Lakes at Rockwood Music Hall / Everynight Charley

Smaller Music Clubs Are Thriving While Larger Venues Remain on Hiatus

Nearly every millionaire music artist started his or her career path by playing in independently-owned music venues. Musicians normally play live in small privately-owned nightclubs long before they generate media coverage, record contracts, and television appearances. The paradigm has shifted a bit in the 21st century, with many young acts launching a career on YouTube, TikTok, and Instagram, but this has not diminished the importance of local music venues.

More and more music venues reopened with the gradual governmental easing of pandemic-era restrictions over recent months. Venues reported many sold-out shows, even as capacity limits increased, showing that the public is ready to attend public gatherings with live music. Masked or maskless, sitting or standing, vaccination-only or mixed audience, the live music circuit has activated.

The larger venues are dependent on touring talent and so the logistics involved have delayed their reopening. Most will reopen in the late summer or early fall. As such, smaller venues, catering particularly to local musicians, have filled the void more prominently than ever before. Currently, newer artists may be getting more exposure to audiences who previously concentrated on attending major concerts.

In downtown Manhattan, the Anyway Café, the Red Lion, Rue-B, and Small’s Jazz Club are presenting live music seven nights each week. The 55 Bar, Arlene’s Grocery, the Bitter End, City Winery NYC, Mercury Lounge, and Rockwood Music Hall are slowly approaching that same level of bookings. Week after week, the choices are multiplying.

Independent Venue Week, July 12-18

Independent Venue Week, which is going on currently, began July 12 and lasts until July 18. It celebrates the bars, cabarets, restaurants, and other mom-and-pop-owned music venues that bind two populations – musicians looking for a stage and audiences looking to enjoy live music. At last count, 367 participating venues from all 50 states, plus Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico, will make this year’s event the largest to date. The full program and participating venues are listed at the Independent Venue Week website.

Unforgettable Fire performed a tribute to U2 at City Winery on July 9 / Photo by Everynight Charley

Independent Venue Week  is a national campaign celebrating what music venues do locally. Promoters and venues participate at no cost and curate their own programs. Events featured must be ticketed and artists must be paid.

Alongside more than 450 shows nationwide, Independent Venue Week also features the return of #IVWTalks, a virtual conference series that discusses current live music industry issues. Returning with #IVWTalks this year is Get Schooled, a day of panels dedicated to students and young professionals pursuing a career in live music. This program will happen on Thursday, July 15.

“Independent Venue Week exists to highlight the importance of independent stages all over the country, from the busiest of cities to the smallest of towns,” said Cecilie Nielsen, Director of Special Projects at Marauder, the firm that runs the American iteration of Independent Venue Week. “We’re thrilled that our full program reflects our mission and we are happy to see such a high level of participation following 16 months of hardship for independent live music.”

Perhaps due to a lack of local promotion, few New York City venue operators have registered for Independent Venue Week. Several larger venues that might have participated are not yet reopened. Twelve venues in New York City are on board. The eight Brooklyn venues are Issue Project Room, the Jalopy Theatre, Littlefield, the Muse, Our Wicked Lady, Purgatory, ShapeShifter Lab, and the Sultan Room. The three Manhattan venues are Arlene’s Grocery, Birdland, and Drom. One Queens venue, QED, is participating.

Originating in London, England, Independent Venue Week came to the United States in 2018. In 2020. the American campaign featured 144 venues in 80 cities across 33 states, raised $21K for the NIVA Emergency Relief Fund, and introduced a series of discussion panels.