Neumos in Seattle, in a Pandemic: ‘This Crisis Has Barely Begun’

As co-owner of Seattle’s popular independent venue Neumos in Capitol Hill, Steven Severin has been a staple in the Seattle music industry for more than 20 years. Roughly 10 years ago, he helped create the Seattle Nightlife and Music Association to bring together the area’s live event insiders, and for the past 16 years has helped run Neumos with its sister club Barboza and the accompanying Runaway bar.

As part of Billboard’s efforts to best cover the coronavirus pandemic and its impacts on the music industry, we will be speaking with Severin every two weeks to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the last installment here and see the full series here.)

What has changed for you in the past couple weeks?

We are opening [his bar/restaurant] Life On Mars for takeout tomorrow, which is super exciting. We have been working on it for a long time now. It is amazing how much time it takes to reopen a place. Right now we could go to 50% in-house dining. We’re not doing that. Once Seattle hit that phase, we talked and said, “Let’s look at going and doing take out.” We watched how take out was going for months. We watched to see how you could do it safely and if it was safe. All of the reporting is that it is safe. You can do it with almost no contact. You order online and you get a text saying when your food is ready, so we don’t have people waiting around. We’re going to start selling records again. It used to be set up that we had 12-15 titles always on sale. And you get a free cookie when you buy a meal.

In the U.K. they awarded the arts nearly $2 billion in government funding. Does the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) still have hopes for U.S. federal government help?

We are getting with NIVA and [The Washington Nightlife Music Association] to start lobbying the government again for the RESTART Act, which is probably going to be our last big hurrah to go out and get help from the government. I am hearing locally that the federal government is not going to do a special session, which is crazy because I don’t know what they think we are supposed to do if we are not still getting money. The RESTART Act is the one that could help us out the most and it is finally getting the momentum that it needed. It has been in the Senate where it started, but now there is a House version. Until you have a Senate and House version you are getting nowhere. Now we got both! So we are going to do another big campaign where we ask every single person who cares about music to ask congress to support the RESTART Act. Tomorrow we will start emailing people the details.

What happens if the RESTART Act does not get passed this summer?

Without the RESTART Act, I don’t know how businesses are going to survive. It’s not just a music venue thing, it is small businesses in general. We are in the middle of the first wave and we’ve tried to open back up and it smacked the living shit out of us. That stimulus, that $600 ends at the end of this month. I don’t know how people are not going to become homeless and starve. It is so much money to take from people. It is my only income.

Are other industry professionals you speak with feeling a similar sense of desperation?

I talk to people and they tell me not to be so doom and gloom. How? All of this is always in the front of my mind. I got this bracelet made for myself to remind myself that I need to get out of the funk. The last couple weeks have been pretty hard and depressing. My world has slowed down a little bit since we formed a board of directors [for his non-profit] and there is more support there. I can’t do anything on the campaign because I am not on the board so it gave me more time to think and when you get time to think, you can get depressed. So I got this bracelet that says “Rise Above” to remind myself that this is the new normal. We wear masks. We don’t go to shows. We buy sneeze guards made of plexiglass to separate things. That’s just what it is and being depressed about it isn’t changing anything. So I have to have that reminder which is not always easy.

This crisis has barely begun. We’re just getting started. Nobody wants to admit that because the reality sucks. Then you are doom and gloom and you’re bumming people out. People won’t want to help you if you are bumming them out or if they think it is hopeless. Right now there are more cases. We’ve hit more than 50,000 cases a day multiple days in a row.

Has the local King County officials been able to distribute the $750,000 they set aside for music venues yet?

We can start applying in three days for that money. It is open for two weeks. We have no idea how much it is going to be because we don’t know how many people are going to submit. We don’t know the criteria. We know it is not a huge chunk of money so it is not going to save anything, but it might help people get down the road a little further.

Coronavirus