Pittsburgh Music Scene Faces Major Blow If Congress Doesn't Pass Restart Act

By: Liz Felix

On a recent Thursday, I made a rare (and masked) appearance at WYEP’s studios. I was there for a Live & Direct performance from Pittsburgh band The Living Street.

After the interview, talk turned to the future of live music. Edward and Nick – the characteristically optimistic members of The Living Street – frowned. Although they’ve both taken the pandemic in stride, it doesn’t seem like any of us will be returning to our favorite concert venues any time soon.

And while that’s a problem for bands and music fans, it’s an even bigger problem for venue owners. NPR reports that independent venues are among the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic. Many smaller concert spaces say they will not survive without financial relief.

The National Independent Venue Association is hoping that relief will arrive soon in the form of the Restart Act, a bipartisan bill that’s currently making its way through Congress. A spokesperson for NIVA told NPR that 90 percent of the venues they represent might never reopen if the Restart Act isn’t passed before Congress goes on recess in August. They’re lobbying for the bill with the hashtag #SaveOurStages, with high-profile artists like Death Cab for Cutie, The Pixies, Norah Jones and Bonnie Raitt urging fans to contact Congress.

NIVA represents almost 2,000 venues across the country, including nearly 30 Pittsburgh area music venues, concert promoters, comedy clubs and theaters. Potential beneficiaries of the bill in Pittsburgh could include Spirit, Mr. Small’s, Roxian Theatre, The Rex, Club Café, and the newly-renovated Thunderbird Café and Music Hall, among others.

Live music is the centerpiece of the music industry in many ways. Without independent venues, newer acts and local bands have few options for making a living and building a fan base. And cities like Pittsburgh face a major blow to their financial and artistic vibrancy if venues can’t reopen.

The loss to music fans is harder to calculate, but as any longtime concertgoer has discovered in the last few months, life without live music just isn’t the same.