save our stages san diegoPhoto by: Nicholas Regalo

Pete McDevitt, Talent Buyer at the Belly Up, chatted with ListenSD about the past year, and about the Save Our Stages movement attempting to help keep our favorite local venues in business. The main takeaways: the promised government money hasn’t actually been distributed yet. So: read this interview, remember how much you love places like Belly Up, Casbah, and the rest of our San Diego venues, and hit up your congressperson to push them to get this money sent out.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

ListenSD: It’s been a really terrible year for Belly Up; In the beginning, the cancelled shows were being rescheduled as hope still remained. What has the last year been like?

McDevitt: It’s been hectic. Especially right in the beginning, we were referring to our conference room as our war room, because it was just constant. I have never canceled so many shows in a 48 hour period in my life; my record prior to March 12 was probably two shows, and I can’t even remember how many shows got canceled or postponed. It’s been moving around a lot of different puzzle pieces. From a business standpoint, when basically your entire source of revenue gets pulled out from underneath you, calling it a challenge doesn’t do it justice.

ListenSD: What was the reception from your counterparts from the bands when you had to reach out to cancel everything? What were those conversations like?

McDevitt: Everyone was pretty much on the same page. Bands, their agents, saw the writing on the wall just like we did. The biggest hurdle right at the beginning was rescheduling shows into time periods that weren’t going to happen regardless. A lot of times, in the booking world, there is an agent vs. promoter aspect to it, where you’re working to find a middle ground to protect both parties, but during all of this it is a lot more of working with each other, and a greater sense of community.

ListenSD: How did the San Diego Save Our Stages movement begin?

McDevitt: The San Diego Independent Venue Association was formed from the national model of the Independent Venue Association. They were responsible for the Save Our Stages Act, which turned into the Shuttered Venue Operator’s Grant. The NIVA California chapter, including venues from all over the state, helped lead into the San Diego crew forming our own organization. Part of that is not only getting all of the venues in better communication with each other but also trying to collectively make some moves to help all of us survive. Though a lot of us work together on a regular basis, some venues are part of NIVA that didn’t necessarily have an open dialogue with everyone before.

On the bright side, this has helped develop relationships between venues. As things move forward, there are going to be other things that come up where we’re going to need to be able to have that support network.

ListenSD: Has that grant helped yet?

McDevitt: No one has seen a dollar of that money yet. We don’t even know when we will. It was included as part of the stimulus in December 2020 as our lifeline, but the rollout process has been nothing short of frustrating. We don’t know when the application process will start, or how long it will take to receive funds after the application is approved. People can write to their representatives and say, hey, we love these venues, and we’d love for them to survive.

ListenSD: What have been the most helpful things so far that help bring in revenue?

McDevitt: For Belly Up, we’ve been doing a lot of live streaming, which has helped some. It’s a grain of sand at the beach, when it comes to covering non-operational costs, though. It’s expensive. We’ve done merchandise. But all of these are small pieces to the puzzle. People who want to help save their local spots can keep buying merchandise, gift cards, and tickets to upcoming shows, even if they’re not going to happen for another six months.

ListenSD: What do you think it might look like, six months to a year from now when people are allowed back?

McDevitt: I think there will be things that change with operations, a bit of a difference in the way people interact with each other in communal spaces. But, for the most part, I think we will return to this whole idea of music being a place to gather people together and to have a collective moment with strangers.

Everything is going to come back; it’s just a question of when and how.

ListenSD: With the last year’s worth of concerts canceled, and with all of the concerts that would have happened in the next few years anyway, are we going to see a glut of concerts in the next year or two?

McDevitt: In the pre-pandemic world, there were a ton of shows going on any given night in San Diego. Touring traffic was really high; it feels like 2022 is going to be a really high traffic year. There are a lot of people who have already decided 2021 is too much of a question mark to continue to book, and have moved their plans to 2022, especially bands who are putting out a record to tour on. When the floodgates first open, it will be a slow trickle out, but then things will pick up speed. But again, we’ve got to get there first.

Interview by: David Israel