Georgia artists appeal to senators Perdue, Loeffler, to support aid for local venues

The Hargray Capitol Theatre in downtown Macon brings about $4-$5 million in economic stimulus to the city each year.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Local music venues are sounding the alarm.

Without federal aid to survive the continued shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the possibility of beloved live music havens shuttering in Georgia and around the country is becoming more of a reality.

Along with the National Independent Venue Association, a group of Georgia musicians and artists has mobilized to urge local senators to support the “Save Our Stages Act” and the “RESTART Act,” both currently before Congress.

“We join together for the first time out of necessity for the purpose of protecting the ecosystem that underpins Georgia’s arts and entertainment industries,” they wrote in a letter directed to U.S. senators from Georgia, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler.

The correspondence is signed by more than 75 members of the Georgia music industry, including R.E.M., Collective Soul, Yacht Rock Revue, Butch Walker, William Bell, Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley of Lady A and Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers.

The Red Clay Music Foundry in Duluth has reopened for a few socially distanced shows, but it isn't a financially viable solution.

Credit: Courtesy Red Clay Music Foundry

Credit: Courtesy Red Clay Music Foundry

The letter points out that venues such as the Rylander Theater in Americus and the Holly Theatre Community Center in Dahlonega have experienced 80-100 percent revenue loss, while the Fox Theatre, which has been closed for more than five months, will likely remain closed “well into 2021.”

“These facilities are literally shuttered and have been forced to lay off their workers, which has caused a cascading effect on local businesses and the individuals that depend on the industry’s economic activity. Without assistance from Congress, many of these independent venues will be forced to permanently close their doors,” it says.

According to the Georgia Council for the Arts, the creative industries in Georgia represent a combined $37 billion in revenue and employ 200,000.

Among the venues statewide that have joined NIVA to appeal to Congress are Center Stage, the Earl, Fox Theatre, City Winery, Smith’s Olde Bar, Venkman’s, Eddie’s Attic, the Masquerade, Red Clay Music Foundry, the Miller Theater and the 40 Watt Club.

Venkman's in Old Fourth Ward is among the Georgia venues that has joined the National Independent Venue Association.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Hubble Beasley is the general manager of the Hargray Capitol Theatre in Macon, a 650-capacity venue in the core of downtown in a city renowned for nurturing Otis Redding, the Allman Brothers Band and Jason Aldean.

In addition to the 30-plus employees no longer working at the theater, the dozen restaurants in the area and other local businesses are also reeling without the live music fans who last flocked to the venue for a March 7 Wynonna Judd concert.

“It’s estimated that for every dollar spent on tickets sales, $12 to $15 is spent in the community,” Beasley said, adding that live music in Macon adds between $3 and $5 million to the local economy every year. “The other businesses miss the people we bring to the downtown area.”

As venue operators and concert promoters have pointed out for months, the musicians are hardly the only ones affected by closed venues.

“People don’t take into consideration the bar back, the bus driver, the lighting guy. It’s so much more involved (than just the performers) and those are the people who are really affected,” Beasley said.

While the theater received a Paycheck Protection Program loan provided to small businesses to aid in payroll, its relief was ephemeral.

“That money has been spent,” Beasley said. “We were able to take care of employees for a couple of weeks, but I think it’s really come to light how many small businesses there are that need help.”

Atlanta venues continue to feel the anxiety as well.

“We’re bleeding,” said Andrew Hingley, talent buyer for Eddie’s Attic. “Our PPP runs out at the end of October and after that, we’ll be flying by the seat of our pants.”

Eddie’s Attic has held six in-person shows and has two more on the books. Only 65 tickets were made available for each concert (the venue holds 165) to maintain social distancing and most sold out.

But, said Hingley, “We might be doing shows, but we’re not making enough to cover basic expenses, like the rent or the cost of opening the kitchen (which is still closed). Who knows what the new normal is going to be?”

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