To raise awareness and money for concert halls and clubs struggling to survive the pandemic, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) has partnered with YouTube to create Save Our Stages Fest. The three-day concert event on Oct.16-18 will feature performances by an impressive roster of headline acts streamed from iconic venues around the country.


Highlights include the Roots performing at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, Reba McEntire at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and Miley Cyrus from Whiskey a Go Go and Foo Fighters from the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Other artists on the bill include Dave Matthews, Finneas, Brittany Howard, Demi Lovato and YG.


The event was executive produced by Austin’s Stephen Sternschein, co-owner of the Parish and Empire Control Room and Garage. Austin’s Black Pumas will perform from the Parish as part of the festival.


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On an episode of Austin360’s streaming show, the Monday Music Mashup, Sternschein said conversations about the event started in late May but in pandemic time "it seems like I've been working on it forever."


While other online festivals that have happened this year existed as a linear stream on each festival’s YouTube page, the performances for SOS Fest will stream on NIVA’s YouTube page and simultaneously on each performing artist’s page.


Sternschein said that choice is important for a number of reasons. It allows those artists to "fully monetize the content in the way that they're used to" through ad revenue, merchandise, "all the different ways that YouTube allows artists to monetize," he said.


It also allows festival organizers to tap into each artist’s fan network. After an artist’s festival performance video, YouTube’s "watch next" feature will highlight other videos from the fest, drawing casual fans into the festival experience. The festival sets will remain online for a year after the event, Sternschein said.


YouTube Giving will be integrated to accept donations during the live streams and when viewers access the streams on demand later. Money collected during the festival will go into NIVA’s nationwide, need-based grant program for member venues who have reached a "red alert" moment, Sternschein said.


The festival is named after the bipartisan Save Our Stages legislation NIVA has been lobbying for, which is currently stalled in Congress alongside other coronavirus relief measures.


"Even if a bill were passed today, it would take months for that money to trickle down to the actual people and businesses that are in need," Sternschein said. "And we don't have a few months, like, most people don't have even, you know, a few weeks. And so we had to do something that would be quick, to get money to the places that needed the most."


In addition to performances from artists around the country, the festival will include interview segments with artists talking about what independent venues mean to them.


"Each artist has a story about a stage," Sternschein said.


Sternschein hopes the event will raise the battered spirits of people working in the venue community while also raising much-needed grant money.


"Our leaders have abandoned us, and we need to act ourselves, not because we think that we can raise enough money to, like, fix this multi billion dollar problem, but we can at least try to give a little hope and a little bit of relief to the worst hit folks out there," he said.


Empire will be hosting watch parties in the venue’s outdoor space each night of the festival. Tickets to the event are sold by table groupings and run roughly $20-$25 per person. Proceeds from the sales will go to the venue’s reopening efforts.