Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Live music venues in Texas closed down in March and have yet to reopen.

The picture is bleak.

It’s estimated that as many as 90 percent of independent live music venues in the nation will close by October. That would result in the collapse of an industry that already has lost an estimated $9 billion nationwide since the pandemic started. Quite a few have already closed, including Threadgill’s, the Austin restaurant and venue that helped Janis Joplin get her start.

The good news is that a coalition of professional organizations is receiving bipartisan support for a bill that would help small independent theaters.

Save Our Stages is a $10-billion bill proposed in the U.S. Senate and backed by Sen. John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota.

If approved, it would provide Small Business Administration loans to eligible venues, “equal to the lesser of either 45 percent of operation costs from calendar year 2019 or $12 million.” Theaters could use the loans for “rent, utilities, mortgage obligations, PPE procurement, payments to contractors, regular maintenance, administrative costs, taxes, operating leases, and capital expenditures related to meeting state, local, or federal social distancing guidelines.”

Kessler Theater owner Edwin Cabaniss has been making calls to lawmakers all week as part of the effort to gain approval for the bill before Congress recesses for the month of August. It’s easy for anyone to write a letter to Congress at saveourstages.com.

Cabaniss, who also owns The Heights theater in Houston, is a member of the National Independent Venue Association and the Music Venue Alliance of Texas.

Independent theaters are the soul of the music industry, Cabaniss says.

“Maren Morris grew up on our stage,” Cabaniss says. “Leon Bridges was doing open mic nights in Fort Worth before he was selling out stadiums.”

In Texas, the live music industry directly accounted for 97,000 permanent jobs, $4.1 billion in annual earnings and just over $9.6 billion in annual economic activity in 2018, according to the Texas Music Office.

The Kessler had planned to open at the end of June, after the State of Texas allowed theaters to reopen at 50% on June 2. But things go bad again, and they couldn’t open.

“Most people are hanging on by the skin of their teeth,” Cabaniss says.

The Kessler and The Heights are in better shape than some, since Cabaniss owns the buildings, and the theaters are well-established. But it’s been five months with no revenues, and they’re looking at another five. Every music venue in the United States is in the same sinking boat.

“Texas is leading on this from both sides of the aisle, and we just couldn’t be more excited as that is happening across the nation,” Cabaniss says of Save Our Stages. “This is our best and last hope. The only thing we can be is positive.”