MICHIGAN — MICHIGAN - Ted Smith hopes he’s in his final few days of playing music from an iPod and it echoing out to an empty crowd.
“A lot of shows lining up,” said Smith. “I’ve been working with a lot of agents for many years, so a lot of them are really reaching out to me. Our schedule is full until October.”
Smith owns the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grille in Grand Rapids. Each year, the music venue, which holds up to 140 people, welcomes 200 national and local artists to its stage. Over the past year, it’s seen less than half of its usual crowds, but is preparing to host its first full capacity show this Saturday.
“I’m really happy that we made it here,” said Smith. “Happy to have survived the last year. A little nervous.”
Smith says the lifting of statewide COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday is a momentous occasion for an industry hit hard by the pandemic.
Shows have been stopped since last March and the pandemic is estimated to have cause the industry to end 2020 with more than $30 billion in losses.
“It’s great news that we’re opened today,” said Kalamazoo State Theatre Director of Marketing & Development Harry Phillips. “Unfortunately, with our business, we can’t just open the doors.”
Phillips says the impacts of the past year make re-opening challenging. He explains it takes up to eight weeks to prepare for a show.
The theatre is aiming to bring their performers back in August, starting with shows delayed due to the pandemic. Other venues, like Van Andel Arena and DeVos Performance Hall, will also start in a few weeks.
“It seems like people are ready for it and they’re ready to do what they need to do to see a show,” said Phillips.
At Seven Steps Up in Spring Lake, co-owner Michelle Hanks says it’s waiting to see if it received federal assistance.
“We just traded one form of restriction for another form of restriction, only it’s one step worse,” said Hanks.
Last December, Congress allocated more than $16 billion to the industry through the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant fund, but more than six months later, only five percent of the money has been administered.
“How do you go out and find employees when you only have a couple of shows?” asked Hanks. “How do you go out and get more shows when we have to make sure that we have enough money to pay what we can pay?”
Hanks is pleading with the Small Business Administration, which is in charge of the fund, to distribute the money so venues like hers can keep the songs playing.
“We need the money,” said Hanks. “We’re eligible for it, we meet all of the eligibility for it. Please.”