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Tampa Bay's Small Music Venues Struggle With No End In Sight

A view of Ybor City at night
City of Tampa
City of Tampa
Ybor City is well known for its nightlife and its cluster of music venues. Crowbar is one of the area's many venues and since the onset of shutdowns to curb the coronavirus pandemic, it has been struggling to stay open. Owner Tom DeGeorge said he plans to reopen the venue, which has a bar, for a few concerts in October.

Most local music venues have been shut down for six months and as long as they can't welcome back large crowds, many are staying closed. Owners are pleading for financial help from all levels of government in the hopes that they can ward off permanent closure.

There’s nothing like seeing live music — whether it’s in a huge arena or a dimly lit bar.

It’s one of the experiences that’s a casualty of social distancing needed to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Live music venues have been closed for months, and as the virus continues to spread, there’s no end in sight. No clear view of when the smallest of venues can reopen for shows. And musicians who rely on gigs for their livelihood are also suffering.

So where do we go from here?

Host Bradley George talked about the current state of Tampa Bay's smaller music venues with Tom DeGeorge, owner of Ybor City venue Crowbar; Kristopher James, a Bradenton-based musician; and Wayne Atherholt, cultural affairs director for the city of St. Petersburg.

RELATED: How Musicians Are Keeping The Beat Through The Coronavirus

Small venues may be unassuming but DeGeorge said that the touring industry is a trickle-up one, meaning that musicians often start out performing on small stages before they ever play a large arena.

He said that's why it's important for venues like his to make it through the pandemic.

Here are a few highlights from the conversation:

Bradley: Life is going to go on but it's going to look different. And it seems like the challenge for venue owners is No. 1, people wanting to come to shows and feeling comfortable about that but also bands that tour also feeling comfortable and safe about doing that as well. You got to balance those two things, right?

Tom: The moment we said we were going to leave it up to the states, it makes things extremely difficult. When you have states that are at all different levels of infection, I think we're just in for a rude awakening when the spring comes around and people think that some of the touring will come back. I think it's going to continue to get pushed back because, definitely here in Florida, we're trying to work through this thing and I just don't think you can work through a pandemic.

Bradley: Kristopher, what kind of help would you like to see for musicians and venues to help get through this?

Kristopher: I would love to see some sort of financial help coming from the government because these are individually contracted musicians that this is what they do and they're not given any help.

You have restaurants now who are acting like venues and, in my eyes, they are stealing the entertainment from our smaller stages and they're acting like absolute selfish children when it comes to these particular things. Putting people at risk just because they have a food license and they are able to operate without being shut down because of mandates. They are putting musicians in a risky situation during a pandemic and that's the life musicians have to have right now to be able to stay afloat.

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