Tobi Parks

Owner| xBk Live, Founding Member |D Tour,  Board VP |National Independent Venue Foundation

Indie venues are welcoming artists, but many still struggle to fill rooms, according to Tobi Parks, owner of xBk Live, a 250-capacity club in Des Moines, Iowa.

“Most indie venues are still struggling to put COVID behind us,” she said. “Shows are back, and artists are touring, but sales and attendance on the club level are certainly not back to pre-pandemic levels. I’m incredibly optimistic that things will improve.”

Parks is working diligently with D Tour, a collective of independent venues and promoters that she co-founded to bring more shows to indie rooms, and the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) and National Independent Talent Organization (NITO) to remedy the problem.

“It’s still a painfully difficult environment for independent, small businesses,” said Parks, a board vice president of the National Independent Venue Foundation.

Triumphs are few in the business, as she said it feels like keeping her doors open is a success. XBk opened six months prior to the pandemic and is continuing to grow. As for D Tour, 2022 was a success.

“The founders have spent 2022 building our network, building our systems, and laying the foundation for the organization and we’re incredibly excited for what we have in store for 2023,” she said.

“On the NIVA/NIVF front, we’re continuing to grow our membership and build initiatives to help improve the indie sector, including tackling deceptive ticketing practices, growing our insurance program, working on PRO licensing issues, rolling out workforce development and DEI initiatives, and cultivating programs for artist development, education and community partnerships.”

Collaborations are key to the independent sector. The venues were once isolated from one another, but now have found a “collective voice,” she said.

“Through NIVA and its associated foundation, NIVF, we’re working together to develop and diversify our workforce,” she said. “We’re collaborating on best practices to make our venues safer and more inclusive, and we’re continuing to advocate with our local, state, and federal officials on issues that directly impact small, independent businesses — including initiatives that will help support the artists in our ecosystem.

“Given the work we’re doing to improve our industry, a bright future is most certainly on the horizon. The $16 billion SVOG (Shuttered Venue Operators Grant) program was just the start.”

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