Houston City Council approves multi-million relief fund to help local musicians and venues

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Live music was one of the first industries to close for health restrictions on March 13, leaving thousands of Houstonians with an uncertain future.

"The Texas Music Office reports that there are more than 3,300 quote-unquote 'working musicians' in the Greater Houston area and more than 10,000 music industry professionals," said Mark Austin, the senior talent buyer for the Heights Theatre. "It immediately affected these individuals. Their money stopped that day. There were no residual incomes to come. There were no performances the next Friday or Saturday."

Largely, contract musicians like opera singer Alicia Gianni did not qualify for unemployment.

"It stopped everything for me," said the single mother, who sings at the Houston Grand Opera. "Singers are now called 'super spreaders.' I'm not allowed to sing live. Everything is closed. All the venues are closed."

Within weeks of the pandemic hitting, she not only lost her main source of income but also started losing students she was teaching on the side.

"Voice lessons, most times, are a luxury," said Gianni.

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Across town, live music venue McGonigel's Mucky Duck is back open but is still having a hard time filling their reduced seating.

"Some nights we have nobody in the audience. Some nights, we can have a dozen, 15 people in here," said owner Rusty Andrews.

Andrews and his wife Teresa bought the space 30 years ago, cashing in on their savings to open the doors. Their small stage is now a mainstay for rising stars.

SEE ALSO: Houston City Council approves $3 million musician and music venue relief fund

Lyle Lovett, Kinky Friedman, Zac Brown and Jeff Daniels have all played there. But, once again, the couple is taking out personal savings this time to keep the doors open.

"It's scary, but it's scary for all of us. There are places that are gone and aren't coming back. We're still here and still trying to make the best of it," said Rusty.

Now a new multi-million dollar relief fund, approved by Houston City Council last week, could be the lifeline for stages and artists.

The fund is called the City of Houston Musicians and Music Venues Economic Relief Program. They are handing out up to $50,000 for small venues and up to $100,000 for large venues.

"We and many others can use that boost just to get through," said Rusty.

Musicians also get up to $5,000.

"I actually teared up a little bit. If I'm really honest, I thought, 'Finally!'" said Gianni.

"This is massive. This really is," said Austin. "And this is the thing that could get this industry through this. It's not a long-term fix by any means. And I think that's been acknowledged, but it is enough to get kids fed and food on tables and bills paid."

For every famous name to come out of Houston music - like Beyonce, Travis Scott, Lizzo, ZZ Top, and Paul Wall, there are thousands more like Alicia Gianni who need support.

"Remember that the arts are what's getting you through the pandemic. Right. We're watching Netflix, we're listening to music, we're passing the time. Art is work for sure," Gianni said.

The application deadline is Nov. 25.

This is not a first-come, first-serve program and all Houston musicians and venues are encouraged to apply.

"We have a lot of people that make music in this city and we want to see them after this pandemic and for many years to come," said Austin.

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