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 each week to chronicle his experience throughout the crisis. (Read last week’s installment here and see the full series here.)
What has changed for you in the past week?
Well, people keep getting shot in my neighborhood. Friday night the CHOP [an occupation protest and self-declared autonomous zone taking up several city blocks and an abandoned police precinct in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle that was established on June 8 by George Floyd protestors] had this great day for Juneteenth. It was called the Blackout. They asked all people who were not Black to not come into the actual CHOP zone. If white people wanted to come, they could stay outside of the barriers and protect the people inside. They did all these speeches and all these workshops and it was awesome. Then 2:30 in the morning, somebody comes by, shoots somebody, kills one person and injures another. The cops took 15 minutes to get there even though the precinct is right there, but they aren’t in the precinct. It should not take 15 minutes at 2:30 in the morning to get there. The medics get there and they won’t go into an active shooter area until the police have secured it. So the CHOP medics put the wounded person in their truck and took the guy to the hospital. He died on arrival, which absolutely sucks and we still don’t know what happened.
[Two nights ago], it was 10:00 and I get in bed and social media said there were 10 shots fired [in my neighborhood]. It’s like, god damn it. There were two more shootings and we don’t have any idea why.
Have you been able to make any progress on the Washington Nightlife Music Association campaign to raise money for venues with everything going on?
The original campaign was going to be called Love Live Music, which is the fundraising campaign. We actually changed it to Keep Music Live. Normally when you come up with a brand name or a logo, it takes weeks if not months. We are doing this over like three days. The Love Live Music stuff just wasn’t right. We knew we could do better. A branding group reached out to us and said they’d like to do some pro bono video work for us. That was great and they said they could design the logo for us. Then they came up with Keep Music Live, which is rad because it has the interchangeability of switching the word “music” to Neumos or to The Crocodile or whatever venue or city. You can take it and make it more your own so that each individual person that is putting it out can take whatever their thing is and switch it out.
On Thursday, National Independent Venue Alliance released a letter to congress signed by more than 600 artists including Lady Gaga, Billie Eilish and more. What was it like putting that out?
We’ve been working on that for a few weeks now, probably three weeks. We started by asking artists to share information on their socials about music venues and playing small shows, why saving stages was so important. We shifted to getting them to sign a letter to congress because this [Paycheck Protection Program] is not cutting the mustard. This doesn’t work for so many of us. We really need the help. We sent over 500,000 letters to Congress and that wasn’t enough to register how important this is. They’ve never seen anything like it. It’s so much more than anyone else. I don’t understand what we have to do to get the electeds to understand what the reality is. So that was the idea with the artist letter. If you won’t listen to those letters, how about Dave Grohl or Cher or Billy Joel? It’s so fun to look at the letter. I haven’t had a chance yet to reach out to our lobbyist and see what kind of impact it is getting, but it is getting killer press.
A lot of states right now are seeing massive spikes in coronavirus cases after reopening. Have you seen this impacting any venues?
The people who are opening back up are shutting back down. I know somebody who was open for three days in Florida and they closed back down. Because they said they couldn’t do it. A buddy of mine in Arizona took a photo from the stage to check out this awesome crowd. And I’m like, “Oh my god. You are playing inside in a packed house in Arizona and nobody is wearing masks.” It was a metal show and they were packed in like sardines. I’m like, “No! Are you not paying attention to what is going on with your numbers?”
Why did the Florida venue feel the need to close down?
They closed because of the cases around them going up. It wasn’t necessarily their place where anything happened, but they opened when the government said they could open and the numbers shot through the roof. So my friend was like, “We can’t contribute to this.” He opened at 25% capacity just to open, just to do something. At 25% capacity he can do all of the social distancing and all that stuff. He said he was probably under 25%, but he wanted to be part of the solution. They have 4,000 people getting new cases every day. So he shut it back down. The virus is everywhere. We don’t want it to be. We want so badly for it to be done, but the virus doesn’t care.
Are you anywhere closer to opening your venue or bars?
We are looking at getting [our bar] Life On Mars back open. We just got kicked into phase two [of our reopening plan] so we can have 50% of our restaurant open. So we can have 75 people there. We haven’t even opened for takeout yet because we don’t want to do it until it is safe and it is right. I was talking to someone from Tacoma and he was asking if other people are doing the same thing and I’m like, “Oh yeah.” I am on all these Facebook groups with bar and restaurant owners and business owners and we are all staying a phase back, like one step back. So now that we opened for phase 2 we are going to open for takeout which was okay in phase 1. Everyone agrees that we aren’t going to make any money at 50%. If we break even, that’s a damn miracle. People want to get back to things if they can and they want to test the waters a little bit, but we also have to be smart so that we make sure we don’t kill people. That is our No. 1 concern — not killing humans for any amount of money and definitely not for no money.