#SaveOurStages: A year later, cheering on NIVA, asking public officials WTF?

The last concert I attended pre-pandemic was a rager of a get-down, from the legendary musician I saw perform, to the historic venue I saw her perform in, to the friends and loved ones who surrounded me.

We all celebrated in triumph our passion for live music and the magnetism it can generate after a bad day at work or in the midst of a tragedy that can send one’s life on a downward trajectory.

I’ve seen many, many concerts in my life. But watching Tanya Tucker perform at Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock, New York stands high above many of the shows I’ve seen. It’s going to take a real bear of an evening to outshine this queen of country music, who left us all dazzled and determined.

Tanya Tucker

That was March 6, 2020. On March 12, I fled my office around lunchtime as everyone was beginning to pivot away from the outside world and into our pandemic cocoons. Uncertainty was consuming us all, and just like millions of others, I shifted on March 12 to working from home.

That was the same day that the my local venue here in New York’s Hudson Valley, the Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie, announced that it was closing its doors, and the doors of its sister theater, the Broadway Theater at Ulster Performing Arts Center in Kingston, because of the pandemic. March 12 was also the day on which New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that Broadway was closing.

A year later, the Bardavon, UPAC, Levon Helm Studios and Broadway remained closed and uncertainty continues to consume us all. And while the worst health crisis in generations slogs on and maintains its insidious grip on just about every aspect of our lives, I’d like to zero in on the impact that the Covid-19 pandemic has left on the arts.

The Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie, New York.

I’d like to zero in on the failure of public officials at the federal level to get a handle on this health crisis and the economic calamity left in its wake. I’d like to zero in on the way in which public officials at the federal level insist on bickering like 4-year-olds in a sandbox, insist on putting their heads in the sand, insist on putting their needs over our needs and the complete and absolute abdication of their responsibility to maintain public health and economic security.

The failures of the Trump administration got us here. And while the Biden administration over the last six weeks has shifted the nation’s gears dramatically, is anyone truly confident that we have a handle on this jigsaw puzzle.

What have public officials accomplished in the last year? And this includes Congressional leaders, whoever they were and whoever they are now. They should all be ashamed of their partisan politics, their failure to deliver and their absolute inability to develop a strategy for defeating Covid-19 with a vision that will carry us forward. Good gravy can any of these people get anything done without a deadline hanging over their heads, and without political posturing?

I’m sure I’m not alone in asking them all, from former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, WTF is going on? When are we going to see some results? When are you going to act to relieve the anxiety we all feel over our health and our economy? When will we feel secure? When, when, when?

Let’s get it in gear, gang, shall we?

According to the Americans for the Arts organization, the more than 120,000 nonprofit arts organizations in the nation have lost more than $15 billion because of the pandemic; local businesses have lost more than $15 billion in collateral spending by audiences that would have attended events; and nearly a half-billion audience members were taken away by the pandemic over the last year.

On the live music front, the National Independent Venue Association reminds us that this industry hosts millions of events; employs hundreds of thousands of people; and welcomes millions of audience members. According to NIVA, formed in the wake of the pandemic closing the live music industry, every $1 spent on a ticket generates $12 in economic activity. The ancillary impact in New York City alone is $500 million; and the overall economic impact is nearly $10 billion.

And though Congress included the #SaveOurStages act, now called the “Shuttered Venue Operators” Grant program, in the recent $900 billion pandemic stimulus bill, let’s give credit where credit is due. Sure, Congress voted to approve the legislation, but it was NIVA that steered this $15 billion ship, brought this horse to water and made it drink. And even though the deal was done, time drags on when it comes to implementation.

“We know you have many questions about the Save Our Stages Act and how it will be administered,” reads a message from NIVA on saveourstages.com. “NIVA has assembled the Implementation Task Force and is working with the Small Business Administration as they promulgate regulations — we are working hard to make sure that NIVA members receive the help they need via this program. We seek to ensure the emergency relief is dispersed as Congress intended, that the instructions and process to apply for grants ensure that the process is implemented accurately, fairly and as expediently as possible.

“Since it could take many weeks, even months for the funding to flow, the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund, with The Giving Back Fund as its 501(c)3 fiscal sponsor, continues to raise money to assist the venues at greatest risk of permanently going under as we wait for the grants to be issued.” Click here to donate to NIVA.

So with all they are doing, and all they have done, I propose we put the NIVA folks in charge of everything — long-term planning for the health and financial security of the country, creation of a vision for the nation, vaccinations, economic recovery. This group moved mountains. They talked the talk and walked the walk. They get a gold medal in the get s*** done category. My money is on NIVA, far beyond any self-serving member of the House or Senate who moves only when prodded.

Trey Anastasio

And while we’re at it, let’s offer a round of applause to Phish guitarist and vocalist Trey Anastasio, who embodies the concept of action in the face of calamity.

Anastasio last fall staged an eight-week run of virtual performances from New York’s historic and currently-closed Beacon Theatre. He streamed the shows for free via Twitch, encouraged viewers to donate cash and raised more than $1.2 million.

Anastasio announced on Thursday that his Divided Sky Foundation used some of that cash to purchase a facility in Ludlow, Vermont, that will be developed into a non-profit substance use disorder treatment center. The Divided Sky Foundation was launched last year and delivers care and compassionate treatment to those suffering through alcoholism and drug addiction. This facility is tentatively scheduled to open by the end of the year.

“Anastasio, himself 14 years sober, launched the Divided Sky Foundation to deliver help to those affected by substance use,” reads an announcement of the facility purchase. “Vermont, his adopted home state, is a natural place to begin this chapter of his own giving back.”

Please, let’s hear it for Anastasio, who identified an issue, launched a plan, acted with bold steps and generated major results. Let’s also hear it for NIVA, which did the same. So as I propose that we put NIVA in charge of the nation’s overall pandemic response, maybe we could ask Anastasio if he would mind helping out as well?

To federal officials in Washington, spinning their tires in the mud for a year now, I say, enough of this crap already. Let’s get it in gear.


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