How Independent Music Venues Are Fighting for Their Existence

Earl Ciccel, whose company runs Maryland’s Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club, was prepped for a weekend of sold-out dinner concerts by veteran soul and go-go groups when he was forced to shut down indefinitely on March 12. Most of the food he bought for those shows—short ribs, lamb, wings, salmon, crab cakes—was thrown out. It was only the beginning of the misfortunes Ciccel’s business would suffer under the coronavirus pandemic: The historic, Black-operated venue has now been shuttered for more than three months, with no end in sight. “Every week we’re just waiting to see what’s the next reopening phase,” Ciccel says, adding that Maryland’s current capacity limit of 50 people is far short of his theater’s 500 seats. “I wouldn’t try to open right now because I couldn’t pay my bills.”

According to a recent survey, almost 90 percent of independent venues like the Bethesda Blues & Jazz Supper Club will have to close permanently within months if they can’t secure federal funding—and an increasing number of spaces across the country have already called it quits. But help may finally be on the way. About 2,000 live music venues and promoters from all 50 states are banding together to form the National Independent Venues Association, a new advocacy group that’s battling to sustain a crucial layer of the music ecosystem.

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