Local indie music scene hoping Save Our Stages Act provide a lifeline during pandemic

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- The pandemic is putting live music shows on hold across the country. Now, there's an effort in Washington to help independent music venues survive until the crisis is over. The Save Our Stages Act could be a lifeline to local music halls in desperation mode right now.

Back in normal times, a Friday night at Motorco Music Hall in Durham would have Rigsbee Street abuzz with live music and all the food, drinks, people and all the cash that comes with it.

"It's sad that it's Friday night and we don't have that kind of activity right now," said Glenn Boothe, Motorco's talent buyer.

On the other side of downtown Durham, at The Vault, the event space underneath The Palace International restaurant -- Friday was Africana Night before the pandemic. The Vault turned into a global soundstage for local musicians. All of it now quieted by coronavirus concerns.

"It's been silent here, to say the least," said The Palace's owner Moses Ochola. "No one is coming here for music."

Boothe and Ochola are just two parts of what was the Triangle's vibrant live music scene. Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, Lincoln Theater in Raleigh are big parts of it, too. All of them shut down when the pandemic began. Their stages remain silent.

"A lot of these musicians are very close friends of mine. I feel their pain first hand," Ochola said. "Without that revenue stream and without any help from outside sources. It looks like a very tough road."

In addition to live performances, The Palace and Motorco both operate as restaurants. They're currently surviving on restaurant revenues. But music-only venues like Lincoln Theater have been completely shuttered since March.
"For (Motorco), most of our shows that were scheduled for this fall are rescheduling. We're already pushing everything back. So, it's unlikely we'll have any shows in 2020," Boothe said. "It's gonna be hard for many venues to survive this -- without some help."

Help may be on the way from Washington. The Save Our Stages Act, bipartisan legislation in the House and the Senate would provide $10 billion in grants through the Small Business Administration to independent music venues impacted by COVID-19.


Venues like Ochola's and Boothe's could apply for up to $12 million in grants.

"I try to lend my support where I can. But I don't depend on it," Ochola said. "I can't afford to get my hopes up."

The National Independent Venue Association is galvanizing support for SOS with a coalition of small operators nationwide. And it's getting an assist from big-time talent. A-list bands and performers are lending their names to the effort to signal the importance of independent venues to the culture and where many of the stars got their start.

"It's amazing because pre-COVID, (independent venues) were all mom and pops that barely communicated with each other. And now, it's this unity. Basically, power in numbers," Boothe said. "The big question is, is it enough? And will (SOS) happen fast enough?"
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