Senate committee debates competing COVID-19 relief bills for live event industry


WASHINGTON, DC (NEXSTAR) — The live event entertainment industry was one of the first to bear the brunt of the pandemic, and business leaders told Congress Tuesday it will be one of the last to bounce back.

Of the estimated 10 million Americans employed by live events, nearly all are unemployed or underemployed. Lawmakers are debating two competing proposals to provide federal help, but they share the same goal.

“Please don’t let the music die,” Adam Hartke, the owner of the Wichita-based Cotillion and WAVE venues, told members of the Senate Commerce Committee. “Please save our stages.”

From family-owned venues in Kansas to Broadway stages in New York City, these once vibrant live event spaces have been dark since March.

“There’s nothing so heartbreaking and gut-wrenching as an empty theater,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT.

The pandemic has forced hundreds of independent venues to permanently close. To prevent more, Blumenthal supports the Save Our Stages Act, which would authorize $10 billion in grants for venue operators, promoters and talent representatives.

“We have no inventory until artists begin to tour again,” Hartke said.

“We simply cannot reopen our venues nor restart our industry until the virus is subdued,” said David Fay, the president and CEO of the Hartford-based Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts. “And unfortunately, that doesn’t appear likely until next fall at the earliest.”

But other lawmakers argue the bill doesn’t do enough to save the entire live event entertainment industry.

“Yes, Save Our Stages is good, but you’ve got to have something to save the stage with,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-TN.

Blackburn pointed to supporting industries like transportation, catering and lighting.

“We are running on empty,” said Michael Strickland, the owner of Knoxville-based Bandit Lites. “There are lives in the balance.”

Another bill, the Restart Act, would change the Paycheck Protection Program to give struggling small businesses more flexibility in how they spend the loans and more forgiveness options.

“Our concern today is about the average men and women behind the lights,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R-MS. “The food trucks and tour buses who support their families by bringing the arts and cultural experiences to so many.”

Wicker and his colleagues will continue their negotiations, acknowledging when the lights go down in the venues, the entire economy suffers.

Congress is trying to strike a deal on the next coronavirus relief bill by the end of the week.

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