The co-owner of two Wichita music venues testified before Congress on Tuesday that his industry "desperately" needs help.
Adam Hartke co-owns WAVE and the Cotillion. He says 90% of small, independent music venues like his are at risk of closing permanently because of economic damage caused by the pandemic.
"After nine months, venues are going under at a quickening pace," Hartke said during his remote testimony. "We desperately need help now."
Hartke testified before a U.S. Senate commerce subcommittee chaired by Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas. Moran is part of a bi-partisan effort to pass the Save our Stages Act.
The act would allow the Small Business Administration to make federal grants available directly to businesses involved in the live music industry.
"This would offer the struggling businesses a lifeline to continue operations until they can return to doing what they love: entertaining Americans," Moran said during opening remarks at the hearing.
The Save our Stages Act is part of the larger federal COVID-19 relief package currently being debated in Congress.
Moran noted that the damage being done to live venues trickles down to other nearby businesses.
"There’s a ripple effect on the economy when the live entertainment industry is out of work," Moran said. "Restaurants, bars, transportation and many other businesses that thrive on live events bringing people to a community from surrounding areas are hurting."
Moran said it also affects artists and other employees — such as stagehands or people who work with lighting and sound — who rely on live performances to make a living.
Hartke has operated the Cotillion and WAVE since 2018. He said 2019 was a good year for both businesses, and he made capital improvements at each venue in anticipation of increased business in 2020.
But when the pandemic struck in March, large venues were ordered to close. They continue to operate under heavy restrictions, although most remain closed because of the lack of touring acts.
"We have no inventory until artists begin to tour again," Hartke said.
Hartke said previous federal aid efforts have not been enough to help the industry. He said his revenues are down 95%, and he had to lay off or furlough most employees in June after federal help ran out.
Hartke helped form the National Independent Venue Association after the pandemic began. He said its membership includes 3,000 independent music venues and promoters from all 50 states. The group has helped lobby for help for the live music industry.
"Our biggest fear is that we will have to close our doors forever," Hartke told the committee. "And the institutions for which we have sacrificed so much will be destroyed."