San Antonio live music venues, theaters rally with others across country to ‘Save Our Stages’

21 San Antonio venues asking government for financial relief during pandemic

Thousands of live and non-profit music venues and theaters have gone dark since the pandemic swept across the country.

SAN ANTONIOEditor’s note: This content was created exclusively for KSAT Explains, a weekly streaming show that dives deep into the biggest issues facing San Antonio and South Texas. Watch past episodes here and download the free KSAT-TV app to stay up on the latest. (You can watch this week’s full episode below.)

Thousands of live and non-profit music venues and theaters have gone dark since the pandemic swept across the country.

These venues have had to survive and stay afloat with little to no revenue coming in from live shows.

The Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is one of many local venues that has struggled this year.

“It’s been extremely difficult. We were shut down in the middle of March and we furloughed a lot of our employees and we basically went dark,” said Aaron Zimmerman, VP of Programming at the Tobin Center. “It’s just really difficult to just make the numbers work and stay afloat with our capacity at about 25 or 30 percent of what we once operated out.”

Zimmerman has been with the Tobin since it opened in 2014. He’s seen countless shows come through the doors knows what the facility means to the local arts and performing community.

“This was the same site as the municipal auditorium. The people of San Antonio really have a lot of history here and remember coming here whether it was their high school graduation or whether it was (to see) Elvis or Jimi Hendrix,” said Zimmerman.

In an effort to help these businesses continue operating, thousands of venues from across the country banded together to form the National Independent Venue Association or NIVA.

Their mission has been to lobby the government for financial help. The association has nearly 3,000 members, including more than 20 locations in San Antonio.

The list of members in San Antonio includes smaller venues such as the Lonesome Rose and The Mix on N. St. Mary’s Street to larger venues such as Cowboys Dancehall and the Tobin.

NIVA recently polled its membership and 90% responded saying they will be forced to close permanently without federal assistance.

This sparked the Save our Stages Act in Congress. The legislation, co-authored by Texas Sen. John Cornyn and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, was introduced in the Senate in July.

“It’s a $10 billion grant relief program for independent music venues throughout the country that will enable them to get a grant equivalent to 45 percent of 2019 gross receipts,” said Blayne Tucker, owner of The Mix. “So the difference between survival and really the industry shuttering completely.”

The Save our Stages act has bipartisan support, but its passing is still in question after the November election.

Potential funding for these venues could be left on the chopping block if Congress passes another stimulus bill.

That has left dozens of local live venues in limbo. They will have to wait and see what the future holds.

“It’s scary and it’s sad. Arts, music, theater and dance, these are pillars of every community,” Zimmerman said. “These are things that you grow up learning and that are important in the development of children. And frankly, they’re important in having a release in life.”

About the Authors:

RJ Marquez is co-host of KSAT News Now and reports for Good Morning San Antonio. He's been at KSAT since 2010 and covered a variety of stories and events across the San Antonio area. He also covers the Spurs for on-air and digital platforms, including his Spurs newsletter. RJ has reported stories for KSAT Explains.

Valerie Gomez is lead video editor and graphic artist for KSAT Explains. She began her career in 2014 and has been with KSAT since 2017. She helped create KSAT’s first digital-only newscast in 2018, and her work on KSAT Explains and various specials have earned her a Gracie Award from the Alliance for Women in Media and multiple Emmy nominations.