The fifth annual Independent Venue Week kicks off this Monday (July 11) with a number of high profile artists including Spoon, Japanese Breakfast, GZA and Artist Ambassador Big Freedia among the 1,100 performances slated for 400 venues across the country. Pollstar caught up with the event’s primary mover and shaker, the inimitable Rev. Moose. In addition to having the best name in the live industry, Moose wears a lot of hats running the music marketing company Marauder; co-founder and executive director of National Independent Venue Association; and executive director of the National Independent Venue Foundation. The timing for this year’s event is propitious as independent venues find themselves at a cross-roads of sorts with the time period and funding for the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant running out while still facing inordinate economic challenges. Here, the industry executive (and Universal Life Minister) discusses the goals for this year’s Independent Venue Week, what NIVA’s working on and perhaps next year getting more “tchotchkes.”
Pollstar: Can you just go over all your titles?
Rev. Moose: For Marauder, managing partner, co-founder; for NIVA, co-founder and executive director; and National Independent Venue Foundation, executive director.
You’ve got a lot of hats
Yeah, you know, big head. You gotta put a lot of hats on a big head.
So Independent Venue Week is coming up
Yes, it’s the fifth anniversary of it in the U.S. July 11th through 17th.
It started in Europe, how did it get here?
They’re on their 10th anniversary, we were brought in in 2018. Sybil Bell from the UK created it and built it out. She and I were trying to figure out ways to bring it to the U.S. for several years until one day we were just sitting and chatting and said, “Screw it. Let’s just commit and we’ll figure out how to make it work,” and that’s what we did.
What do you have planned for this year’s fifth Independent Venue Week?
We have venues from every single state and D.C. taking part again for the second year. We’re very happy that last year we were able to hit that milestone. We have over 400 venues participating this year. Shows from everywhere, for every type room, festivals, indoors, outdoors, comedy events, music events, if it’s in an independent venue or working with an independent promoter, it has the ability to be part of Independent Venue Week.
How do these shows differ from regular run-of-mill shows?
There’s a couple things we try to focus on. It’s a way to get more media attention as it ties into the national program. So rooms that might not otherwise have gone out of their way to book a Tuesday night show, might get a local band that hasn’t played there or one of the national bands looking for an underplay or a stunt to be able to tie in with. This gives the impetus to do something a bit more special and grab more attention publicly. The hope is that more people are going to be aware, buy a ticket, show up, fill the room, buy a beverage, enjoy themselves and most of all be present.
When is the last time you went to your favorite venue? Sometimes it’s been a year or two or more. So having an intentional night to be able to get a babysitter, buy tickets in advance and be purposeful. It’s choosing to go out and support the venue and the artist, in the scene and the community and everything else. It puts thought behind it. We do this type of stuff every day. You go to a grocery store and you’re choosing between buying local produce or something maybe shipped in from overseas. If you have the option to be able to make a more informed decision, I think many consumers will choose to support something community-based and community-owned and operated. And that’s really what the entire impetus of this event is, to draw attention to those that are being able to build out within and for their communities.
Do you have a definition of what an independent venue is?
Our definition is slightly different than the UK’s definition. But for us to overly simplify it, it’s a venue that is not owned, exclusively owned or operated by a multinational or a publicly-traded company. And has to fit the definition of what a venue is, which is a bigger question that recently the government had to figure out. It’s really a matter of making sure that the places that we’re supporting, the businesses or the organizations we’re supporting, are doing it themselves. But independence is a sliding scale. Independent could mean, one person taking out their lunch money to be able to put on a show in a dingy rock club. It could very well mean, somebody that’s running a multi-million dollar empire that has established itself in a market and they are the big fish in a small pond. It doesn’t necessarily mean small, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re completely solo or mom & pop, those things are all representative of what an independent venue could be. But, it just means that you don’t have access to global capital or shareholders in the same way that the larger conglomerates have.
That’s’s quite a range from bigger indie promotes like Another Planet, First Avenue or I.M.P. versus say the Troubadour. I just went to a really cool community-based collective space in Tacoma Park, D.C. called Rhizome that was like a squat. Their needs must be very different?
Yes, that’s correct, but that’s true in most communities. It’s about celebrating the commonalities. We’re drawing attention to ownership and operations. People have the opportunity to run their business, how they choose to run it. We’ve seen a large number in the independent sector open up for community events, fundraising events or to take a chance on local artists in particular and give them their first shot on stage, and try to develop them. Not just to be able to sell tickets, but to support the community and the people that are in their community. So when you’re talking about new genres, when you’re talking about cultural centers, all of these things are a result of the independent venues. Nobody’s ever going to say, “Man, this music scene really exploded as soon as they built that arena for all those big shows.”
The Knitting Factory just announced they’re closing the Brooklyn flagship space after 13 years and I hear a lot of indie venues are still facing a lot of challenges, what’s your agenda in terms of this year’s event? What are you advocating for? How are you guys working together? What’s your platform?
Buy a ticket, to go to the show, bring a friend, post about it, bring another friend tomorrow night. Be there and in the moment and part of the experience, that’s really what it’s about. Especially after the last few years where it’s been so difficult and is still very difficult. The financial ramifications of what happened is still very much happening at the moment. Shows are being canceled. The costs have gone up, you never know if a tour’s even going to make it to the next stop, people aren’t showing up. It’s more difficult for the venues to be able to predict what kind of income they’re going to get from one show or another show. It’s a really tough time to be an owner/operator right now, because you can’t predict what’s going to happen next. A lot of any business is projections. So when you have this uncertainty and you’ve already gone through several years of it being an economic disaster, then you would hope that you have the ability to plan towards the future in a stronger way. Right now that pain point is just being extended over and over and over again. We’re in July, right? And Omicron was December and January, and we’re still talking about it because it’s still very real and very painful.
There was such an outpouring of support for independent venues during the pandemic, like nothing we’ve ever seen before with the largest arts grant ever in the history of the United States (the $16.25 billion SVOG grant) with bipartisan support.
Certainly and through NIVA we have the national voice to be able to present a unified front. There are very real platforms that we are fighting locally right now, too. For example, in Minnesota, as it currently stands, and hopefully this changes by the time you go to print, your Shuttered Venue Operator’s Grant is taxable. It’s the only state in the country where that’s the case. And we’ve been fighting and working with the local teams and local lobbyists to be able to help get that corrected because why would anybody with an understanding of what the grant was intended for possibly tax it? It’s emergency funds, right? It’s not income. When you’re talking about things like sound ordinances and community involvement and other things of that nature we do have a national resource now that we’re able to bounce ideas off of and discuss bigger picture stuff.
What we’re really trying to do is be able to make it so the businesses that want to be independent, that want to continue to own or operate their own places, have the ability to and are not squeezed out or forced out through landlord restrictions or through restrictive laws or laws that are not restrictive enough that allow for them to be pushed out. There’s always going to be businesses that open and we want to make sure they have the tools that can continue to grow and develop new rooms and new festivals in a competitive and fair manner.
June 30th was the last day to use your SVOG money, which I presume has been a lifesaver for a lot of business but there’s still a lot of money that hasn’t been claimed, is their advocacy for continued support or extending the grants as venues are still struggling to come back?
One of the things Biden recently signed, as in the last two days essentially rescinded… Give me a second, hold on. So I have to read this for you, but recently they passed, Keep Kids Fed Act and rescinded $1.2 billion of unused funds from SVOG, but the SBA stated that there are still enough funds allocated to the SVOG program to address any outstanding obligations.
So any future government funding, for now at least on a federal level, is gone?
Right. But we are still pursuing funding on a local level and working with our local NIVA chapters to be able to help where it’s needed most. And there is a lot of ARP (American Rescue Plan Act of 202) money that’s being worked with locally to be able to help build out the communities. And a lot of the venues are working together with the local governments to be able to make sure that those funds are spent in ways that benefit the artist community, not just the venues and the businesses. And we’ve been very fortunate to be able to secure the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant Program, but there are a lot of folks that are still very much suffering and trying to build out neighborhoods and cultural centers and the elements that you need to be able to feel like a community.
So between IVW and NIVA does Independent Venue Week promote the cause of venues to consumers and increase the visibility and then NIVA tends to be more of the political wing doing more advocacy and policy?
Well, certainly NIVA’s start was political advocacy, but in some ways we did this backwards because usually it’s the trade association that comes up with a marketing initiative and says, “Hey, pay attention to our sector.” And in this case, it was the marketing initiative that helped create the trade association. In that respect, even the first conversations that venue owners were having with elected officials in the beginning of 2020 was really like Independent Venue Week with consumer-facing. So as people were calling up their senators and their Congress people, the first conversation was like, there’s a reason I haven’t called you before, but we need your help. So I don’t necessarily know if I would say that there’s a hard line. Certainly my own involvement makes it difficult for me to be the one to comment on this, but one of them is a 501c6 trade association. The other one is a Sponsor Supported Marketing Initiative. And I’m very glad that we’re able to work so closely together in the way that we are.
Given all the difficulties many are facing, what opportunities do you see in this? Especially now with this industry working together so closely, what opportunities can come out of this for venues.
I mean, look, we’re working together, we’re talking and that’s a very important part of having a competitive marketplace. And collaborations can be good for the consumer. It puts two strong people, three strong people, 30 strong people working together with different access to different talent, different rooms, different events, different times of year. Part of what we’ve been able to do with NIVA is create a new network that people can feel more comfortable collaborating with somebody they might not have otherwise collaborated with. They might not even know who they were. If you’re a venue owner in Detroit, and you have somebody call you from Louisville, Kentucky and say, “Hey, can I use your room?” And you’ve never worked with them. You know, you’ll be skeptical at first with who is this person? But if you’ve been working the trenches with them for the last two years, and they’re like, “Hey, I’m thinking about booking this band across the country, you wanna work with me in Detroit?” The answer’s gonna be a no-brainer.
I was thinking about was how successful Record Store Day is and covered that for a decade or more while vinyl turned around for lot of different reasons, which I wouldn’t credit to record store day, but it certainly was a good advocate and helped the cause. Most every year, I try to get exclusive products. Is there anything analogous with Independent Venue Week where you can buy merch or a ticket buy or keepsakes or maybe God forbid an NFT that for a consumer has value and makes them want to go and beyond just attending a show at an independent venue?
I go to record store day every single year. And there’s only been maybe two or three years where I’ve actually gotten any of the limited edition stuff that I set out to get. And more often than not what ends up happening is I end up in the record store and I still spend a lot of money on stuff that I could have bought any other day of the year. I think Independent Venue Week is very much the same thing. It’s not necessarily about the tchotchkes, it’s about the moment. And it’s about being there. And it’s about turning to your friends or your loved ones and being like, “Yo, we always make excuses. We gotta go out tonight. This is why.” It’s a purpose to be able to say, this is important to me and show your friends and there’s plenty of things that we do as a culture where you might show up in a way that doesn’t change your belief. Like you felt just as strongly yesterday as you do today, but this day you get to show people how you feel. Maybe it’s wearing a shirt or waving a flag or whatever the case might be in this particular week of the year, the middle of the summer, which has not historically been a very strong time for indoor smaller venues to begin with. It’s a way where we can try to put people in the rooms.
I think you should get tchotchkes.
Well, I mean, we have earplugs and t-shirts and stuff like that for sale. You want get, ’em get ’em off our website. We’re able to offset the cost by the gracious support of folks like See Tickets, who’ve been supportive for years and they’ve been supporting the UK events. And they’re really heavily invested in the future of independent venues.
Who else are your sponsors?
We’re working with the Orchard. We’re working with Hearby, obviously NIVA is a partner.
And they’re owned by Vivendi
Sure. But they have had a significant amount of support there for the independent sector. And that’s, at the heart of what it is that they’re doing as the company is supporting the independent sector.
One thing I want to mention is that Cecile (Nielsen) at Marauder, she’s the senior director of special projects and has been the engine who makes Independent Venue Week possible. She never gives in, never takes time to actually celebrate herself and never gets enough praise. She started working on Independent Venue Week when she was an intern here. It was the work she did on the first year that, A) made it possible and B) solidified a full-time job for somebody that for a company where we had no full-time job to offer.
So she really is the prime mover here.
She truly is the reason that it happened and the reason that it’s happened year after year, even the first town hall that we did that helped kickstart NIVA. It was the two of us on it. It’s just I talk more.
So what’s your big message for this year’s Independent Venue Week?
Buy a fucking ticket.