Live Music Shows Return To Austin – But Venues Still Waiting For Federal Help

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Jeannette Gregor never thought that a Thin Lizzy song would put her into a complete depression, but it’s been that kind of year.

The Mohawk bartender-turned-advocate for Austin’s live music industry has been busy lobbying for relief for places in the city hit by the pandemic. But as COVID restrictions loosen and live music returns regularly, she returns to running the bar.

Before Mohawk’s first in-person show on Thursday night, she and the venue staff set up the sound system. They put “The Boys Are Back in Town” to test it. The sound rocked the Mohawk for the first time in over a year.

She has buckled up.

“We’re all exhausted and dirty, because we cleaned the bar and the floors and stuff,” she said. “And I just broke up. Just immediately started to scream. Everyone applauds and applauds and I just cry tears of dust and stale beer.

Gregor and the Mohawk staff rushed to put alcohol on the shelves and beer in the coolers before welcoming 450 people ready for a show and a drink. The board in the indoor bar displayed an emphatic scribble – “Everyone is welcome Back,”A pandemic-themed version of the club’s long-standing mantra.

Michel Minasi

A message written on a chalkboard at the Mohawk Bar in downtown Austin on Thursday read “Everyone is welcome.” Mohawk reopened with a sold-out performance of Heartless Bastards with The Tender Things.

Mohawk’s sold-out show – with the opening of The Tender Things for the Heartless Bastards – dovetails with the re-emergence of in-person events at iconic Austin concert halls. Stubb’s has launched a five-day show series that will attract thousands of show-hungry Austinites to see Black Pumas. Continental Club and C-Boy’s open on Memorial Day.

But reopening will not necessarily be the miracle solution to all the problems that have snowballed after more than a year of inactivity. Sites will be able to start recouping some of their lost revenue, but they first have to deal with hiring and inventory expenses just to restart operations. Not to mention the rent arrears that some still owe.

Many sites hoped that federal funding for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program would help them pay these bills. But it’s been months, and they’re still waiting.

‘Willing to wait’

Rebecca Reynolds, a lawyer who also runs the Music Venue Alliance of Austin, said her clients were floating on the promise of relief.

The program administered by the Small Business Administration is part of a larger relief program, the Save Our Stages Act, which fell victim to partisan blockade for months before finally being passed in December.

The bill, which established a fund specifically reserved for music and art venues, was enacted just before the end of the year. Applications only opened on April 26.

“Indeed, there is still no money,” Reynolds said. “So these relationships are getting more and more strained. We don’t know how long the homeowners will be prepared to wait.

In the absence of this relief, the city of Austin offered programs to help the sites, which Reynolds said was a lifeline. But that was not enough to pay off the mountain of debt of some sites that were closed or operated with limited capacity for 15 months.

Of the 52 sites Reynolds works with, only two of them own the property they sit on. While the sites are covered by Austin-Travis County’s moratorium on evictions for commercial tenants affected by the pandemic, the measure is expected to expire this summer. Tenants with five months of rent arrears could be subject to evictions from June.

“The sites should be fully operational, as COVID restrictions are lifted,” Reynolds said. “And they don’t have the funds to pay rent, rehire staff and order inventory. So that puts them in an even worse situation.

U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett D-Austin has said the deafening silence in the city’s concert halls will end soon. Doggett, who officially opened the doors to Mohawk on Thursday night, told KUT he expects the sites to start hearing about their grant applications this week.

“The bureaucratic delay has been long,” Doggett said. “So we continue to support [SBA], trying to get the resources – knowing that [venues] have held on for so long, but they need help.

United States Representative Lloyd Doggett is greeted Thursday by Mohawk Security Officer Vincent Tompkins as he opens the venue's doors to the public for the first time since they were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Michel Minasi

U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett is greeted Thursday by Mohawk security official Vincent Tompkins as he opens the venue’s doors to the public for the first time since they were closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Ashley Morales, public information manager at the SBA’s San Antonio office, said site operators can expect to receive notices that they have received funding within the next week.

“I can’t say it’ll be two days after you send him back, three days, you know?” Morales said. “We’re doing our best to make sure they get this funding as quickly as possible.”

According to the SBA, more than 13,000 site operators have requested relief, which represents $ 14 billion of the $ 16 billion allowed in the Save Our Stages Act.

Morales said applicants should sign the notices when they receive them and return them. After that, they should receive their grants.

“If you see me cry”

Gregor said Mohawk received a notification Thursday that his application was under review. She said she understands the grant processing time, but wonders why it took so long to get to this point.

Since the pandemic, she has embarked on advocacy, pushing for municipal, state and federal relief funds for sites and workers through the nonprofit Amplified Sound Coalition. But even though more than 40% of the state’s population has been vaccinated and a semblance of normalcy has started to return, the sites are still awaiting federal help.

“If the global pandemic had been a tornado or if it had been a hurricane… and you could see with your own eyes the total destruction it left in its wake, people would be so angry that no one would intervene”, she declared. , “and that was us last year.”

Thursday night, before the opening set for Tender Things and the reopening ceremony with Doggett, things seemed to be back to normal for Gregor – sort of. She was promoted to manager after returning to work, so she wasn’t behind a bar. It was an adjustment.

An update on Mohawk’s masks policy has been added to the usual litany of service-related updates, along with a bug notice in the point-of-sale system that keeps track of bar tabs and a warning that the place does not store Dr Pepper anymore. It’s menial stuff like that – staples of normalcy – that she and the rest of her team have been waiting for.

Everyone was back – gathered around the indoor bar – before a real live music show honest with God.

“If you see me cry,” she told the Mohawk staff, “it’s not because I’m sad.

Downtown Austin's Mohawk Bar reopened Thursday night with a sold-out performance of Heartless Bastards.

Michel Minasi

Downtown Austin’s Mohawk Bar reopened Thursday night with a sold-out performance of Heartless Bastards.


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