The newly renovated Roxian Theater in McKees Rocks. Photo by David Heath.

Stages across Pittsburgh — and across the country and the world — have gone silent because of the Covid pandemic. Live music, which plays a huge part in shaping a city’s cultural identity, has mostly been missing since mid-March.

Now, finally, thanks to the #SaveOurStages campaign, there’s hope for America’s music venues and promoters. As part of the recent $900 million stimulus package passed by Congress, $15 billion is being directed to support independent music venues, movie theaters and similar cultural institutions. This will provide a lifeline for iconic Pittsburgh venues like Mr. Small’s Theatre, the Roxian Theatre, Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall and Spirit.

“We thank Congress for not allowing the music to die,” says Adam Valen, from Pittsburgh music promotion company Drusky Entertainment.

“We are on a long road to recovery, but we can now start to think about what’s next for our industry, now that it looks like we will be able to see the other side. We thank the legislature for expanding the PUA (Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) extension, which will provide support to all our businesses staff, who have been displaced at no fault of their own.”

The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) didn’t exist before the pandemic. But this hastily-assembled grassroots coalition was able to quickly rally support from celebrities, 12,000 working artists and music fans (who sent more than 2.1 million emails to their elected officials), to lobby Congress for support.

The legislation will provide a grant equal to 45% of gross revenue from 2019, with a cap of $10 million per recipient. Eligible venues can apply for Small Business Administration grants to cover six months of payroll and costs including rent, utilities and maintenance. Applicants need to have lost at least 25% of their annual revenue to be eligible. Those who have lost 90% of their revenue can apply in the first two weeks after the bill is signed into law.

This comes too late for beloved venues like Brillobox in Bloomfield and the Rex Theatre on the South Side, which have had to close permanently.

Spirit in Lawrenceville

NIVA estimates that 53% of Americans, or 172 million people, attended a concert last year. More than 1,000 musicians and comedians, ranging from Dave Grohl to Billie Eilish to Willie Nelson to Jerry Seinfeld signed a letter to Congress, seeking relief efforts for more than 2,000 independent venues nationwide.

The Save Our Stages Act was sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) in the Senate, Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) and Rep. Roger Williams (R-TX) in the House, and championed by Chuck Schumer (D-NY) with 230 bipartisan cosponsors in Congress. Support was especially strong across the state in Pennsylvania, which included Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA-18) and Representative Conor Lamb (D-PA-17).

Mr. Small’s Theatre in Millvale. Image courtesy of Mr. Small’s.
Mr. Small’s Theatre in Millvale. Image courtesy of Mr. Small’s.

Local NIVA members include Drusky Entertainment, Jergel’s, the Roxian Theatre, Mr. Small’s Theatre, Spirit, Thunderbird Cafe and Music Hall, Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall, The Smiling Moose and Opus One Productions.

Since it could take weeks or months for the funding to arrive, the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund continues to raise money to assist the venues most at risk of going under. It’s estimated that they will need $2 million in donations to meet the most urgent needs for help. Anyone wishing to donate can do so here.

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife,...