Remember the good ol’ days of 2019 when Seattle music lovers were scrambling to save just one cherished club from closing? One industry-crumbling pandemic later, venue operators are warning that without a financial lifeline, a wave of independent music halls won’t make it to the other side. But a new organization hopes to help.

The Keep Music Live group has launched a fundraising campaign looking to drum up $10 million to help Washington state venues stay afloat while COVID-19 keeps their doors closed. The long-in-the-works initiative is led by a group of civic-minded music lovers with experience in advocacy, the arts and the corporate and philanthropic worlds. Board members from the music side include rocker twins Eva and Cedric Walker of The Black Tones, Craig Jewell of Bellingham’s Wild Buffalo club and Karen Loria, operations manager with Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy Foundation. Seattle hip-hop pioneer Sir Mix-a-Lot, who’s been a close ally to local save-the-venues movements, serves as co-chair.

“I don’t think a lot about the gold records on the wall,” Sir Mix-a-Lot said in a news release, “I think about the memories in small rooms. And together, we can help keep these venues open so more memories can be made.”

The closed Chop Suey music venue is seen Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood during the pandemic. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)
The closed Chop Suey music venue is seen Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood during the pandemic. (Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times)

Once enough cash comes in, Keep Music Live plans to issue grants to Washington venues with less than 1,000 capacity based on criteria yet to be determined by the board. The group is soliciting individual and corporate donations through its website KeepMusicLiveWA.com.

If you see faux land-use signs popping up outside your favorite Seattle clubs, don’t be too alarmed (yet). That’s part of their campaign to remind fans that if these venues shutter permanently, they may not be replaced by another music hall — not exactly the most lucrative business these days. Sixty-three percent of our state’s independently owned clubs say that without relief they will close by next February, according to a Washington Nightlife Music Association (WANMA) survey.

Advertising

While Keep Music Live is a separate entity from WANMA — the coalition of local venue owners leading the advocacy charge — it grew out of some of the organization’s earliest conversations. Keep Music Live also has support from King County Executive Dow Constantine, whose proposed 2021-2022 budget includes $300,000 for indie clubs to make “COVID-safe modifications” to their spaces. In August, the county steered $750,000 in federal aid toward 35 struggling music venues.

For clubs that have now been closed more than six months, the grants ranging from $10,000 to $40,000 were a welcome cushion but hardly a panacea. Adam Wakeling, managing partner at the Crocodile, recently told the Seattle Times that the Belltown mainstay would need $400,000 to make it to summer 2021, when some in the industry are hoping semi-normal touring will resume.

With a venue relief bill stalled in Congress, this weekend the National Independent Venue Association is throwing a virtual music festival to raise money and awareness for their plight. A handful of Seattle music heavyweights are participating, with Macklemore taping his performance at Capitol Hill pillar Neumos.