NIVA Executive Director Stephen Parker On The State Of The National Independent Venue Association

On Top Of NIVA: Stephen Parker, Executive Director of NIVA, speaking at the trade association’s Awards Gala at Washington, D.C.’s Anthem on July 10. (Photo by Derek Baker / NIVA)

When Pollstar caught up with Stephen Parker, appropriately enough, he was inside the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C. There, the National Independent Venue Association’s executive director since January, was in the process of directing more than 200 NIVA members on their first ever Capitol Hill Fly-In to lobby Congressional members to do nothing less than reform the ticketing morass via NIVA’s Fix the Tix initiative. The ascension of the governmental affairs expert, who formerly worked for the National Governors Association, the National Guard and the Country Music Association (and is also rumored to be a killer bassist), marks something of a new chapter for NIVA, which was also closing out its second annual conference in the nation’s capital.  From the highest halls of power, literally, we caught up with Parker to better understand where NIVA’s at, the association’s plans for the future and what next year in New Orleans looks like. 

Pollstar: How’s the Capitol Hill Fix The Tix Fly-In going?

Stephen Parker: It’s going very well. We’re still in the middle of it. I’m in the Senate Rules Committee chamber now. Senator Klobuchar is the chairwoman of the Senate Rules Committee and gave us the committee room all day. We had more than 200 people here, which is, from a size perspective, a monstrous number for D.C. no matter how you cut it.

That’s all NIVA people?

Maybe 98% our members and 2% some of our partners like Americans for the Arts and Future Music Coalition. At lunchtime, Senator Klobuchar came in. She spoke with our members virtually many times in 2020, but she’s largely never met them in person. So when she walked to the room, they cheered for five minutes straight.

Your mobilization session at the conference yesterday was really impressive and that seems like one of your strong suits being something of a government insider and is one of the ways NIVA has changed being more focused on policy and governmental affairs.

This is what I’ve done my entire career. I worked for the National Governors Association and was their lobbyist at the federal level. From my perspective, I wouldn’t say we’ve changed to become more insiders, I think the insiders we are is because we worked so hard in 2020 and now our members have relationships in D.C. Where it’s changed for me is that we are trying to build on the foundation we have in Washington, D.C. at the federal level and trying to extend that into state and local governments throughout the country. Because SVOG is over, and we’re not anticipating any major new funding coming from the federal government for venues anytime soon, we believe the opportunities for engagement and having a seat at the table is at the state level.

Last year’s NIVA Conference in Cleveland felt like a victory lap and was so much fun, this year felt like the rubber hit the road and you got deeper into the policy weeds and that trip to the Hill was a manifestation of that. What’s your take on this year’s conference?

I think NIVA can be the Live Entertainment Chamber of Commerce. We have a presence in D.C. And now, today, we have 200 people walking around the Senate office buildings in the Capitol, they’re seeing us.  I’m seeing Capitol Hill Police and Hill staffers stop our members and ask what Fix The Tix is. That’s a manifestation of what Dayna (Frank), (Rev.) Moose and others dreamed up in 2020. The fact that we’re doing this less than 3.5 years later, and they’re seeing us as a known presence here is tremendous. The conference bridged two things: It showed us how to deepen our roots in advocacy. And two, it was an opportunity for venues to come together and talk about best practices and show how we can make their lives easier every day.

I spoke to Dayna Frank about stepping down from the Presidency, which I understand was part of the bylaws, how will it impact the organization?

Everybody knows we would not be here without Dayna, and we would not be here without the board who backed her up and led a very energized independent industry into a battle that everybody was uncertain we would ever win. And we did. Our foundation is advocacy and I don’t see much changing at all. We’re fortunate she is going to stick around for another year and help lead on advocacy, particularly with Fix the Tix, but also this is an opportunity to build on the strengths of our new leadership.

Andre Perry (NIVA’s new Board President) is a tremendous leader and a different leader than we’ve had over the last three years. And that’s also a good thing. He, with Dayna’s help, will be taking over and continuing her work on advocacy and can help us where I think we need help the most. And that is how, beyond advocacy, we begin to build more member value. How do we meet members where they’re at and figure out how to make life easier with services, best practices, education, resources and creating communities?

Next year’s conference is in New Orleans, which In some ways might be the antithesis of D.C., what do you think that portends for next year?

D.C. is a crown jewel of a music city that is often not talked about. We didn’t have enough time to go to all the tremendous venues here, particularly smaller venues, but we were able to have events at 10 venues. Our role over the last two years was to elevate the incredible venues, festivals and independent live community that was already there. In New Orleans, our job is to focus on one critical piece of what New Orleans has been doing. We are fortunate that one of our original advocacy committee members (Howie Kaplan) last August became the night mayor. The theme of New Orleans is going to be how do we replicate that model in cities around the country, which New Orleans is doing so well and create that inseparable bond between the nighttime economy, the independent nightlife community and the highest levels of government. That is going to be the theme of next year. And then, obviously, there’s absinthe and a lot of other things that are going to be very, very entertaining.