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 have been speaking with Severin regularly to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read the last installment here and see the full series here.)
What were your thoughts when you saw Bonnaroo was canceled?
That was so brutal because that’s not even COVID that f–ked it. It was mother nature. People talk about Bonnaroo cancelling and are like, “Oh yeah. That sucks.” But they don’t think about the ripple effect. It’s massive. Bands are all routed around Bonnaroo and this impacts all those shows. They just got pummeled too. All the bus drivers, the lighting rig techs, and everyone lost jobs. It’s Manchester, Tennessee. That’s probably a huge economic driver for that city. It’s devastating. There were bands that were looking at that gig and thinking, “That’s going to pay my rent.” All those people are on-site building it out and they just got pummeled. Putting something like Bonnaroo on is massive. It’s so many people.
Do you think the Bonnaroo cancellation will impact consumer confidence for buying concert tickets in addition to COVID-19 concerns?
Yup. Just think about all the people who were going. They bought tickets and they got hotels and maybe they showed up early and got the time off work. That all gets taken into consideration the next time they are buying tickets.
The regional director of infection prevention at one of our biggest Seattle hospitals said if you’re vaccinated and you’re masked, you’re good to go for concerts inside. It is not 100% but you are pretty safe to go in. That was huge. For Neumos, you have to be vaccinated to get in and you have to be masked. They basically gave the greenlight for people to go do stuff. But people are still so hesitant.
Are you seeing this impact ticket sales?
We are running into show cancellations but we are also running into not selling tickets on shows that we thought were going to sell a lot of tickets. So now we are starting to lose a lot of money on shows and that’s not a normal thing. We are pretty good at calculating what a show is going to do. You don’t get to this point as a talent director without having that info. The fact that shows are underperforming and cancelling is tough.
From what you’ve heard, is this the case with other venues across the country?
It’s different in different places. People I’ve talked to in “blue states” are definitely not getting the numbers that they normally would because people are concerned about the virus as they should be. But if they are vaxxed and masked, our smart people say you’ll be ok.
Are cancellations occurring because of low ticket sales or artists concerned about COVID-19?
They are cancelling because teams are afraid to put artists on the road for fear that shows will get cancelled because somebody at the venue gets COVID. Then they can’t have the show. Or somebody in the touring party gets it. You put out a touring party and there’s twenty-some people, they’ve all got to follow very strict regulations in order to keep that safe and not everybody is willing to do that. So, they are cancelling out of safety. And they aren’t “cancelling,” they are postponing. But that doesn’t change anything for us. We still have to pay the set amount of expenses that we have. If a show cancels, that’s a show’s worth of money that can’t go towards rent or paying employee salaries. But if the show happens and you miss by 200 people because people aren’t going to come out, then that’s money that you lost.
Is this the case with all of your shows right now?
The bigger the show is, the better the chances are that people are going to come. If you can miss something, you’ll miss it. Our bar numbers and our dance nights, they are all down. It is that way with all the people that I talk to. People are having to ask the question of, “Is it worth it?”
Back in July you said there were so many holds on dates that not every artist who wanted to tour would be able to. Have those holds started to clear out?
Yeah. They are starting to clear out but we have a full calendar. Except for some shows that have cancelled in September and October, it is on. We’ve got shows and shows and more shows. A lot of them have sold out for the bigger artists, but we’re going to get a 20-30% no-show rate. People are buying tickets and not going.
Are the people not showing attempting to get refunds for their tickets?
No, they’re just not showing. I don’t think people know if they are going to go to a show until the week of. They wait because everything changes.
soul, classic soul, motown,