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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 closed in the wake of the pandemic.
Julia Reihs
Cheer Up Charlie's is one of dozens of venues that closed because 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 the Save Our Stages Act, a separate bill that stalled out on Capitol Hill earlier this year.

Organizations will be able to apply for grants of up to $10 million, provided they show 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.

The bill also sets aside $2 billion for 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 are not eligible.

Those carve-outs are of particular importance to independent music venues in Austin that have been more or less closed since March, Austin-area U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett said. He said he hopes the dedicated money for smaller venues will prevent additional closures.

"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 venue employees who are out of work.

The relief comes after local efforts to provide some stimulus money to the 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.

Got a tip? Email Andrew Weber at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.

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Andrew Weber is a general assignment reporter for KUT, focusing on criminal justice, policing, courts and homelessness in Austin and Travis County. Got a tip? You can email him at Follow him on Twitter @England_Weber.
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