One of my greatest regrets of 2020 is choosing to skip a concert I'd really been looking forward to earlier this year.

Back in March an English alternative group I had recently discovered called Easy Life was set to do a show at St. Paul's Turf Club. I really wanted to see them, but my wife -- who was in rehearsals for a musical theater performance of her own at the time -- was unable to attend with me. Even though my sister offered to go with, I chose not to go. Just weeks later, COVID-19 hit Minnesota, effectively shutting down the state and putting life as we'd known it on hold. If I'd known then that that concert would be the last I would attend for a long time to come, I would have gone. But hindsight is 20/20.

As restrictions have gradually lifted and life has been allowed to return to some sense of normalcy, I've mostly forgotten that certain industries and communities -- like the arts and entertainment -- are still suffering and waiting for a return of live, in-person shows, concerts, tours and performances. My wife's show -- the same one she was rehearsing for in March -- never opened; Minnesota was shut down the night of opening performance. Aside from that, though, the absence of things like concerts and shows hasn't taken a personal toll on me; I tend to categorize them as luxuries and pleasures rather than essential. But the reality is that people in those industries -- who's entire careers and livelihoods are tied up in the arts and entertainment -- are hurting from the shutdowns and regulations. Many of those people are members of our own music communities in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

According to the 2017 Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account, arts and culture contributed $877.8 billion, or 4.5 percent, to the nation’s gross domestic product. According to Pollstar, venues are forecast to lose up to $8.9 billion of revenue if the rest of 2020 were to remain dark. The National Independent Venue Association is made up of over 2,000 independent venues around the country including First Aveneue. They were the first to close, and they will be the last to open. Advocating for themselves, NIVA has been on a campaign to #SaveOurStages -- asking Washington for targeted legislation to help them survive.

To advocate and bring awareness, artist and musician Heran Soun has been on a tour from the West Coast to the East Coast, spotlighting closed venues and performing in front of them. Starting in Portland, his most recent stop was Minneapolis, where he visited First Avenue and the Armory. In the video below, he plays Thom Yorke's "Atoms for Peace."

If you'd like to join NIVA in the fight to save music and performance venues across the country -- including St. Cloud's own Pioneer Place -- find a full action plan here.

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