Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, Congressman Rally Support for Indie Venues
When Grateful Dead cofounder Bob Weir heads out on tour with Dead and Company, the crew extends far beyond his bandmates. As he explained Tuesday during a Zoom conference, a standard U.S. tour for the group actually involves a staff of 96 — along with local truck drivers, caterer, security guards, artists designing shirts and posters, and so many others involved in the live-music economy.
Allen Scott, Head of Concerts and Festivals for Another Planet Entertainment, described the sheer volume of individuals effected on the professional side as something that “spiderwebs out into thousands and thousands of people” — thousands of whom have been without a livelihood since the coronavirus pandemic placed all concerts and tours on indefinite hold.
At a Zoom press conference on Tuesday, Weir, Congressman Mike Thompson (D-CA), Blue Note Records president Don Was, Derek Featherstone of UltraSound, Napa venue owner Ken Tesler and Local 16 stagehand union member Joan Desmond sounded the alarm for independent venues in the San Francisco Bay Area — and across the entire country — in support of the $10 billion Save Our Stages Act and the Restart Act, which have drawn significant support on Capitol Hill and in the music industry, but are yet to move forward in Congress — head here to find out what you can do to help.
Weir said, “I’m here today to speak for the rest of the folks who are still trying to do well or haven’t done well yet — the roadies, the ticket-takers… it’s just endless, the number of people involved in this industry.”
Scott didn’t mince words when describing the situation venues like APE’s own Fox Theater in Oakland are currently facing.
“We were the first businesses to close and we’ll be the last to open,” he said. “We have basically zero dollars in revenue coming in. It is very grim. I get the sense from talking to people across the country that many businesses are holding on by their fingertips, waiting to hear what will happen with this latest COVID relief bill. if something isn’t done here, I think we’re going to see a wave of live music venues go out of business.”
While the tenor of the panel was undeniably bleak — at one point, Joanne Desmond noted that IATSE Local 16 members are currently over 98% unemployed — there was also hope offered.
It came in the form of two bills, both sponsored by Thompson, that everyone agreed were vital if many of the country’s most beloved independent venues are to weather this pandemic. Those bills – the Save Our Stages Act and the Restart Act – are unlikely to garner the support to pass as stand-alone legislation. However, either bill could be included in the (presumably forthcoming) larger COVID relief bill Congress continues to hammer out.
“Both these bills will make sure small venues can stay in business and entertain us for years to come,” Thompson said of the legislation he helped to spearhead. “I’m going to do everything in my power to get these bills signed and passed into law.”
Pointing to his belief that music transcends partisanship, Weir summarized the stakes in a manner befitting of a man whose life will forever be inextricably tied to the culture of live concerts.
“We need help from the government,” Weir said. “And I’d like to point out that music crosses party lines. Everybody needs music. I’ll leave it at that. Everybody needs music.”