Prominent Seattle Venue Owner Steven Severin on the State of His Business and World

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Seattleite Steven Severin is the co-owner of the popular 600-person capacity music venue, Neumos, in the Emerald City. Severin is also the co-founder of the WA Nightlife and Music Association and Keep Music Live. He was also instrumental in the Save Our Stages work, is an advocate for NIVA, and holds many other titles too, but those are the especially pertinent ones.

Suffice it to say, for years now, since the COVID-19 pandemic hit the globe, Severin has been fighting to keep music venues open and funded. And while each state, venue and even performer has its own preferences and requirements, this is Severin’s.

We caught up with the hard worker to see where his head was at now and what the future might hold.

American Songwriter: What have your past 18 months been like, in a nutshell?

Steven Severin: Exhilarating and exhausting. While trying to figure out how to keep my business’ head above water, it was as important to use whatever skills and connections I have to help others do the same. That was the entire idea behind Save Our Stages. Do everything in our power to save all of our stages.

AS: Where are we now?

SS: We are still waiting for venues to finish getting paid. That’s the key right now because things aren’t back to normal yet. We still have a lot of people concerned about coming back to shows particularly inside. Venues across the country are having people that buy tickets but don’t show up. The problem with that is venues make most of their money from ancillary sales once people are there. We’re heading in the right direction but we are a long way from being out of the water.

AS: What’s next?

SS: Venues keep pushing forward. We book shows as far as a year out. There’s nothing we can do but continue like things are going to become normal again someday. People want to get back to seeing live shows. It’s a matter of people all feeling comfortable that COVID is under wraps and it’s time to get out and enjoy once again. 

The other thing is the advocacy front. We’ve laid the groundwork to continue pushing the arts forward. We’re currently working with WANMA and NIVA on policy changes that will help artists, venue, etc. going fwd. We want to empower artists to be seen as important as any other job people have. We want the government and people to understand not only our economic impact but our cultural impact. In King County [where Seattle is] the arts represent 18% of the GDP here. That’s huge and most people don’t know that. We are working to change this perception.

AS: If a permanent fix was the goal line, to use a football term. What yard line are we on now?

SS: I thought we were about to cross the goal line. Then [the] Delta [variant] came up. Then there has been the problem of getting the Save Our Stages act money from the SBA to the people that still need it. We’re now dealing with people not showing up to shows or buying tickets to shows that they would have definitely bought in 2019. I guess we were on this 10-yard line and we fumbled and we’re all still scrambling for the ball.

AS: What is your hope for the near future?

SS: Everything is having COVID go away and having consumer confidence get as close to 100 as we can. I also hope that people keep the fire going towards changing the system as it is and that government continues to understand how important we are to the economy and culture.

AS: What are you grateful for now? 

SS: I’m grateful for all of the people in Washington that worked to keep our venues open. There’s a lot of them. Everything from venue owners and employees to artists to the people that wrote letters to the people that donated money to Keep Music Live and to the artists that raised a million dollars.

I’m also of course thankful for the NIVA folks. These are the group of folks who worked every day for 19 months to help music continue. We would have all closed down without these people. They did it because they care about things much bigger than themselves. These people are some of the best humans I’ve ever met.

AS: What’s your favorite humongous show of all time? 

SS: This is next to impossible. I’m going two. I was the Creative Director of City Arts Fest and I got to put on what I believe is still the only local hip hop show that’s sold out the Paramount with Blue Scholars, Brother Ali (he’s from Minnesota but he’s been here so much we kind of consider him or Northwesterner), Macklemore, Fresh Espresso, and Mash Hall. It was truly a special night watching that many people lose their minds.

I also got to promote Parliament/Funkadelic at Showbox SoDo and at the Roseland. I’d been trying to make this happen for almost 20 years. The reason it’s so significant is the reason I live in Seattle is I was going to see George Clinton and the P Funk All-Stars at the Belly Up in Solano Beach in ‘92. I left Tempe, Arizona to go see the show and kept on diving. Almost 30 years later I still live here and it might not have ever happened if it wasn’t for that.

I lied. Adele playing Neumos was incredible.

AS: What’s your favorite small show of all time? 

SS: Again no way to answer this, but Nomeansno on the Wrong Tour at Hollywood Alley in Arizona was pretty momentous. I was only 20, but I used my buddy’s ID. There was no way I was missing it. The ID person looked at the ID and told me all the reasons it wasn’t me including he knew the person whose ID it was because his band played the venue. I wasn’t too smart then. Luckily I got my hand stamped by someone else before they gave back the ID. I went home, changed clothes, and went right on in. 

Nirvana at the Mason Jar in ‘90 was pretty epic too.

AS: Who do you want to thank?

SS: I have to thank all the people who have helped me get to where I’m at. Y’all have no idea what my wife has done to help me be able to do what I do. There’s no me and all the things that I’ve been able to do or help create without her. There are lots of folks, but she’s number one!

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