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"We are not keeping the space afloat," said Josh Antenucci of Atlanta's Center Stage venue. "We have had zero dollars in revenue."

Mere months ago huge crowds filled Center Stage in downtown Atlanta. Now, that image seems like a far off memory.

Josh Antenucci, a managing partner at the venue, said the outcome has been bleak since the venue decided to close its doors March 13 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We are not keeping the space afloat," he said. "We have had zero dollars in revenue."

There have been several efforts to help businesses across the country since the pandemic began, including the Paycheck Protection Program, part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

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Antenucci called the program "helpful in theory," but not necessarily designed to assist with the unique costs and operations of the independent music promoter industry.

"It came a little late and, as it turned out, it didn't cover the right time period or wasn't scripted to serve our purpose, which is to survive for the longterm," he said.

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Greg Green of the Masquerade agreed. The venue laid off most of its nighttime staff since the pandemic took hold.

"(The PPP is) geared toward short term and is required to be spent in two months and primarily to be spent on retention of employees," Green said. "In the concert industry no one is open and there's no work for anyone to do. It might be longer than two months before people are allowed to reopen."

Both clubs are part of the National Independent Venue Association, which describes itself as a recently-formed coalition of 1,300 different clubs and venues around the country.

NIVA has launched a national campaign lobbying lawmakers to "save our stages" and provide additional financial aid to music establishments and promoters.

Green said NIVA is succeeding at reminding people how important music business — especially the smaller music venues — is to the community.

"If we don't survive, then you're going to have an entertainment industry that's literally owned by one or two companies," Green said.

The unique circumstances have also created an unlikely bond between competing spaces in the city.

Antenucci said that they've been in contact with staff at The Masquerade and other NIVA members like Smith's Olde Bar and have shared their experiences.

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"The only solace is that we do have friends and people we respect that are in the exact same position as us," he said. "Their voice elevates our cause; my voice elevates theirs." 

There are still more questions than answers about what the future looks like for music across Georgia.

Green said discussions are still ongoing about what The Masquerade could look like in a post-coronavirus world. The venue has not received any official guidance from city or state officials about the path to reopening.

"Restaurants in certain parts of the country are reopening at decreased capacities," he said. "I don't know exactly how that works (for venues), but yeah, we're starting to explore the ideas." 

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Antenucci said without proper financial aid from either the state or federal government, a lot of music venues around the state and country could perish. 

"I think there's a there's a risk for all venues to close," he said. "Until we have some concrete idea of how to reopen safely, we don't even know what to plan for at this point."

In spite of the odds, Antenucci said he is still an optimist.

"I'm incredibly hopeful," he said.  "I am more committed to making sure that we as a company are fully prepared to provide the experience that music fans need to have when they get back."

Editor's Note: In addition to being a journalist for GPB, the author plays in a band distributed by Warner Music Group. They have previously performed at and been compensated by the venues mentioned in this article.

Fans watch ska punk Less Than Jake on February 24, 2017 at The Masquerade.
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Fans watch ska punk Less Than Jake on February 24, 2017 at The Masquerade.