One of my favorite venues in Los Angeles is the Hotel Café, which is actually in Hollywood. I attended concerts there for over seven years. When I first encountered “The HC” it was courtesy of an agent who wanted me to cover a band playing there. I don’t remember the band, but I do remember that there were three acts and they were all very good. Of course they were – over the years The HC had seen the likes of Adele, Bruno Mars, Leonard Cohen, Katy Perry, and many more who are now stars– they were at the HC usually at the very beginning of their careers, which the club helped launch.
When I arrived at the address, I couldn’t find the entrance. I found the building on Cahuenga Blvd. just off Sunset Strip, but there was no door, just a sign that said Hotel Café. Since I had never been there, I wondered if it was actually a café in a hotel (originally it was a coffee shop with music). However, as I stood on street puzzled, I noticed a steady stream of young people disappearing into the alley behind the building. Sure enough, that was where the door was.
A very friendly doorman/ticket seller at a little outdoor podium in the dark, muddy alley checked my name off the press list and pointed toward the entrance doors. Inside was a bar, a kind of small parlor and a set of beautiful swinging glass doors with Hotel Café in gold leaf on them. Beyond the doors was a large room with a couple of rows of tables, a lot of standing room, and a stage, all flanked by a long bar. It became my musical home away from home for 7 years, sometimes as often as twice a week.
The alley with dumpsters, garbage cans, rat traps and dirty puddles where I first found the entrance is long gone, as is the old squat building that faced the HC’s entrance on the alley. A developer tore it down and replaced it with a very high-end multistory hotel and rooftop nightclub, paved the alley with bricks, remodeled the shops and bars next to the HC, added benches, an expensive valet parking stand and an archway that said “The Alley” in blinking lights. The alley got Hollywooded, but the HC was still as comfortable as an old shoe imprinted with a list of coming acts.
Today, when you go to the HC’s website, you don’t see a list of coming acts, you see a plea for help:
As we all now face an uncertain future, we turn to each other and our sense of community to help us get through. With our doors being closed, all of our staff members have found themselves out of work for an unknown, extended period of time… Being independently owned and operated and without corporate backing, we do not have the ability to continue paying our staff with no income coming in.
Left unsaid is how long the HC can continue paying rent, insurance and other fixed costs with no income and has to close forever.
According to Dayna Frank, board president of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), over 1000 independent music venues across America are in the same boat – continuing expenses, no income, and a bleak future. Frank calls the situation an “existential crises”.
She’s right, but the crises goes beyond the places like the HC in Hollywood and the Evening Muse in Charlotte and the Troubadour in LA, the Hi-Fi in Indianapolis, the Belly Up in Aspen, the Meyer Theater in Green Bay or a thousand other independently-owned venues. It is an existential crisis for music in America because these are the places where new music is incubated, where young bands and singer/songwriters face an audience for the first time, where tunes get road tested before they are recorded. By the time a band gets to a corporate venue or a big bucks music festival, they have made it. Without the small indie venues, they never will.
The independent venues have no large corporate parent to fall back on, no safety net of credit lines, no alternate revenue streams, no cash to tide them over. About half of NIVA’s members have 3 months cash on hand and the rest are lucky to have than 6 months cash. Worse, many have the owner’s personal assets at risk – if they go under, they can take the owners with them. We lose not only the incubators, but the people who nurse live music, who take a risk on young bands, who give us all a place to just enjoy music.
Government help in the form of tax breaks and business grants could mean the difference between keeping the clubs and the music alive and a quite summer. NIVA is trying to make that happen with a hashtag #SAVEOURSTAGES and a campaign of letters and emails and lobbying. Already they have generated over 200,000 messages to Congress and recruited allies in both the House and the Senate.
You can join this effort to save the stages in your town. Go to https://www.nivassoc.org/ and take action. You can help me save the Hotel Café and I can help you save your favorite venue in your town and keep music alive
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