Many individuals and businesses are hurting badly these days, and each segment of the economy faces its own particular challenges. So the demands for congressional attention and aid can seem overwhelming.
The needs are real, though. And perhaps nowhere is the situation more vexing than in a homegrown industry that has ground to a halt and is facing a long road back.
Live music isn’t just a vocation for some Louisianans, it’s a key ingredient in the state’s celebrated joie de vivre as well as a major driver of tourism. It’s also uniquely threatened by the coronavirus pandemic.
Think about it. The very things that make live music so enticing — the singing and playing and dancing with abandon, the big crowds packed into tight spaces — also heighten the risk of viral spread, and fly in the face of safety precautions like masking, social distancing and limitations on gatherings. Behind the scenes, factors such as travel restrictions also make a return to normal daunting.
That’s why, as Preservation Hall Jazz Band creative director Ben Jaffe put it, “venues and live music events are most likely going to be some of the last businesses to reopen,” — that is, if they can hold on until some unspecified future date at all.
The main form of government aid approved in an earlier round of relief, the Paycheck Protection Program aimed at helping businesses reopen, doesn’t address the prospect of lengthy closures with no revenue. Without more targeted help, according to the National Independent Venue Association — a group that represents 27 clubs and theaters in and around New Orleans and Baton Rouge — as many as 90% of its members surveyed could shut permanently.
There are several proposals on the table. The Save our Stages Act would provide $10 billion in grants for venue operators and others in the business, to cover payroll, rent and other expenses through the end of the year. The RESTART Act would tailor PPP loans to small businesses that are likely to be sidelined the longest.
A number of local venue owners, musicians and other industry sorts have joined national coalitions to lobby for these bills, which have sponsors from states such as Minnesota, Texas, Indiana and Colorado — all nice places with vital arts scenes, but none of which can outshine Louisiana. Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy of Baton Rouge and Democratic U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond of New Orleans signed bipartisan letters to congressional leadership this spring voicing general support for the cause.
We hope they and the rest of the delegation will make it a priority as they wade through their long lists of sectors seeking help. Surely they recognize how much Louisiana stands to lose if they don’t.