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Austin's Ailing Live Music Venues Could Get Much-Needed Money Under The New Coronavirus Relief Bill

Cheer Up Charlie's is one of dozens of venues that shuttered in the wake of the pandemic.
Cheer Up Charlie's is one of dozens of venues that shuttered in the wake of the pandemic.

Live music venues in Austin could see some relief from the new federal coronavirus relief package. Passed Monday night, the bill includes $15 billion in relief specifically dedicated to independent venues, theaters and other arts organizations.

The bipartisan agreement folded in that relief from the Save Our Stages Act – a separate relief bill that stalled out on Capitol Hill earlier this year.

Qualifying organizations will be able to apply for grants of up to $10 million, provided that they've lost substantial revenue as a result of COVID-19 – at least 25%. Grant applications from the Small Business Administration are set to open before the end of the year – with priority given to those who have been particularly hard-hit.

Those who've lost 90% of revenue will be first in line for the grant money, and the bill sets aside $2 billion for smaller venues with fewer than 50 employees. Venues meeting either qualification can apply for grants two weeks after the bill is signed into law. Publicly traded venue operators aren't eligible for the grants.

Those carve-outs are of particular importance to Austin's independent music venues, says Austin-area U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett – many of which have been more or less shuttered since SXSW's cancellation in March. Doggett says he hopes the dedicated money for smaller venues will forestall additional closures in Austin.

"Overall, this relief bill is just too little too late for a lot of people ... but it does include an important provision that hopes to keep our city the 'Live Music Capital of the World,'" he told KUT. "I'm pleased it's included. I think it will hopefully kind of bridge these venues that have been closing or are near closing."

Nakia Reynoso of the nonprofit Austin Texas Musicians says any and all relief is needed – for venues, employees and musicians alike. But, he says, Austin's live music community was in survival mode even before the pandemic. Rising rents for venues, musicians and employees have made things harder on the community for years.

"We're all small business owners," Reynoso said, "and we need to figure out a way to sustain and grow our music economy – not constantly be trying to save it."

He says Congress' extension of unemployment benefits is a welcome addition for musicians and employees of venues who may be out of work.

The relief comes after city efforts to provide some stimulus money to Austin's ailing music community. After weeks of discussion, Austin opened up a grant program dedicated to live music venues earlier this month.

Venues affected by COVID-19 can apply for emergency relief as well as longer-term relief from the city until Jan. 11.

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Andrew Weber is a freelance reporter and associate editor for KUT News. A graduate of St. Edward's University with a degree in English, Andrew has previously interned with The Texas Tribune, The Austin American-Statesman and KOOP Radio.