Quantcast

Struggling through months of shuttered doors and the serious threat of permanent closure, Texas' independent music venues are finding hope in an unlikely place: the United States Congress.

Two proposed bills, the Save Our Stages Act and RESTART Act, are designed to help music venues stay afloat until the pandemic subsides. Both acts, if passed, will be important steps to save many music spaces that have already spent five months with no shows, no revenues, and no sign of things getting better.

For many venues across the country, it's simply too late, with several already closing down for good.

Economic impact
According to a 2019 study by the Texas Music Office, the state's music industry provides 209,000 permanent jobs, $6.5 billion in earnings, $23.4 billion in annual economic activity, and generates $390 million in annual tax revenues annually.

The average monthly overhead for a live music venue is $40,000 and many insiders are predicting that large scale shows won't return until 2021, if not longer. A recent study conducted by the University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs concluded that 90 percent of Austin music venues will close permanently by Halloween without aid.

“I don’t think that would be unique to Austin," says San Antonio-based entertainment lawyer and former band manager Blayne Tucker about the UH study. "I think Austin will be hit particularly hard, but I think those en masse closures would extend throughout Texas and nationwide as well. The situation is dire and it’s literally a matter of extinction versus survival.”

A silent and invisible killer, COVID-19 is not only ravaging the population across the country, but it's slowly decimating many industries that rely on large gatherings of people, and especially those businesses that center on live music. The good news is there is hope for hundreds of Texas establishments thanks to advocacy efforts in Washington that are picking up steam.

Local grassroots efforts
Leading the charge is the National Independent Venue Association, a grassroots, DIY organization of 2,200 independent music venues that started soon after the pandemic forced temporary closures. Tucker, who owns San Antonio-area venues such as Limelight, The Mix, Floore's Country Store, and 502 Bar, is co-captain of the Texas chapter of NIVA alongside Austen Bailey, talent buyer for famed Austin haunt Mohawk.

Other notable Texas members include Sam's Burger Joint, Paper Tiger, and Cowboys Dance Hall in San Antonio; Austin's Cedar Street Courtyard, The Parish, and Antone'sHouston's Heights Theater, White Oak Music Hall, and Warehouse Live; ; and Trees, the Kessler Theater, and Prophet Bar in Dallas.

"Many of these venues have been around for decades," Bailey tells CultureMap. "We made it through the depression of 2008-2009, but we are now faced with an unprecedented existential threat."

Donors allowed NIVA to gain a foothold in Washington, D.C. and the organization found a sympathetic ear on Capitol Hill, especially when politicians discovered the potential for long-lasting economic damage, largely due to the connected nature of music venues across the U.S., which act as breeding grounds for local bands, stops for national touring acts as well as serve as non-music event spaces. NIVA got behind the RESTART Act and Save Our Stages Act, both of which are winding their way through the legislative process.

The RESTART Act is non-industry specific, open to any small business that can show a 25 percent decrease in revenue between 2019 and 2020. Those that qualify are eligible for a forgivable loan up to 90 percent, equivalent to 45 percent of the gross receipts from 2019.

The Save Our Stages Act defines the criteria of what makes a music venue, such as having a sound engineer or talent booker on staff. The funds allocated to the qualified participants would be paid in the form of grants to cover 45 percent of a venue’s 2019 gross receipts with a budget of $10 billion. The relief package would exclude owners of venues in multiple states and publicly traded companies.

"We've been mandated by the government to be closed for the greater good of the public," says Edwin Cabaniss, owner of the Heights Theater in Houston and Kessler Theater in Dallas. "We're simply looking for just compensation. We have no means to draw any revenues to speak of if we want to maintain a safe environment until we either find some solution to [COVID-19] like a vaccine or we operate at a 25 to 30 percent capacity range. It's really difficult to make ends meet when you do that."

Heading to the Hill
Interestingly, the bills have rare bipartisan support with a vote on both expected in the coming days or weeks. Congress is due to go on summer recess this weekend, but odds are legislators will stay in D.C. until they negotiate an agreement on COVID relief measures. One unlikely ally for the cause is Republican Texas senator John Cornyn, who is co-sponsoring the Save Our Stages Act with Democrat Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar under the auspices of helping small business. Sen. Cornyn's voting record points to being an ally of musicians, lending his support to artists in the realm of digital rights.

“Texas is home to a number of historic and world-class small entertainment venues, many of which remain shuttered after being the first businesses to close,” said Sen. Cornyn in a statement provided to CultureMap. “The culture around Texas dance halls and live music has shaped generations, and this legislation would give them the resources to reopen their doors and continue educating and inspiring Texans beyond the coronavirus pandemic.”

Those tired of watching their favorite artists perform via live stream or those who simply want to support their favorite local venue can lend their support to the Save Our Stages Act by reaching out to representatives via user-friendly system at the NIVA website. After completing the digital letter, the site provides phone numbers to the offices of local representatives should constituents wish to voice their concern for the future of music in Texas.

"The best thing anyone can do is letting your representative at every level of government — local, state, and federal — know that you support the independent music industry and want to see it survive past this pandemic," Tucker said.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Sneak peek inside San Antonio chef Steve McHugh's new Austin restaurant

Officially cured

Bucking the recent (and growing) trend of Austinites moving to San Antonio, chef Steve McHugh just debuted his first concept in Austin. The eagerly-awaited Luminaire opened February 1 at the new Hyatt Centric Congress Avenue Austin, along with a second concept, Las Bis.

Located at 721 Congress Avenue, details of the new hotel and its restaurants were released in fall 2022, sparking excitement from anyone already familiar with McHugh's work at Cured and Landrace. For the initial announcement, CultureMap connected with the six-time James Beard finalist to hear what to expect at the new outpost, while an updated announcement this week revealed that McHugh has enlisted chef Greg Driver as executive chef at the new concepts.

“We’re thrilled to finally lift the curtain and bring in guests to dine with us,” says Chef Steve McHugh in a release. “Chef Driver and I work really well together, and I have no doubt that Luminaire and Las Bis will shine under his leadership.”

Previously the interim executive chef at Austin's Westwood Country Club, Driver will carry out McHugh's vision at the restaurants. Both new concepts and the hotel itself will no doubt be a welcome addition to downtown Austin, padding out the list of pre- and post-theatre dining options for entertainment at the city's historic Paramount and State theatres next door.

Luminaire occupies the entire ground floor of the hotel, including an expansive patio stretching both sides of the corner along Congress Avenue and 8th Street. Much like its San Antonio counterparts, the full-service restaurant will feature the seasonal, local Texas fare and charcuterie well-known (and well-loved) by McHugh devotees. Along with specially curated meat boards (hello, 24-month jamon), the menu will also showcase a heavy Spanish influence, featuring a variety of delicious breakfast empanadas, chicken a la plancha, the Angus beef Luminaire burger, and more.

The all-day restaurant will be an ideal pre-curtain-time destination, while the upstairs Las Bis will take over for post-show nightcaps. Located on the eighth floor of the hotel, the terrace bar and lounge shares space with the hotel’s lobby and will feature craft cocktails, natural and biodynamic wines. Snacks will include an assortment of playfully plated conservas, both domestic and imported, which McHugh shared the story behind in our previous coverage.

“Our team put many thoughtful hours into the menu creation for Luminaire and Las Bis, blending familiar flavors with plenty of discovery,” says McHugh in this week's latest release. “And for those without much experience in cured meats and conservas, we made sure to include plenty of must-try items to introduce folks the right way.”

In addition to the two new concepts, McHugh’s team and executive chef Driver will provide room service for guests, as well as catering for the hotel’s four meeting and event spaces. Starting February 1, Luminaire will be open Monday through Sunday from 6 am to 11 pm, while Las Bis will open Sunday through Thursday, 4 pm to midnight, and noon to midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Photo by Mary Whitten

A sneak peak at Luminaire.

Historic San Antonio venue chugs ahead with new owners and all-day music festival

JUST THE TICKET

Music will soon be back in the air at one of San Antonio's most historic venues. Ambassador Theatre Group, the company behind the Majestic and Empire Theatres, has taken over The Espee in St. Paul's Square and is celebrating with an all-day music festival.

The move is the latest chapter for the Spanish Mission Revival complex, built in 1902 by the Southern Pacific Railroad. In 2019, a development group redubbed the site The Espee as a nod to the former train route's abbreviation, "The SP." 2021 saw the depot transformed into the swanky 1902 Nightclub.

Ambassador has gussied up the venue with enhanced sound and lighting, renovated artist accommodations, a tour production office, satellite bar areas, landscaping, and refreshed restrooms. The improvements gel with St. Paul Square's vision of bringing more entertainment and nightlife to the district without compromising its history or architecture.

Guests can check out the revamped space during All Aboard on March 4, a daylong party featuring The Head and The Heart, Danielle Ponder, Grupo Fantasma, UPSAHL, Golden Dawn Arkestra, Mike and The Moonpies, and DJ sets from Bartees Strange. Doors open at 2:30 pm, with performances starting at 3 pm.

Tickets are on sale now and partially benefit local nonprofit San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside (SAGE), which champions investments that improve the quality of life for individuals, families, neighborhoods, and businesses in the area.

The show is only the first experience the revived venue is set to deliver. "Vicious" hitmaker Sabrina Carpenter is set to bring her Emails I Can't Send Tour to the Espee on March 25. The San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum will hold its Fiesta Family Blues festival on April 28. More programming will be announced throughout the year.

"The Espee is the perfect addition to San Antonio's growing entertainment landscape – from venues and musical performances to community gatherings and everything in between," said Emily Smith, Ambassador general manager, via a release. "This unique, beautiful, and historic space will bring even more creative experiences to San Antonio for the entire community to enjoy."



6 San Antonio exhibits to warm your heart and soul this February

State of the Arts

All you need is art this month in Alamo City with fresh and fearless exhibits: Some will tickle your fancy; others, your psyche. Explore JooYoung Choi’s imaginary world at The Contemporary, or immerse yourself in the history of the Mexican-American War of 1848 with representations from various artists at the Centro Cultural Aztlan. Guy Blair brings San Antonio’s unhoused population into careful focus with painted portraits at the Semmes Gallery, while the San Antonio Museum of Art transports viewers into “Roman Landscapes” providing birds-eye perspectives and fantastical views. There's something for everyone this February.

Centro Cultural Aztlan

“Segundo de Febrero: Chicana/Chicano Reunion” — Now through February 24
February 2 marks the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The landmark treaty ended the Mexican-American War, redistributed the border, and created a new bicultural population. In this exhibition, a group of celebrated artists will explore the impact of broken treaties, new borders, and their effects on Latino, Chicano, and indigenous history and culture.

The Contemporary at Blue Star

“JooYoung Choi: Songs of Resilience from the Tapestry of Faith” — February 3 through May 7
Through painting, video, sculpture, animation, music ,and installation art, multidisciplinary world-builder JooYoung Choi documents the interconnecting narratives of a highly structured, expansive, fictional land she calls the "Cosmic Womb." Her work explores issues of identity, belonging, trauma, and resilience through the sci-fi/fantasy genre. This exhibition introduces the Cosmic Womb multiverse and highlights some of its key characters and narratives. In creating a world that explores loss, healing, and growth based upon a connective web of belief and faith in oneself, Choi expresses human resiliency and the strength that can be found through the power of storytelling.

Centro de Artes

“Soy de Tejas: A Statewide Survey of Latinx Art” — February 9 through July 2
Soy de Tejas presents the works of 40 native Texan and Texas-based contemporary artists who reflect the diverse and beautiful complexity of Latinx identities. The more than 100 artworks forge new connections and explore intersections from a nexus of artists who ambitiously blaze a trail of contemporary artmaking, presenting fresh Latinx perspectives and experiences while amplifying the voices of a segment of Texas' most inspiring established and emerging artists. “The exhibit explores themes ranging from race, class, and gender to migration, mythmaking, displacement, and indigeneity," says curator Rigoberto Luna on the gallery's website. "In contrast, many works center on celebrating joyful customs, culture, and traditions that unite and sustain our communities in the face of a multitude of challenges."

Semmes Gallery - University of the Incarnate Word

“Homeless in San Antonio” — February 17 through March 17
Guy Blair is largely self-taught as an artist in the medium of pastels and watercolor. He always wanted “to do” art but was devoted to his ministry as a priest. For the past 40 years as a Catholic priest, he has ministered to both the deaf and homeless communities. In the past eight years, he has seriously paid attention to his desire to paint. This exhibit is a blending of his service to the homeless as well as his interest in art. “As we walk by homeless people on the streets of San Antonio, most people tend to look through them or judge them as perhaps deserving of the situation they are in,” Blair said in an artist statement. “This attitude allows people to build an emotional barrier, giving them permission not to connect with the homeless as destitute people whose suffering and tears are as real as our own.”

The Carver Cultural Community Center

“Alain Gakwaya"— February 23 through April 14
Alain Gakwaya hails from Rwanda and is a self-described, “activist, artist, and adventurer.” His love for art began in the 3rd grade, when his teacher requested that he draw for his entire class. Specializing in portraiture, Gakwaya paints to tell his story and the stories of his homeland. Though he's now based in San Antonio, he draws inspiration from everyday life in Africa and specifically his home country of Rwanda.

San Antonio Museum of Art

Courtesy of the Carver Cultural Community Center

Alain-Gakwaya's work is coming to the Carver Cultural Community Center this month.

“Roman Landscapes: Visions of Nature and Myth from Rome and Pompeii” — February 24 through May 21
The exhibition features 65 wall paintings, sculptures, mosaics, and cameo glass and silver vessels created in Roman Italy between 100 BC and AD 250. “Roman Landscapes” introduces visitors to the cultural and archaeological contexts of Roman landscapes, beginning with mural paintings and relief sculptures that depict coastal villas and rustic shrines. These works display the imaginary aspects of Roman images of the natural world, connecting the genre’s appearance to the political and social upheaval of the late Republic and early Empire. Fantastical views of Egypt and Greece reflect ancient fascination with these celebrated lands incorporated into the Roman Empire. Mythological paintings then reveal landscape scenes as settings for hazardous encounters between humans and the gods.