Tipitina’s is just one of the many independently owned music venues in New Orleans in danger of dimming its lights forever if the current state of the concert and live events industry remains on pause through the end of the year. In an interview with NOLA.com’s Keith Spera, venue co-owner and Galactic bassist Robert Mercurio discussed the possible fate of the fan-favorite uptown venue should the industry-wide shutdown continue into the fall months—and his outlook is as grim as one might expect.
“When you realize your businesses are all about getting large groups of people together, close, and you’re told that is not the right or responsible thing to do — that’s a hand-to-forehead moment of, ‘Oh, Lord, what am I going to do?'” Mercurio told NOLA.com ahead of the band’s sold-out NOLA Drive-In Summer Concert Series performance at UNO Lakefront Arena this Friday (July 17th). The outdoor performance will be Galactic’s first public concert since February 24th, which coincidentally took place at Tipitina’s during Mardi Gras.
“The margins are so thin,” Mercurio said of the venue’s current financial state with no concerts and no legitimate income since mid-March. “We were succeeding, but just barely, over our first year and a half of owning it. Not being able to hold shows, it’s going to become increasingly impossible for us to make ends meet.”
The report details that the federal Payroll Protection Program (PPP) has enabled the venue to keep its small collection of full-time staffers on salary for the time being, but the roughly 25 bartenders, security, and production employees have since been let go. “Truthfully, they probably make more on unemployment,” Mercurio added. “PPP has been able to keep us going these last few months, but that’s going to run out soon.”
Tipitina’s is not the only live music venue in danger of going out of business due to COVID-19. Last week, a survey conducted by the University of Houston revealed up to 90 percent of venues in Austin, TX could also close forever if they’re not reopened for business by the fall months. Unlike countries including Germany and the U.K., the United States federal government has yet to introduce any economic relief plan to help stimulate America’s live events industry. Many venue owners and industry executives who call New Orleans their home have joined the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) in hopes of securing more financial aid from a federal level before it’s too late.
“That is heartbreaking and terrifying,” Mercurio added of the concert landscape in cities across the country. “Galactic plays a lot of those clubs. We like to play the Tipitina’s of every city, like the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C., or First Avenue in Minneapolis. We gravitate toward those venues. To imagine them not being around is crazy to me.”
Tipitina’s owners are currently planning a possible virtual, subscription-based performance series where bands would play in the empty venue for an online audience who would contribute what they can via suggested tips. Such an innovative strategy, however, would still not be enough to keep the lights on for the long term.
“We had a little bit to make it through, but it’s really going to hit the fan in September/October,” Mercurio continued. “Without any more government assistance, or in lieu of this streaming service going amazingly well, we’re going to be in a tough spot.”
Click here to learn how you can donate to the “Help Tipitina’s” fundraising initiative. For a full list of members of NIVA, head here. Independent venues and promoters can also sign up to join the National Independent Venue Association free of charge here.