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New fundraiser aims to collect $10 million for Washington music venues

Most music venues in Washington closed early on in the pandemic, and they'll be among the last to reopen under the state’s phased plan. A new fundraising effort called Keep Music Live aims to raise more than $10 million to provide relief for the state's small, independently owned venues.

Central Saloon is one of Seattle’s oldest bars at nearly 130 years old. It also was a hub for the emerging grunge movement, known for hosting bands Nirvana and Soundgarden during their early years.

Michael Gill is the talent buyer and entertainment manager at Central Saloon. He said the bar has enough money to get through the beginning of next year, but without extra support the future becomes uncertain.

“We’re not going to close, but we also can’t afford to — I mean if it went much further than that we would probably be done. If we had to stay closed through March we would be in the red zone," Gill said.

Central Saloon isn’t alone. According to a survey from the Washington Nightlife Music Association, more than 60 percent of the state’s independent venues say they could close permanently by February 2021 without support, and another 20 percent say they could close by mid-2021 without relief.

Credit Quinton Peters
Eva Walker performs with The Black Tones at Neumos in Seattle December 11, 2019.

Eva Walker is a guitarist and vocalist of the Seattle band The Black Tones. She's also a board member for Keep Music Live. She said small venues are crucial for bands, especially as they are starting out. 

“Those are where the bands get to form, get to realize their sound, get live feedback from the crowd,” Walker said.

Walker said those spaces also are where bands build their audience. For her own band, she said that process took years and for a period of time they were playing to mostly empty rooms.

"You don't start Nirvana and then go straight to The Showbox. You play the Central Saloon. You play the Blue Moon," Walker said.

Gill said he fears losing small venues will mean losing artists, too.

“If they don’t get to use their craft frequently enough because there’s not enough venues to accommodate, you’re going to start watching the amount of artists decrease as well because there’s just not an available space to do what they’ve been working on," Gill said. 

Keep Music Live is currently accepting donations online for its relief fund. It aims to give grants to venues by the end of 2020.

Rebekah Way is an on-call news host at KNKX. She began her career in public radio as a news intern at KNKX, where she's also worked as an interim producer and reporter. Rebekah holds a life-long passion for music and also works as a professional musician and educator in the Seattle area.