Chuck Schumer, James Murphy, Others Urge Federal Relief For Independent Venues Outside Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right

Courtesy NIVA
– Schumer Saving Stages
Flanked by NIVA executive director Rev. Moose (left) and LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy (center), Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (right) speaks in front of Brooklyn nightclub Baby’s All Right to promote federal relief for independent venues.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, and other musicians and live events professionals gathered Tuesday afternoon in front of Brooklyn nightclub Baby’s All Right to promote the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA)’s Save Our Stages effort to secure federal relief funding for venues impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“These places have to survive,” Schumer said. “Saying we can do without these is like saying you can do without your liver or your right arm. We need them very much.”

Schumer emphatically said that he “will use whatever muscle I have as minority leader of the Senate” to pass relief legislation for the industry – the Save Our Stages grant program is requesting $10 billion to be allocated for independent venues – noting that independent venues drive culture well beyond America’s major cities and suggesting that fact could attract sponsors across the aisle who represent more rural states.

“In every community, these independent venues for music and performance are central for the life, energy, culture, and attractiveness of the communities,” he said. “We have to make sure they get funding, because 90% of independent venues will have to close permanently without federal funding and that would be a disaster for the artistic, energetic life that we have long had here in Brooklyn and in New York and in so many parts of the country.”

Naturally, Schumer related the importance of such spaces for his New York constituents specifically.

“It’s the pulse, it’s the heart and the soul of New York,” he said. “Since live venues have grown and flourished, New York has grown and flourished.”

In brief remarks, NIVA executive director Rev. Moose called the pandemic “an extinction-level event” for the industry, before ceding the microphone to Murphy, who reiterated that “we’re not going to be able to rebuild it from zero” if 90% of independent venues go out of business, as one NIVA survey predicted would happen if the federal government refuses to act.

“A proposition like Save Our Stages is the least we can do, basically, as a group of people to take care of our own,” Murphy said. “I don’t mean our own as musicians, I mean our own as citizens. This is as important as roads, this is as important as cell phone towers. This is how we communicate with each other, this is how we take care of each other.”

Before he hit it big with LCD Soundsystem, Murphy said, he made ends meet as a sound guy at clubs like Manhattan’s Brownies and Maxwell’s in neighboring Hoboken, N.J., following a path repeated by scores of artists before and after him.

Indies “fill in the gaps and communities spring up around them,” he said. “They’re economies in themselves; they’re communities in themselves.”

As Murphy put it, “we don’t have a universal American music,” but “we have Chicago house and Detroit techno and New York hip-hop,” and those scenes “that make America amazing” have been fostered by independent venues.

After Murphy, Dhruv Chopra, co-owner of Brooklyn nightclub Elsewhere, spoke, warning that “the soul of the city is dying out” and calling the Save Our Stages effort the industry’s “final stand.”

Because the industry is only asking Congress for $10 billion – “a drop in the bucket of our nation’s wealth,” Chopra said – the venue operator framed the passage of legislation as representative of how much America cares about arts and culture.

“It really comes down to a question of how we as a city and as a country value the arts, value music, value nightlife and value this economy,” he said. “It’s not really a question of ‘Can we do it?’ It’s ‘Do we want to do it?'”

Independent venues are trying to “do the right thing, which is to stay shut down and allow the public health and safety of this nation and of this city be first and foremost, and we’re all willing to do that – but we’re not going to be around if we have to do that for much longer,” he said.

Kae Burke, who co-founded House of Yes, another creative mecca in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood located just blocks from Elsewhere, echoed Chopra’s sentiments about safety.

“What you’re doing without giving support is you’re asking venues to make desperate decisions,” Burke said. “Some of those desperate decisions would require people to gather in unsafe spaces, in secret spaces. If we don’t support their rent, their livelihood, their survival, the choices that one could make are not healthy, they’re not safe for our society.”

To illustrate the severity of the crisis, Burke made a simple point: Independent venues don’t ask for much.

“We as a culture are independent, we are innovative, we are resourceful,” she said. “We do it ourselves. We are DIY. This situation is so desperate that we have come together to use our voices together and really get the help, not only for our spaces and our staff but for our community, our culture, our city, our human experience.”

And, as so many engaged in NIVA’s Save Our Stages effort have made clear in recent weeks and months, taking action now is the way to preserve these communities later.

As Burke put it, venues are asking for help to “just allow us to hibernate just long enough so we can come back and not just survive this pandemic but thrive afterward for years.”

Watch footage of the full press conference below.