No Bailouts, Just Get the Concert Tours Back On the Road

No Bailouts, Just Get the Concert Tours Back On the Road
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2019 may have been my best concert year ever.  Iron Maiden put on their best performance I’ve ever seen, and I finally saw one of my very favorite bands, Alice in Chains.  And that’s not even half the shows I saw.

I represented my fair share of what the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) reports as 172 million American concert attendees.  I was stoked to keep that going in 2020, starting with a Testament show in April, and Megadeth & Lamb of God in August.

Then coronavirus-induced panic swept those, and most other shows/tours away.  Now, over 600 musicians are supporting “NIVA’s request for federal assistance for independent music venues.”  A similar movement is afoot in Britain. 

The performers run the gamut from bands I listen to (Power Trip), to what I grew up around (Alabama), to more mainstream acts (Coldplay), to what my daughters listen to (Logic).  Even comics like Ray Romano have joined the chorus.

The signatories cut across political lines as well, including (past) republican voters Alice Cooper, Pat Boone and Lee Greenwood.

There’s one other thing these artists have in common: they’re all wrong. 

The arrival of the coronavirus has provoked a harried response from people.  We didn’t know what we were dealing with.  We heard it was worse than the seasonal flu.  We saw traumatic firsthand accounts from emergency rooms and intensive care units.

Whether or not forcible lockdowns were necessary is debatable, given the measures that prudent people and businesses (like mine) were already starting to take.  Alas, they happened, and we’ve had time to learn more and adjust. 

That’s one reason there shouldn’t be too many worries that “the shutdown last(s) six months,” after which the petitioners believe “90% of independent venues … will never reopen.”  Consequently, there should be no more “federal assistance.”

The gravy train to the federal spending trough needs to come to a screeching halt, for ALL who ride it. 

Since it is politically-directed by people who did not earn the prospective funding, it requires next to no market discipline, and is therefore subject to a heightened likelihood of waste.  Moreover, as with all bailouts, motivation to change with the times is eroded. 

In order to provide peace of mind to customers these days, businesses have to adapt.  Just as we now see social-distancing stickers on the ground at grocery stores, and plastic partitions at nail salons, maybe some seats need to be pulled from venues, for example. 

More than a few acts however, don’t envision a return to the live music experience many of us have come to know, including the kind to which I’m partial, where “standing room only” is more like “stand if you can.” 

What then of all these established venues asking for an “investment” (I’m reminded of Sonny Bunz asking“Paulie” Cicero to “take a piece” in his restaurant in “Goodfellas”)?  Will we see follow-up requests?  Is that when taxpayer-funded drives for “historical preservation” kick in?

Milton Friedman wasn’t just being witty when he said there is “nothing so permanent as a temporary government program.”

In the meantime, a creative mind might very well come along with an imaginative new venue design for performers itching to get back on stage.  Incidentally, one group of folks that might have some ideas are the artists themselves. 

Between well-established performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Lady Gaga, Billy Joel and Ozzy, they’re also quite likely able to seed some of these ideas with financial capital, whether for new venues or the struggling ones.  If they’re genuinely passionate about it, there is no need to tap the taxpayer.

One thing they should probably stay away from though is economic analysis. 

Some of these places aren’t exactly “driver(s) of economic renewal.”  Even a venue surrounded by trendy shops and restaurants like the Cynthia Woods Pavilion in Houston doesn’t fit that bill.  This is the same faulty reasoning employed to sell a public on raising taxes on itself (or tourists) in order to build a new sports stadium. 

Unless a venue has the effect of attracting a manufacturing plant, or a software development company, or an engineering firm, it’s not an “engine” of anything other than the most over-credited part of an economy; consumption, the last part of the cycle that literally destroys all value created to that point.

Regardless, there’s less activity of any kind happening if these venues are sitting empty.  Fortunately, that’s not necessarily the case, as some shows are starting to fill their respective calendars.  That begs the question; why then the plea for “not a handout?”

Come and Take It Live, the place in Austin where a buddy and I saw Obituary a second time last year, has fourteen shows scheduled for July, but for an average cover of only around $10. 

The only way these facilities should be supported is by putting on shows for a price that covers their costs and those of the performers; not by taxing disinterested parties, or debasing the currency by opening up the fiscal spigots.  

If venues require a face-covering for admission, I’ve built up a sweet collection just for that purpose.  If they want to zap my forehead with a thermometer, that’s fine.  If they close off the (mosh) pits due to safety concerns, so be it.  That would also serve as a lengthy barrier between the fans and the performers, as would a massive, clear curtain that some restaurants have employed

Whatever it takes; let’s get this show back on the road!

Christopher E. Baecker manages fixed assets at Pioneer Energy Services, teaches economics at Northwest Vista College, is a board member of the Institute of Objective Policy Assessment, and is a member of the San Antonio Business & Economics Society.  He can be reached via email or Facebook

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