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Kansas City's Live Entertainment Venues Look To New Grant For Hope As They Limp Along With Little Revenue

The Mutual Musicians Foundation Friday and Saturday night jam sessions have been cancelled for most of year.

The Shuttered Venue Operators Grant is a new program that will offer eligible venues 45% of their 2019 gross earned revenue.

Riot Room owner Tim Gutschenritter says he can sum up the past 12 months with one word: survival. And even though those who love the Riot Room have done all they can to help during the pandemic, “grim” and “horrible” also come out of Gutschenritter’s mouth when he describes his business’ situation.

He and other small entertainment venue stakeholders hope they’re about to get some much needed relief in the form of the $16 billion Shuttered Venue Operators Grant established by the Economic Aid to Hard-Hit Small Businesses, Nonprofits, and Venues Act.

According to the Small Business Administration’s website, eligible applicants can qualify for aid in the amount of 45% of the revenue they earned in 2019 up to $10 million.

“It’s specific legislation for venues and people in the music industry. It’s promoters, theaters, fine arts, music; it’s everything to my knowledge,” Gutschenritter says.

And it can’t arrive too soon.

As a venue that relies on touring acts that haven’t been touring and relies on people gathering in large numbers, he says that his business’ revenue was down 90% in 2020 and the first few months of 2021.

Riot Room
Tim Gutschenritter poses with Miguel Espinal, the only customer who showed up the night in June when the Riot Room reopened as a bar with no entertainment.

Navigating complicated federal aid options

Gutschenritter says that the last thing he wanted to do when he’s already suffocating under a pile of debt is take out another Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan from the government, so he hopes the grant will see them through to some semblance of normal operations.

“It’s sticky any way you slice it,” Gutschenritter says, “but at the same time, I’m glad they wrapped everything up as a grant because that completely gives people the state of mind that they’re not going to be held down to anything crazy.”

Some PPP borrowers will be able to apply for loan forgiveness if they’ve used at least 60% of the loan to cover payroll and the other 40% to cover other operating expenses such as rent, utilities, or pandemic-related supplies, says Ram Basnet, Small Business Administration branch manager in Springfield, Missouri.

Operators who received a PPP loan on or after December 27 will receive the grant minus the amount of the loan. Once a business receives the grant, it becomes ineligible for another PPP loan.

“People have to educate themselves and figure out what program will benefit them the most,” Basnet says.

Help is available on the SBA’s splash page, from SBA grantee organizations like small business development centers, women’s business centers, veterans business outreach centers, or a webinar on April 5.

Mutual Musician Foundation members Ernest Melton (Saxophone) and Desmond Mason (Piano) at one of 2020's few jam sessions.

James McGee is a musician and secretary of the Mutual Musicians Foundation board of directors. He says the board is trying to decide if the grant is their best option.

“The foundation is a unique organization in that we’re a 501c7, which is basically a social fraternity, musicians’ organization,” McGee says. “So, the Friday and Saturday nights are basically fundraisers.”

The Mutual Musicians Foundation relies on Friday and Saturday night jam sessions and facility rentals for its earnings.

He says they haven’t had any rentals for 12 months. They closed their jam sessions in April of 2020, reopened in July, and have been shut down again since October.

Unlike the Riot Room, which laid off about 10 staff members, the Mutual Musicians Foundation only uses contract employees with no one on a regular payroll.

McGee says they have all the documents prepped to send in on April 8 when the grant application goes live, but he still has a lot of questions.

Cheryl Tulipana
In November, Dan Jones and the Squids played a show for 35 carefully seated guests at the recordBar.

Complications and delays

Steve Tulipana of the recordBar feels about the same even though he’s followed the development of the grant from the beginning. Over the summer, he joined the National Independent Venue Association to push for the legislation.

He says he’s glad that that grant legislation finally passed, but along the way a lot has changed, including when he expected to be able to apply, which was back in January.

“It has been the most frustrating thing for me in the past six months,” Tulipana says. “I’ve already got all the prep work done, a lot of hoops we had to jump through, a lot of federal sites we had to register on to be able to do this.”

Even so, he’s not entirely sure it’s the right program for him either. Like the Riot Room, the recordBar also showcases touring artists. He says he burned through the first PPP loan, then received a COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL), which is almost gone now, too, and even set up a Kickstarter campaign.

Most of Tulipana’s roughly 16 employees have temporarily moved to Voltaire’s Lemonad(e) Park, a new seasonal outdoor venue in the West Bottoms, which will begin its second season on April 2.

“We’re seeing tours start to announce for the fall,” Tulipana says. “With the vaccine getting out and [loosened] restrictions and my eternal optimism, I think we’ll probably start doing some things in the summertime.”

But, he says, for a while those shows will be by local artists so that it’ll be easier and less expensive for everyone if he needs to cancel or postpone. The only show the recordBar has put on since March of 2020 was a Dan Jones and the Squids performance in November—Tulipana is in the band.

That show worked out well enough, with 35 guests and very strict seating arrangements, but he says, “It was really antiseptic.”

As Kansas City waits to gather and enjoy live performances again, Gutschenritter says he hopes everyone stays patient and safe.

He says, “I just want everyone to keep their heads up. I want everyone to see that there will be a light at the end of this, and that live music will come back.”

Anne Kniggendorf is a staff writer/editor at the Kansas City Public Library and freelance contributor to KCUR. Follow her on Twitter, @annekniggendorf.
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