.


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