The leading voice for America’s independent venues didn’t exist in March 2020, when COVID-19 closed clubs and venues without caring if they were large or small and how many people and communities counted on them. Overnight, a whole industry was thrown into an existential crisis.
Formed in April 2020 by a group of venue owners including First Avenue CEO Dayna Frank, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) stepped into the void. Independent venues weren’t included in the first CARES Act, but they are part of the American Rescue Plan Act, which includes over $16 billion in grants for what are now called “shuttered venues.”
If only someone would turn on the faucet. The grants are being administered by the Small Business Administration, which has never done this sort of thing before. The application portal originally opened on April 8 but crashed. It was supposed to reopen on April 24, but that got pushed forward. Grants were set to roll out last week, but now the SBA is saying it will start distributing the first round of awards by the end of May.
Last week, on May 19, the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs hosted a Zoom conversation with Frank, now NIVA’s president, and musician/writer/rapper Dessa called “Saving Live Music.” Moderated by MPR’s Euan Kerr, it was a fascinating conversation between music insiders. A recording is available online if you want to catch the whole thing.
We’re including an edited excerpt here about the start of NIVA, because without NIVA, it’s likely that many more venues would already have permanently closed. Instead, they’re all existing in a state of what Frank calls “optimistic decimation,” waiting for financial help to arrive.
These are Frank’s words, lightly edited.
“We had never lobbied before. Our industry as a whole had no trade association. We had no lobby, no PAC, none of that infrastructure, so we came at it with no chip on our shoulder. There was no ego to it. It was all about saving the industry.
“I know First Avenue, and I know the relationship we have in Minnesota, but this is a global issue and the solutions are gonna have to be federal, so we had to gather up all the First Avenues in all the towns so we can amplify our voice. We started reaching out and being like ‘Hey, this is what we’re doing, come along.’ [Note: NIVA started with 800 members. It now has more than 3,000.]
“We had no impact studies. No data. So we did some initial surveys, and it came back that 90% of venues didn’t have enough cash on hand to get through the next three months. And that became the desperate moment. That anonymous survey gave everybody the burning flame they needed to put in the work. We didn’t know who we were saving. We didn’t know if it was our competitor. We didn’t know if it was our friend.
“We formed a selection committee to hire a lobbyist and hired this firm in DC, which is totally antithetical to the idea of indie venues, but we were like ‘This is a zero-sum game. Either we get this [federal] funding or we cease to exist.’ It was success or nothing. So we hired the biggest, baddest firm.
“Our lead lobbyist is a Republican lobbyist. This is what I had to learn. There’s Republican lobbyists and Democratic lobbyists. I had no idea. We didn’t even know to ask that. So our lead lobbyist is a House Republican lobbyist who loves live music, and her husband loves live music, and she was initially like, ‘This should not be a Democratic issue, because music is universal.
“Our initial support came from John Cornyn on the Republican side, and the only reason this bill happened was because of Amy Klobuchar, so I want to give her a special shout-out.”
V is for virtual, L is for live and in person.
L Starts tonight (Thursday, May 27) on the green roof of the Bakken Museum: Open Eye Theatre: “LOG JAM! A Paul Bunyan Musical Spectacular.” Last October’s “Bug Girl,” Open Eye’s first production on the Bakken’s spacious roof, was a sold-out hit. For more of a good thing, Open Eye will return to the Bakken with a live band, witty songs, puppets and a fresh new tale about a Minnesota folk hero and his big blue ox. Family-friendly and 40 minutes long, “LOG JAM!” features a trio of musical lumberjacks, a bouncing ice ball, and a cast of indie theater superstars.
Written and composed by Josef Evans, directed by Joel Sass, with puppets by Steve Ackerman and costumes by Kathy Kohl. No intermission, all ages. Seating is limited, so bring a lawn chair or blanket. Face masks are required and social distancing will be observed. All shows are at 7 p.m. Ends Sunday, June 20. FMI and tickets ($30/25/15).
Your ticket includes VIP admission to the museum. Arrive early to give yourself time to look around. A jewel on the shore of Bde Make Ska, the Bakken recently underwent a major renovation.
V Ends Saturday, May 29: Theater Mu: New Eyes Festival 2021: Un(scene). This year’s New Eyes, a longstanding Mu tradition, features staged readings of five short plays written in response to the rise of anti-Asian violence. Each views the problem from a different perspective.
Aditi Brennan Kapil’s “Supermanifesto,” directed by Sarah Ochs, Meghan Kreidler makes the case that an Asian American woman is the true Superman. In Lisa Marie Rollins’ “The Thaw and the Ground Below,” directed by Katie Bradley, a teenage girl adopted from the Philippines deals with growing up in a conservative Christian home.
Directed by Lily Tung Crystal, Mu’s artistic director, Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay’s “Raw Pig Blood Soup” is a wicked riff on “Sweeney Todd.” Isabella Dawis’ “Bones of a Horse,” directed by Theater Mu’s founder, Rick Shiomi, stars Eric Sharp as a Japanese American linguist during World War II who has a magical encounter with the horse Dan Patch. In Carla Ching’s “Walking,” directed by Jennifer Weir, Katie Bradley gives a heartbreaking performance as a young woman afraid to leave the safety of her home.
The livestreamed premiere on May 22 was recorded and made available to view on demand. Watch free or make a donation.
V Thursday, May 27, 7 p.m.: Twin Cities Jazz Festival: Jazz Fest Live: The Twin Cities Seven. Led by Doug Haining, this swinging seven-piece jazz band plays music in the style of the Count Basie and Duke Ellington small combos. A staple on the Twin Cities jazz scene, it features Haining on saxophone and clarinet, Dave Graf on trombone, Steve Wright on trumpet, Phil Aaron on piano, David Singley on guitar, Steve Pikal on bass, Trevor Haining on drums and Maryann Sullivan on voice. Register here or watch on the Twin Cities Jazz Festival website, Facebook or YouTube.
L Monday, May 31, 5:30 p.m. at Lake Harriet Bandshell: Minneapolis Music & Movies in the Parks Kick-Off. Oh, joy! It’s back! A months-long gift from Minneapolis Park & Rec to the people, Music & Movies is a full calendar of free entertainment. Head to Lake Harriet for an evening of two concerts. Necessary Diversion (Top 40, 1980s to now) starts at 5:30 p.m., Sawyer’s Dream (soulful vocals) at 7:30.
Park & Rec is calling this the kick-off but have slipped in a few nights of movies in advance, including “Hidden Figures” at Whittier Park tonight (Thursday, May 27), “Sonic the Hedgehog” at Harrison Park on Friday and “The Sound of Music” (the hills are alive!) at Pershing Park on Saturday. All movies start at dusk. Refreshments are available for purchase at most events.
As we emerge for our hidey-holes and start attending public events, it will help a lot to recognize that different people will have different comfort levels with being around strangers. Let’s all be aware and respectful and kind to each other.
V Tuesday, June 1, 5:30 p.m.: Rain Taxi Review: Curtis Sittenfeld in conversation with Betsy Hodges. And what will the New York Times bestselling author and the former Minneapolis mayor talk about? Sittenfeld’s New York Times bestseller “Rodham,” which imagines a world in which Hillary Rodham Clinton never married Bill Clinton and instead pursued her own political career. Free with registration.