As co-owner of Seattle’s popular independent venue Neumos in Capitol Hill, Steven Severin has been a staple in the Seattle music industry for more than 20 years. Roughly 10 years ago, he helped create the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association to bring together the area’s live event insiders, and for the past 16 years has helped run Neumos with its sister club Barboza and the accompanying Runaway bar.
As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be speaking with Severin regularly to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the last installment here and see the full series here.)
What has changed for you since we last talked?
I slept almost 30 hours over the weekend. I was so tired. We knew we had Biden. We knew we made it through the election. It was just…letting that stress go and trying to get it out of my body. It is still there. I am still getting it out of my body. I was surprised how much [the election] did affect me and everybody. It was so rad to see people kind of floating a bit. What a difference.
Does Biden winning the presidential election impact the Save Our Stages Act?
Right now it is [Mitch] McConnell (R-Ky.). All sights are on him and what the hell he is going to do. He has had the power to make it happen and he is just sitting on it. We heard that he said that if the skinny HEROES Act goes through the House, he’d let it go to the Senate floor for a vote and then he sent the Senate home. It passed the House by a longshot and it was going to pass the Senate by a longshot. We had over 60 co-sponsors in the Senate. It’s going to happen. I have no doubt that the SOS Act is going to happen. I just don’t know when and I don’t know how much. It’s not going to be enough to save all of us if we have to stay closed through the third quarter of next year. We’re still going to have to find ways to find money to keep going.
How are you feeling about the news this week that there is a promising vaccine that could be distributed widely early next year?
Dr. Fauci came out today and said that he thinks maybe April regular people can start getting the vaccine if it is approved by the end of the year. They are saying that might actually happen. Which would put us roughly in the third quarter of 2021 when we could do shows again. It’s not like the day it drops everyone is going to get it. It’s going to take months.
We know the SOS Act is going to happen so it depends on how much that ends up being. We don’t know how many people that is going to get split up amongst or how many venues. If we can stretch it to the third quarter of 2021, that’s awesome. I would like to think that maybe this summer we can start doing some stuff. Touring is not going to be back regularly, but maybe we’re back to five and half shows a week. I think it will be even more.
If acts are not touring, do you expect that to be regional performers playing all those shows?
I was looking at my local band database and I haven’t booked for three years. I am already a bit of a dinosaur there. As I’m going through my list, most of these bands are already gone. These aren’t the people who are making it outside of Seattle, but they are the ones that can bring 75 people on a Monday night. They aren’t going to be here. I see a lot of bands splitting. Anybody where there was a chance they were going to split [pre-COVID], they’re done. I’m sure my talent buyer is already ahead on who is still around. I’m curious how many of them are still going to be playing.
Have there been more venue closures recently?
Sean Agnew’s place Boot & Saddle in Philly went under this week. That guy is Philly music. He closed Boot and Saddle to keep his other spot (Union Transfer) open. He is one of the bigger and well-respected independent promoters around. I don’t personally know him, but I have never heard anybody say anything bad about him. For him to lose his spot…it hurts.
Has the Keep Music Live campaign in Washington secured anymore partners or support?
Bartell is a local drug store. There are 160 of them in Washington. They reached out to [Washington Nightlife Music Association] early on to collaborate and asked what we thought about having our merch in their space. We have shirts, masks and stickers in all 160 stores. It is a different design than you can get anywhere else, so it is a Bartell exclusive. It’s on sale for a full week before the Keep Music Live campaign opens up our own merch store. By Friday they will be in all the stores. I think it can be really big to spread the word because it is a really cool partnership for a drug store to do. They get it. We are the music industry. We employee 38,000 people in Washington. It costs Bartell basically nothing. It costs us nothing. We’ll make money off of it. It’s a complete win-win and they get to look like the good guys that they are. I’m hoping other companies see that and think, ‘Oh, what about us?’