CAPITAL CONFERENCE: NIVA conference panels were held two days across three venues: The Anthem, above, Union Stage and the Capitol Turnaround. (Courtesy venue)

Capitol Hill Fly-In Tied to ‘Fix The Tix’ initiative

WASHINGTON, D.C. — If the inaugural National Independent Venue Association Conference, held in Cleveland in 2022, was something of an ebullient communal hug/high-five/victory dance in the wake of the historic passage of the $16.25 billion Shuttered Venues Operating Grant, year two in Washington, D.C., most appropriately, was the year that the relatively nascent organization matured into a more professionalized trade association.

Part of that is due to leadership changes. NIVA, which is now more than three years old, has seen some of its colorful founding members (once affectionately referred to as “the Fuckers”) either no longer in leadership positions and/or serving in different capacities due to attrition or the org’s bylaws. This year, most notably, Dayna Frank of First Avenue, the association’s incredibly effective founding president, stepped down from that role and now heads up NIVA’s advocacy team; and former founding Exec Director Rev. Moose (his real name) of Marauder stepped down in 2022. Other departing board members this year are Stephen Chilton (The Rebel Lounge/Psyko Steve Presents) and Lara Ruggles (Best Life Presents).

NIVA-Con 2023 kicked off July 10 with its “State of Independent Live Entertainment Welcome Address” with the trade association’s new leadership taking the mic at The Anthem, I.M.P.’s impressive 6,000-capacity venue located along D.C.’s gorgeous SW waterfront. This included executive director Stephen Parker and Carl Swanson, Executive Director of the NIVA Foundation, both of whom joined NIVA roughly six months ago; and newly appointed board president Andre Perry. The session also included the introduction of two new board members Shahida Mausi of the Aretha Franklin Amphitheatre in Detroit and the Black Promoters Collective and Nederlander Concerts SVP Jamie Loeb.

Parker, an experienced government insider, outlined three areas of concentration for the conference: “How we build more value for all of our members and our friends who may not work in or own venues, fests or PACs; how we build out our state and local advocacy; and how we build out education and marketing to elevate the importance of live venues throughout the nation.”

It wouldn’t be 2023, of course, if the ticketing issue weren’t at the top of NIVA’s advocacy agenda (which also includes topics like artist visas, workforce development, performance rights practices, deregulating sponsorship streams, lowering credit card fees and the preservation of human artistry against AI). Day three of this year’s conference (June 12) was dedicated entirely to a Capitol Hill Fly-In event tied to NIVA’s Fix The Tix initiative. More than 200 NIVA members met directly with their Congressional representative advocating for greater transparency, an end to price gouging and deceptive and predatory ticketing practices that’s hurting fans, artists and the industry.

“The highlight of NIVA-Con2023 was meeting with our federal representatives and being able to thank them personally, (not on Zoom!) for SVOG,” said Jen Lyon, CEO of MeanRed Productions and President of NIVA’s NY chapter (NYIVA). “When Senator Schumer called me personally as we were campaigning for SVOG, it was one of the oddest moments in my career and I thought.. ‘Does this guy know I throw underground shows?’”

Attendance for this year’s conference, according to organizers, hit 1,000 registrants, nearly double last year’s numbers. Panels were held two days across three venues: The Anthem, Union Stage and the Capitol Turnaround. Live events were held at D.C clubs that included Songbyrd, Pie Shop, Black Cat, DC9, The Atlantis, the 9:30 Club, Pearl Street Warehouse, The Pocket and Union Stage.

Several venues during panels indicated they are still struggling to make ends meet in 2023’s inflationary and highly competitive market. One venue owner of a small midwestern club said his building is losing $5,000 a month, though he expects to start breaking even this fall when his business tends to pick up.

One of the year’s highlights was a fireside chat with 26-year-old Florida Congressmen Maxwell Frost, a Gen-Z music devotee and who formerly worked at music venues and festivals and plays drums. He is likely the only Congressional representative to have an informed perspective on ticketing and venue insurance while also starring in a viral TikTok video showing him dancing wildly onstage during a Paramore concert at The Anthem.

This trade association said it is intentionally broadening its constituency noting that while NIVA was once primarily rock clubs, it is now including comedy clubs, performance arts centers and venues from every music genre. There were also discussions to develop more state and regional representation with nightlife mayors and state offices dedicated to supporting cultural economies.

Ticketing companies once again abounded at this year’s conference, with reps from Dice, Lyte, eTix, Ticketweb, See Tickets, axs, Tixr and others as sponsors or working the event looking to close deals with attending venues.

“NIVA can be the live entertainment chamber of commerce,” executive director Stephen Parker said from the house Rules Committee Chamber on Capitol Hill when asked for his take on this year’s conference. “We have a presence in D.C. And now, today, as we have 200 people walking around house Senate office buildings and the Capitol building and they’re seeing us, I’m seeing Hill staffers stop our members and ask what Fix the Tix is and that’s a manifestation of what Dayna and Moose and others dreamed up in 2020. The fact that we’re doing this less than three and a half years later and seeing us as a known presence here is tremendous. Now the conference is really a bridge to two things: One is that showed us how to deepen our roots in advocacy. Two, it was an opportunity for venues to come together and talk about best practices and show how we can make their lives easier every day.”

After three or four days in the D.C. often discussing political strategies, this city’s pastime, many NIVA members were likely relieved to find out that NIVA’s 2024 conference will take place in New Orleans.