Save Our Stages relief bill finally gives entertainment venues crucial help

BILLINGS — The last time we checked in with the Pub Station was back in May. They had already been shut down for two months because of the pandemic, and figured that financial help was on the way any time.

It’s been seven months since then, and they still don’t have any money in their accounts – but they will soon.

“What we accomplished nationally – what I read at least in the New York Times – I believe it was the biggest public investment in art in history,” said Pub Station co-owner Sean Lynch.

The Save Our Stages provision of the latest national stimulus relief package will provide $15 billion for live entertainment venues like the Pub Station, independent movie theaters like Art House, and certain museums with show auditoriums. Awards are based on 45% of a venue’s total 2019 gross income, which Lynch says puts the Pub Station in line for about $1 million.

Lynch hopes grant applications will be available in the first two weeks of January, with money getting to venues by the end of the month.

The SOS group has been working on the bill for months, gathering 2.1 million emails to Congress, with some of the biggest names in music performing on empty stages across the country in support.

Lynch has been on the front lines as a National Independent Venue Association regional representative.

“I learned a lot about the ins-and-out of local and federal government, which was good,” Lynch said of his work over the past nine months. “It was kind of a crash course in civics.”

While far from the most populous group, Montana actually was one of the leaders in getting the bill finally passed.

“Both of our senators, Senator (Steve) Daines and (Jon) Tester, were some of the earliest co-sponsors of this bill,” Lynch said. “Both have been extremely engaged in this process, and I couldn’t be happier to be a Montanan, honestly.”

That’s not the only reason. Montana’s smaller population will likely allow the state’s venues to open earlier than higher profile places, but don’t be mistaken – we’re nowhere close to that.

“I wouldn’t expect live entertainment to be coming back, probably at a trickle I’d say maybe quarter three,” Lynch guessed. “Quarter four, maybe a little bit of 2021. Coming back to where everybody remembers it? Probably 2022.”

That’s what the Save Our Stages grant is aimed to do: help venues survive another turbulent year ahead. And then after that, it’s just hoping the industry sees the demand it did before the pandemic.

“Which we do think it will, but it’s going to take a while for people to get comfortable.”

And rebound to a pastime we all took for granted.