NIVA’s #SOSFest Raises $1.8M With Blistering Performances, High-Profile Talent

Miley Cyrus
Courtesy YouTube Music
– Miley Cyrus
Miley Cyrus goes full rockstar for raucous renditions of songs by The Cure and The Cranberries during her #SOSFest set at the Whisky-A-Go-Go in West Hollywood, one of the thousands of indie venues under threat from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Just by forming, NIVA – the national independent venue association with more than 2,000 member venues across the United States – has already performed the Herculean task of organizing a network of fiercely independent and unrelated entities. 

The group, made up of household names anchoring nightlife in cities across the country, has become a high-profile driving force explaining to Congress why the Save Our Stages Act (or SOS Act) is so important as the country still grapples with the coronavirus pandemic with much uncertainty and little progress since March.
But putting on a three-day #SOSFest with 35 major artists playing 25 beloved venues across the country, such as The Roots playing the New York Apollo Theatre, Foo Fighters at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, Miley Cyrus at the Whisky-A-Go-Go, Brittany Howard at the Ryman in Nashville, Portugal. The Man at Portland’s Crystal Ballroom, and still others like Dave Matthews and Reba McEntire – raising $1.8 million in the process – may be its biggest feat yet.
With help from YouTube and parent company Google, NIVA was able to take the already ambitious project from its infancy stage and, as it snowballed into a massive undertaking with whole teams coordinating everything from COVID testing (something along the lines of 1,5000 individual tests given, according to NIVA) to filming and artist relations, says Stephen Sternschein, owner of Austin venues Empire Control Room & Garage and The Parish, who executive produced #SOSFest.
“Having a partner like Google, when we needed to add more people and resources and they were ready to do it, that was a really special experience for all us,” Sternschein says. “Also hearing artists and their teams stepping forward, but we’re on the phone with managers figuring out how to reduce the costs coming in so we can get more benefit to the emergency relief fund. Everybody was united and focused on this effort and that’s why it was successful.”
Logistics were worked out so the artists would not have to travel – with musicians mostly playing hometown venues, such as Dave Matthews at Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, Va., and recorded mostly within a two-week period leading up to the event. The major talent on display is a big part of telling the #SaveOurStages story, which has reached the highest levels of government and continues to spread to the mainstream. 
“We’re thrilled at the outcome so far,” Sternschein said. “The real exciting thing is we hoped to get unique and impactful performances from the artists, and each of them told the story of why it’s critical to save our stages, and in their own way – visually, musically and narratively. Those performances are going out into the universe and are going to continue to raise money for our effort as people watch and share them.” 
Having Google and YouTube Music as a partner brought heightened visibility to the festival as well, in a very real way. 
“Seeing #SOSFest on the Google search bar, you can count on one hand how many times that has happened,” Sternschein says. “The awareness just that simple action has brought to our effort – the pebble has just hit the water in our lake and the ripple has started.” 
While NIVA has been working tirelessly to get the word out to the government and the music community, #SOSFest has brought the campaign to the living room, in order to bring it back to the nightclub. 
Sternschein says, “While we’ve had great success in rallying the core music people, it’s about making sure the message and the narrative translates to the average consumer who maybe doesn’t pay as much attention to the nitty gritty of how shows get put together and who’s involved but care about the artists involved.”
With the Save our Stage Act stalling in the Senate after passing with bipartisan support in the House of Representatives as part of the Heroes Act, it’s unclear when a relief package will be passed. 
“The Save Our Stages Act is the brass ring,” says Audrey Fix Schaefer, who is leading communications for NIVA. “Our job now is to make sure they don’t forget about us. They do understand what our predicament is, and they believe we deserve help and want to give it to us, so that’s one thing, but the real thing is to pass the bill. Knowing that Congress agrees we should get the help doesn’t pay the bills. Until they agree on the whole package, we’re sitting on the sidelines.”