MOORHEAD — Politicians are sometimes compared to rock stars with their die-hard followers and rallies that resemble a concert atmosphere.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., recently grabbed the spotlight when she co-authored the Save Our Stages bill with John Cornyn, R-Texas. The effort would offer government assistance to small, independent concert venues, promoters and others in the live music industry who have been essentially shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.
The move is drawing rounds of applause from those working in the Fargo-Moorhead concert scene.
“That came a little out of left field, but certainly it’s welcome,” says Jade Nielsen, president and founder of Jade Presents, a Fargo-based events promoter. “It’s great to see we have support and people see that this is affecting our industry longer than others … We were one of the first to close and will be one of the last to reopen.”
Nielsen and the places he books — the Fargo Theatre, Sanctuary Events Center and Fargo Brewing Co. in Fargo and Bluestem Amphitheater in Moorhead — have been working with the National Independent Venue Association to lobby Congress for financial support during the coronavirus pandemic.
Dayna Frank, the owner of legendary Minneapolis club First Avenue, is the president of NIVA. In her statement announcing the bill, Klobuchar cited the importance of spaces like First Avenue in the state’s cultural landscape.
“Minnesota’s concert halls, theaters, and places of entertainment, like First Avenue in Minneapolis, where Prince famously performed, have inspired generations with the best of local music, art, and education,” she said. “This legislation would help ensure that small entertainment venues can continue to operate, and serve our communities for generations to come.”
The bill, which is supported by NIVA, would offer $10 billion in grants to help venues, promoters and talent representatives over the next six months. The funds would cap out at $12 million per venue, or 45% of the venue’s operating costs in 2019.
In 2019, Jade Presents produced about 150 events, most in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Nielsen says this year his company did about 12 before things shut down in mid-March. He's done a few since, none of which made much money for Nielsen and his staff of 13 full-timers.
“We’re pretty confident the only events we can do are virtual or smaller ones with no chance of being profitable,” Nielsen said. “We really don’t have any possibility for revenue into early 2021.”
That echoes for Todd Carlson. He owns and runs TAK Music Venue in Dilworth, Minn. Since mid-March, he has had to cancel 74 events. While he’s been allowed to open at 25% capacity and host a few shows, that’s not enough to get back on his feet.
“Twenty-five percent is pretty tough to make money at,” he said.
Frank told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that a break-even point for venues is somewhere between 50 and 75% capacity.
Besides himself, Carlson has one other full-time employee and 11 part-timers at TAK, which is also a NIVA member. He had written his representatives asking for help and was happy that Klobuchar co-introduced the bill and is hoping his congressman, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., a guitarist, will also support some relief.
Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., is one of three Republicans to co-sponsor the bill, and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., also says he supports relief for live music venues.
“That’s fantastic,” says Emily Beck, executive of the Fargo Theatre, when told that Cramer supported the bill. “That could be tremendous for the Fargo Theatre."
Beck says seeing bipartisan support is a hopeful sign.
“They recognize the cultural significance and economic impact on a community,” she said. “We’re a unique industry that relies on bringing people together.”
While Nielsen says Cramer’s support was a hopeful sign that something would get done, he was a little more cautious, fearing momentum may be lost as Congress takes a break for August.
“If we don’t get something done, I’m afraid this will completely shut down some places,” Nielsen said. “How do you survive nine months of doing nothing?”