'A Giant Sigh Of Relief': Arizona Music Industry Sees Hope Through Save Our Stages Act

By Lauren Gilger
Published: Tuesday, December 29, 2020 - 2:37pm

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Stephen Chilton
Justin Yee
Stephen Chilton aka Psyko Steve.

LAUREN GILGER: With the president's decision to sign into law a $900 billion [COVID-19] relief bill over the weekend, he also approved $15 billion for the Save Our Stages Act. The measure will provide a lifeline for independent music venues, but although — also other performance venues like Broadway theaters, as well as promoters, talent representatives, movie theaters and even museums and zoos. And for our next guest, the help couldn't have come any sooner. Stephen Chilton owns the Rebel Lounge here in Phoenix and runs Psyko Steve Presents. And since the pandemic began, he has become an activist on behalf of his industry as the vice president of the National Independent Venue Association. I spoke with him more about what this means and what's next for venues like his.

STEVE CHILTON: The Save Our Stages Act will be a sizable grant through the [Small Business Administration] SBA, so it'll be a program similar to the idle loans and not through banks like PPP. And then the grant will cover kind of all your normal operating expenses — rent, insurance, debt payments, staff, you know, payroll — everything that venues will need to get through 'til the end of Dec. 21.

GILGER: So this has been a really long time coming, as we've talked to you about on The Show in the past. What's the reaction been from, from, from you, first of all, from others like you in the industry? Like, how badly was this needed at this point?

CHILTON: It was desperately needed. And it's been just a giant sigh of relief because I've kind of said for a while it was kind of very binary — either most venues would close here shortly or we would all get saved. Now, it looks kind of like we are all going to get saved. You know, I don't know any venues that are not in trouble. We've gone over nine months with no revenue. We're looking at going six months, probably at least until, you know, a vaccine is readily distributed and we can do events again. And so, you know, how any venue could be expected to last 12 months with no revenue. But I think a lot of people didn't expect it or thought it was wishful thinking. And it, you know, it is passed and now become law and it's just a giant sigh of relief for a lot of people.

GILGER: What about you? What was your reaction when you finally heard the news that the president signed the bill?

CHILTON: I was actually listening to CNN in my car yesterday when, like, they cut into that he had signed it. You know, so absolutely breaking. And it was just, you know, so it's just a giant relief to know that it's, it's passed. And for everyone else, I mean, there's — this is just one tiny piece of this relief package for all sorts of businesses and unemployment for out-of-work employees. And, you know, there's a lot in this package that's really vital, not just venues. So it's a relief for everyone that this finally passed.

GILGER: So is this enough? Is this too little, too late? Have we already lost a lot of venues at this point?

CHILTON: Nationwide we've seen a lot of venues close. Arizona, luckily, we haven't seen too many yet. So I think it is enough and it's enough that people can make decisions and be able to know that aid is coming. So even if it takes a little while to figure out how the SBA is going to administer this — you know, they have to build a brand new program. This isn't funds going into an existing program. It's brand new, never been done before. And so we don't know how to apply or when the aid is coming, but we all know it's coming. So, you know, you can kind of plan accordingly.

GILGER: Yeah. So let's talk then, Steve, for a few minutes about what's next, right? Like, we, we still aren't seeing concerts really on the books at venues big or small here and across the country. And no one really seems to know when that might be able to restart. What does that look like going forward? Do you have any timeline in mind in terms of when you can restart your business?

CHILTON: I've been saying for a long time that we're a post-vaccine industry, that events don't come back until there's some mass distribution of the vaccine. It seems that all the estimates I'm hearing are that that's early summer for the most in need will getting it. So hopefully we can be doing shows at some scale by summer and something like back to normal by fall. But, you know, the troubling part for the venues and promoters is that's all on the vaccine and health care sort of distribution timeline. Like, we have no impact or more insight into how that'll work than anyone else following the news. And so it's all once the vaccine is distributed enough that it's safe to host these events, we can start again. But, you know, that's probably six months away.

GILGER: Wow. So without a viable way to operate your business in the meantime, is this enough to get you through? Do you think this will significantly improve the picture for independent music venues and others around the country? Once this is, quote unquote, "over," at some point?

CHILTON: I hope so. I mean, it is a sizable grant, but it's designed to last until Dec. 21. And so hopefully, I hope it's enough for most people. I think most venues should be able to survive on that. Hopefully it does save everybody, but, you know, it should save almost everybody, if not everyone.

GILGER: All right. That is Steven Chilton, a.k.a. Psyko Steve, the vice president of the National Independent Venue Association and the owner of the Rebel Lounge here in Phoenix. Steve, thank you so much for coming on The Show to talk this through.

CHILTON: Thank you.

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