Senator Amy Klobuchar On Saving Our Stages, The RESTART Act, Seeing Led Zeppelin In Concert

Amy Klobuchar
(Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Senator Amy Klobuchar, who co-sponsored the Save Our Stages Act speaking during a campaign rally at the Altria Theatre on Febr. 29, 2020 in Richmond, VA. .

For many on Capitol Hill and in the independent live sector, today (Dec. 21) marked a milestone. This because Congress officially passed the long-awaited $900 billion Covid-19 Relief Package, which notably included $15 billion for the Save Our Stages Act,  a bill spearheaded by the newly-formed National Independent Venue Association. Receiving a groundswell of support in both the public and private sectors, the bill represents something vital and rare in our too-often dysfunctional political sphere: bi-partisan support, one of the live music industry’s most valuable assets. 

On July 22, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and John Cornyn (R-Tex.) introduced the bi-partisan Save Our Stages bill and along the way to its passage picked up more supporters, beneficiaries (theaters and cultural institutions) and increased funding.  Pollstar spoke with one of the bill’s architects, Senator Klobuchar,  about the importance of the live industry, how the aid will be distributed and how the RESTART Act may support others in the industry not covered by this bill. This in addition to the joys of her first concerts, which included Led Zeppelin(!), The Cars and, of course, her hometown hero Prince.

Pollstar: Thank you for your service and what you’ve done for our country this year, it shouldn’t be underestimated. You’re a voice of reason, kindness, getting it done, smarts… 
Senator Amy Klobuchar: Oh, you’re welcome, and also making sure I never forgot that it was bipartisan and working with all the red states senators.

I was just going to say and unity and bipartisanship. It’s been completely missing from our nation’s political discourse, so thank you for that, which seemed to help Save Our Stages.
Senator Amy Klobuchar: I think so much of this was, first of all, the fans and the musicians and the theater goers and the lighting operators. It was this coalition that stuck together through thick and thin, and we always made sure that it wasn’t just about blue states, that it was about a small country music venue in Texas or the Fargo Theater in North Dakota. And that was how we brought on support from both sides of the aisle. We also had a formula that worked for big and small states and big and small venues. And then one of the key things we did is that when we added more partners as the months went on in terms of the interest from museums and zoos and movie theaters, we didn’t dilute the money. We actually said, “Okay, but then we’ve got to add significant funding.” It’s very rare that you introduce a bill as late as July for the end of the year and are able to pass it with $5 billion more dollars by the end of the year.

Your whole history as a senator has been getting bills through and working across the aisle. I was looking at your stats and you introduced 92 bills and resolutions between 2017-19, which was number one in the Democratic party. You co-sponsored 591 bills, the most of any Senate Democrat with ten or plus years. How does Save Our Stages bill rank in terms of ease or difficulty and getting people to sign on and what does it say about the venue industry as whole?
Senator Amy Klobuchar:  It was by far the most fun thing I’ve worked on, because there’s nothing better than a bunch of incredible, creative people from the lighting operators to the promoters to the musicians to help us with this. It was a lot of fun. And it was the only time I passed a bill that I was able to quote Bob Dylan on the Senate floor…. he’s from Minnesota, of course…

Of course.
Senator Amy Klobuchar:  It was also just that we had the facts on our side, so we didn’t have a lot of enemies in this process. We had people who were cynical and didn’t ever think we’d make it, but we were able to keep people together.  But this was by far the most fun thing I ever worked on. And also the most satisfying, because I really believe that this will be enough to keep most of them operating through the end of this. At least they will know by the spring how much the virus is going down because of the vaccines, which will of course will not be fully out, but we’ll start to see decrease as well as more testing, which will also help. And the fact that it sounds like they’re going to have the Super Bowl with vaccinated healthcare workers, all of this is going to help make people see to the future, to the summer for live music venues and theaters. But I can’t predict when they can open again, I just know that this is going to help them to get through.

Save Our Stages

Can you talk just a bit about how the Small Business Administration will administer this aid?
?Senator Amy Klobuchar:  So it’s going to be in the very first month of the program. I’m going to be calling the head of the small business administration this week to talk it through. The very first month, that first two weeks, people who have lost more than 90% of their revenue compared to the year before, they get to apply. In the second two weeks—and this is in law, so it’s not like we’re going to have rule making or something to slow this down—the second two weeks, people who have lost more than 70% of their revenue get to apply. And then there will be money set aside in the total money for people who will then be applying after that, like if they missed the deadline. And there’s requirements of what the venues have to be, and of course this doesn’t cover Ticketmaster and those kinds of entities.

This mostly represents the independent sector primarily managers, promoters, agents. I spoke with people in our industry who say this still doesn’t cover the vast majority of the live industry, which I’m told the RESTART bill does.
Senator Amy Klobuchar:
I love the RESTART bill.

And you’ve signed onto that, tell me about that bill and your support for it.
Senator Amy Klobuchar: Okay, but first I’m going to let Doug [Calidas), my legislative director, answer that, because it does include all the small venues. So, it’s true it doesn’t include Live Nation venues, because they have such a vast empire with the ticketing and things. And so that was something we didn’t think that should qualify for this.

But there’s still a larger part of the industry that isn’t covered by this.
Doug Calidas: I think the main point is that we did not want to include the large, large companies like Ticketmaster. We also focus on venues and the movie theaters and the performance spaces themselves. RESTART would be great because it would help directly some of the contractors, people like lighting operators and things like that. We help them by keeping their customers in business, so they can sell their products. But our money from this deal goes directly to the venues,

Senator Amy Klobuchar: So it helps the whole industry and everyone, because they’ll stay alive and they won’t go under. So then the lighting operators have a place to work, eventually. But the RESTART Act would help the individual businesses associated and I’m a fan of that though, it’s just that that bill, with this Congress and with this President and with some of the limits, we were unable to push that bill into the packet. But you always want to have a number of alternatives, because you don’t know how much money there’s going to be and what’s going to happen. It’s very obvious there’s going to be a second package next year. Joe Biden wants to do it. And that would be a great place to put the RESTART Act depending on where the economy is. I have another bill for startups, because the startups have been in a huge slump. So you could do that and be more forward looking for the economy at that time and include some version of the RESTART Act.

I’m sure no matter what bill you pass,  people are always going to want more. 

Senator Amy Klobuchar Yes and understandably we’re in the middle of the worst economic jolt since the 1930s. So why wouldn’t they want to keep asking for more? One of the things you get with hindsight, we could’ve never passed this bill back when the pandemic hit. People didn’t know what was going to happen. Now you have the hindsight of which industries are hardest hit. Well, it is not tech. Okay? They’ve benefited from this. So you want to make sure you’re trying to put the special funding toward employee groups and small businesses that need it the most, that don’t have the margin to keep open. And the stages are the ultimate example of that.

So is this a template for the future of good governance? We’ve had such acrimony and difficulty crossing the aisle, is this something that presages how we can actually govern going forward?

Senator Amy Klobuchar: Yes, it is. One of the things that helped was this was not a negative project. We never criticized people that weren’t on it. When things went a little awry, with people coming up with things that we didn’t think would work, we tried to keep it very positive. That really helped. I also think that when Joe Biden comes in, he likes doing things on a bipartisan basis. He gets it. So I hope that there’ll be efforts like this, but not just about entertainment and not just about the pandemic. The only way we’re going to get things done in a big way is to have them be bipartisan like this.

Can you talk a bit about Senator John Cornyn from Texas and how you reached across the aisle, and what kind of support you had from him throughout the process?
Senator Amy Klobuchar:
Well he and I are friends. We just talked this morning, actually and put something out jointly today. We still serve together on the Judiciary Committee. We’ve worked on things like human trafficking together and a number of bills that we’ve done together. We’ve passed quite a number of bills together having nothing to do with music. So that relationship was already there and we knew we had to stick together on this. So we’ve worked together on easy bills, hard bills, you name it and have trust. Then we also just made sure as these additional, this is a nice way to put it, as additional partners reached out, we just wanted to make sure that we didn’t screw up the original bill in the coalition that had put this together. It’s pretty unprecedented to add money, but we added partners. And so we had to add funding. ?

We made sure Senator McConnell stayed with this bill and Senator Schumer. Senator Schumer was very helpful, especially on the theater side. And he was in the room where it happened, so to say. And then we made sure the House, which can sometimes be more partisan on things, that was really key that they stayed bipartisan in their reach. And we had over 200 House members. But it was originally our bill.

You mentioned like the Bluestem Amphitheater in Moorhead, Minnesota in your speech on the floor today,  we love hearing about the venues in small markets.  And what seems important about this painful process is that our entire country now seems to really understand the importance and value of the live industry in a way we’ve never seen before.  You said during your speech on the Senate floor today that you first got involved in this issue when Dayna Frank [owner of First Avenue Productions and NIVA board president] called you, what did she say?

Senator Amy Klobuchar: Yes. On a Saturday night. She just said, “I don’t know how I can make it.” And she knew I was a big fan of First Avenue. I’ve done a bunch of my own events there and actually rented it out. I was a big fan of Prince and I actually passed the first resolution in the Senate after he died that was in purple.

That’s so great.

Senator Amy Klobuchar: I once went to Halloween party in law school dressed as Purple Rain, the concept. I wore like purple tights and carried an umbrella. But then I got second place. I lost to a guy dressed as a bathroom wall. She knows all this, I know her. So she called me. And then we talked on a Saturday night and we started looking into it. We talked about how she was going to have to get this group together. My number one advice to her was that it had to not just be blue states, it could not just be certain music venues. We had to really reach out, especially to Republican states, Republican reps, country music. That was my first thing. And theaters. And we had to find some way to get a formula that would work for them, but also was passable by Congress for how we did this, because we already knew the PPP was brewing and then the PPP had passed by then. She knew that their business model, where they have such tight margins and knew it wouldn’t last for them and that we needed to find something else.

What was the first concert you saw?
Senator Amy Klobuchar:
Oh, I remember my first album I got was when I was a kid was Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I remember my first concerts, I don’t know which one in which order, was Led Zeppelin.

Oh my God…
Senator Amy Klobuchar:

Are you kidding?
Senator Amy Klobuchar: They played Minnesota. They came the Met to Bloomington. Yeah. Okay. So don’t make me sound so old.

That’s not old, that’s amazing. Nobody got to see Led Zeppelin. That’s so cool.
Senator Amy Klobuchar: And let’s see what else? The Cars. Not quite as cool.

No, that’s cool too.
Senator Amy Klobuchar: Aerosmith. I think Aerosmith may have helped on this. Some of the older bands helped put funds in for this. So those were my first ones I remember. And then of course I will never forget going to my first Prince concert and seeing him at First Avenue, all those things, but he did big concerts as well, of course, there.

But you actually saw him at First Avenue?
Senator Amy Klobuchar:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). But that was later. Once there and then I saw him in St. Paul. I won’t ever forget it, because my mom was mad at me because I was late for Christmas and that was bad. I went with someone on Christmas Eve and I was late because I went to a Prince concert.

You may be the coolest Senator ever.
Senator Amy Klobuchar: Well that’s…Thank you.