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US biz faces “mass collapse” as Trump abandons talks

The National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) has urged US president Donald Trump to work with legislators on emergency funding for the live sector, after Trump announced he is walking away from talks over further stimulus funding until after 3 November’s presidential election.

Trump, who is recovering from Covid-19, said yesterday (6 October) he has instructed aides to stop negotiations on a new stimulus package until after the election. “Immediately after I win, we will pass a major Stimulus Bill [sic] that focuses on hardworking Americans and Small Business,” he tweeted.

Rival presidential candidate Joe Biden accused Trump of “turn[ing] his back” on Americans hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. “If you are out of work, if your business is closed, if your child’s school is shut down, if you are seeing layoffs in your community, Donald Trump decided today that none of that – none of it – matters to him,” said Biden.

Trump’s tweet came as an unwelcome surprise to NVIA, which is counting on the speedy passage of the Save Our Stages Act – part of the wider ‘Heroes Act’ stimulus package – to support the grassroots venue sector through a difficult winter.

“This is real. We need help. We urge Congress and the White House to continue negotiations”

In a statement, NIVA’s director of communications, Audrey Fix Schaefer, says anything less than the immediate resumption of talks would be disastrous for its hundreds of member venues.

“We have been sounding the alarm since April that if our members don’t get emergency assistance, they will go under forever – and it’s happening,” comments Fix Schaefer.

“This is real. We need help. We urge Congress and the White House to continue negotiations and reach a deal quickly or there will be a mass collapse of this industry.

“The Save Our Stages Act has already passed the House [of Representatives] and has strong bipartisan support, with more than 160 Congresspeople cosponsoring, because they know independent venues can be part of our country’s economic renewal once it’s safe to welcome people back – if our venues can survive this pandemic.”

“We’re also hoping for the sake of our furloughed employees that the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance will be extended, as people are suffering through no fault of their own,” she adds.


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US election: Venues turn into polling stations

Live Nation has announced plans to use more than 100 of its US venues as polling stations for the American presidential election on 3 November.

The concert giant says it is working with local authorities to examine the feasibility of using Live Nation-owned venues across the country as polling centres, with the Wiltern (1,850-cap.) and Hollywood Palladium (3,800-cap.) in Los Angeles, Emo’s (1,700-cap.) in Austin, Texas, and the Buckhead Theatre (1,800-cap.) in Atlanta already confirmed.

The Fillmore (2,500-cap.) in Philadelphia is in the “final stages of the vetting process”, it adds.

“Core to what we do at Live Nation is helping amplify voices on stage around the world, and supporting voting is another important way we want to continue making voices heard,” comments LN CEO Michael Rapino. “We’re honoured to work with such incredible partners and will do everything in our power to support and empower voter engagement among our employees and the public.”

The LN properties join other venues previously announced as serving as polling stations, including multiple arenas

The company has also partnered with More Than a Vote, a non-profit organisation supporting black voters, and announced it will give its employees paid time off to vote.

The Live Nation properties join other venues previously announced as serving as polling stations, including multiple arenas. They include Madison Square Garden in New York, the Los Angeles Forum, State Farm Arena in Atlanta and Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kansas.

“As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to make mass gatherings difficult, we are excited to partner with New York City’s board of elections,” says Madison Square Garden’s Rich Constable, “and support our community by providing a large-scale venue in the heart of New York City that can accommodate social distancing and serve as a safe place for residents to exercise their right to vote.”

The US presidential election will be held on Tuesday 3 November 2020, pitting incumbent president Donald Trump against Democratic challenger Joe Biden.


This article forms part of IQ’s Covid-19 resource centre – a knowledge hub of essential guidance and updating resources for uncertain times.

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Free entertainment event tickets for unpaid US federal workers

Organisations across the United States are offering free event tickets to furloughed government workers, in a show of solidarity with employees who have not received paychecks since the beginning of the government shutdown in December.

Over 800,000 federal workers are going without pay as a result of the shutdown which began on 22 December, making it officially the longest in US history.

In response, live music venues, cinemas, sports teams and museums across the country have offered tickets to events free of charge.

Exhibition basketball team Harlem Globetrotters are offering complimentary tickets to any government employee currently on furlough. The offer includes any ticket to the team’s 2019 Fan Powered North American tour and will remain valid for as long as the shutdown continues.

“As the Ambassadors of Goodwill, we want to show our support to all those government workers whose paychecks, and by extension their families, are directly impacted,” said Globetrotter president Howard Smith.

“We want to offer our friends the happiness that live music and the performing arts can provide”

Symphonies around the country are similarly doing their bit to help the workers. The Spokane Symphony Orchestra in Washington is among those offering free tickets to shows.

“We are sorry for the hardships our federal workers have had to endure during the shutdown. We want to offer our friends some wonderful music and entertainment to give them the happiness that live music and the performing arts can provide,” announced symphony executive director Jeff vom Saal.

Orchestras in Florida, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Boston have also made tickets available.

A disagreement in Congress initiated the shutdown after president Donald Trump refused to approve the federal budget unless it included US$5.7 billion towards the building of the Mexican border wall. Democrats rejected the request, placing the government in deadlock.

US rapper Cardi B spoke out against the shutdown in an Instagram video posted yesterday. The video, in which the rapper refers to the country as a “hellhole”, has so far received over 12.5 million views.


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Corporates face ticket price rise after Trump axes deduction

The days of American businesses hiring boxes for clients at concerts and other live events could be coming to a close, after a recent tax overhaul eliminated a 50% deduction for entertainment-related business expenses.

The headline figures from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, signed into law on 22 December, include reduced rates of income tax (until 2025) and corporation tax (permanently), predicted by Trump to deliver a surging economy and thousands of new jobs.

However, the new legislation also eliminates a 50% deduction for business expenses for “entertainment, amusement or recreation”, meaning firms will see a doubling of their costs for concert tickets and hospitality for clients.

Eliminating the deduction “is really going to hurt the small businesses that need to promote their business by entertaining clients”, Charles Capetanakis, a lawyer at New York legal firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, tells Bloomberg Politics.

The loss of the entertainment expenses is “painful”, adds Washington, DC, lobbyist Ryan Ellis, although he notes with relief a 50% tax break for client meals was left untouched by the Tax Cuts Act.


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Blavatnik, IMG’s Shustorovich drawn into Trump Russia probe

Two prominent entertainment business figures have been drawn into the ongoing investigation into alleged Russian interference in last year’s US presidential election.

Sir Len Blavatnik, whose Access Industries holding company owns Warner Music Group, and Alexander Shustorovich, the chief executive of performing arts agency IMG Artists, are reportedly under scrutiny from investigators led by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing a probe into the Trump presidential campaign’s alleged links with the Russian government.

According to the Dallas Morning News, political contributions by Sir Len – a Ukrainian-born American/British businessman who had previously donated to both parties – took a “hard right turn” in 2015–16, when he gave more than US$6m to Republican party political action committees (PACs).

Of that $6m, the paper says, the majority, $3.5m went to a PAC associated with Kentucky Republican senator and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, with smaller amounts donated to PACs backing senator Marco Rubio ($1.5m), Wisconsin governor Scott Walker ($1.1m) and Trump’s Inaugural Committee ($1m).

Len Blavatnik and Alexander Shustorovich are reportedly under scrutiny from investigators led by special counsel Robert Mueller

Shustorovich, a Russian-American business magnate with business interests in TV, radio and other media, similarly gave $1m to the Inaugural Committee, which was accepted by the Trump team – despite the rejection of a previous attempt to donate to the Republicans, in 2000, because of concerns over his ties to the Russian government.

Two other men, Andrew Intrater and Kukes – neither of which have any history of political donations – are also reportedly of interest to investigators. Both have been employees of Sir Len: Intrater is chief executive of Columbus Nova, a division of Renova, an investment company co-founded by Blavatnik and his business partner Viktor Vekselberg in 1990, while Kukes worked for Blavatnik and Vekselberg’s TNK from 1998 to 2003.

In addition to owning Warner Music, Access Industries is an investor in Spotify, Deezer and Songkick, the latter of which Warner partially acquired in July. Blavatnik was knighted in 2017 for his philanthropy.

Democratic representative Adam Schiff told ABC News he believes the contributions to be legal, as all donors are US citizens, “unless the contributions were directed by a foreigner”. He added, however, that they “could still be of interest to investigators examining allegations of Russian influence on the 2016 campaign. Obviously, if there were those that had associations with the Kremlin that were contributing, that would be of keen concern.”


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Stricter immigration and rising visa fees ‘could harm touring’

Last week’s announcement by the British government it is to enshrine the date of Britain’s exit from the EU – 29 March 2019 – in law has once again thrust into the spotlight the issue of freedom of movement after Brexit, with leading visa experts warning of the impact a ‘no-deal’ Brexit could have on international touring.

“If the current customs regulations are made more time-consuming [post-Brexit] that will impact live tours, putting tight time schedules at risk,” Steve Richard of UK-based T&S Immigration Services tells IQ.

While the unwelcome return of visas for artists and carnets for equipment – both for British passport holders in Europe and EU artists playing the UK – is by no means a certainty, Oleg Gaidar of Artist and Entertainer Visas Global says he has already received enquiries from managers about the possibility of attaining European passports for the UK clients with European parents or grandparents. “That shows us the concern of people who are trying to look ahead and at least secure the principle to play shows in Europe without needing work permits,” he comments.

One potential solution, backed by UK Music and at least one prominent pro-Brexit MP, is a temporary ‘touring passport’ for British artists playing EU countries, although the proposal has yet to find support from the British government, which is currently negotiating with EU authorities over trade and Britain’s supposed exit bill.

The UK’s uncertain future aside, visa experts across the world are already grappling with an increasingly complex international touring market – not least in the US, where the surprise election of Donald Trump and stricter immigration rules caught out a number of acts this year, including at least ten artists heading to South by Southwest 2017.

“The goalposts are always changing, and very often people aren’t on the same page,” says Michelle Rubio of LA-based Creative Mind Access Visas & Passport Services.

“The goalposts are always changing, and very often people aren’t on the same page”

Among the recent changes in the US are tighter scrutiny of first-time visa applications, adds Andy Corrigan of UK-based Viva La Visa, which has looked after visa processing for tours by Ed Sheeran, Kings of Leon (pictured) and Sam Smith, including “more stringent questioning at American embassies and are being asked more searching questions than they previously would have been.”

Also of concern is the recent hike in fees for ‘non-immigrant worker’ visas, with the fee for filing a US visa alone now US$460, rising to $1,225 for the fast-track service.

Although the United States remains one of the trickiest and most expensive countries for touring parties to visit, it is far from the only market to have tightened immigration procedures. In the past two years, Russia and China have both introduced biometric fingerprint testing at select border controls. In 2015, Argentina introduced work visa requirements for British nationals, while UK passport holders flying to Canada now have to fill in an ESTA-type form online prior to travel, and acquire waivers if they have certain criminal convictions.

In line with tougher procedures, visa-processing fees have also increased in many touring hotspots, including Australia, which has removed bulk discounts for large tours that capped visa fees at A$7,200 (US$5,450). Now it costs A$275 per person – or between A$22,000 and $27,500 for a touring production of 80–100 people.

“Where one country eases up, it feels like another starts tightening the buckle a little harder,” says Rubio.

Read more about how global experts are keeping artists and crews on the move in the full feature in IQ 74.


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Visas and work permits

“One thing that you can always count on is that everything is in a constant state of flux, and the changes will probably happen quicker than you can keep up with,” says Michelle Rubio about navigating the many challenges and potential pitfalls that exist within the complex world of visa services, immigration and work permits.

“The goalposts are always changing, and very often people aren’t on the same page,” elaborates Rubio, a senior manager for Los Angeles-based Creative Mind Access Visas & Passport Services. She casts her mind back to this summer for an example of just a few of the many unexpected complications that can derail the process and – in the worst-case scenario – potentially lead to delayed or cancelled shows.

“I had just submitted some visa applications to the Russian consulate in San Francisco when President Trump ordered its immediate closure,” recalls Rubio. “Thankfully, there was a delay with the courier and they didn’t show up on time, so the applications couldn’t be submitted. Otherwise, all my [clients’] passports would have been stuck there.

“I’m normally cursing couriers, but, oh, my god, that was a wonderful mistake.”

“In the current political climate, with increasing local labour protectionism, planning strategically … is more important than ever”

The incident also gives some small insight into the wealth of unpredictable hurdles that immigration specialists can face on a day-to-day basis when applying for permits.

“In the current political climate, with increasing local labour protectionism, looking ahead, planning strategically and understanding the visa process requirements and consulate processing times is more important than ever,” agrees Sophie Amable, director of AE Visas USA, which primarily deals with UK and European artists and crew travelling to North America.

“Immigration is changing globally, and US immigration is also changing all the time, so getting expert advice before the time of booking is really important and can save you a lot of time and money,” she states.


Read the rest of this feature in the digital edition of IQ 74:



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Spanish rock veterans denied entry to US

Veteran Spanish rock band Medina Azahara have become the latest act to fall foul of ever-stricter immigration controls in the US, having been forced to cancel an American tour after their keyboardist was denied entry at the border.

According to local daily Diario Córdoba, Manuel Ibáñez erroneously answered ‘yes’ a question on the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) visa waiver form asking if “you have ever committed fraud or misrepresented yourself or others to obtain, or assist others to obtain, a visa or entry into the United States”.

Ibáñez, who says he made the mistake when filling in the form on the flight over, sought to redress the error at the consulate but was deported after a two-hour interrogation.

Ibáñez’s deportation comes after visa issues prevented several performers from gaining entry to the US for South by Southwest in Texas last month.

“Who knows – if there is a change of president, things might change”

‘Andalusian rock’ pioneers Medina Azahara, who have been active since 1979, have been forced to cancel shows in New York, Maryland, Dallas, Anaheim and Chicago as part of a planned US tour, as well as a date in Bogota, Colombia.

“At the moment, we do not know if we can reschedule the shows for another time,” says lead singer Manuel Martínez, as on 28 April we have to be back in Cordova for a concert in Adamuz.”

He does, however, express a wish to return to America soon – and takes a shot at US president Donald Trump, who has been criticised by agents and promoters for his hardline stance on immigration: “Who knows – if there is a change of president there [the US] things might change,” he comments. “We’ll see.”


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SXSW update: Ten artists now denied entry to US

The number of South by Southwest (SXSW) performers turned away at the US border has risen to ten, with an Egyptian-Canadian post-hardcore band, a Danish producer and a British jazz combo among those forced to cancel their showcases.

The latest round of cancellations follows the deportation last week of Italian trio Soviet Soviet, who planned to play a promotional showcase under the ESTA visa waiver programme, as “illegal immigrants”.

At the centre of the dispute is whether musicians can enter the US and play free, non-commercial shows under tourist visas or ESTAs. Soviet Soviet thought so, saying they did not require a performance visa (known as a P-2) as their SXSW showcase was for promotional purposes only, and that they would receive no payment for playing; immigration authorities disagreed.

Three members of Massive Scar Era, a post-hardcore act based in Vancouver and Cairo, ran into the same problem, saying they were denied entry even after showing the immigration officer a waiver from the festival they say “proved we don’t need a P-2 visa to perform” at SXSW.

“Why weren’t we let in? Our names? The music? The colour of our skin?”

Massive Scar Era frontwoman Cherine Amr speculates her Egyptian passport may have been a factor in their being turned away. “My passport (Egyptian) could’ve been the issue,” she writes on Facebook.

She adds that the band’s bassist, who is First Nations (Canadian Indian) and should be able to enter the US visa-free under the 1794 Jay Treaty, was told his “official First Nations card, released by the Canadian government, doesn’t prove he is First Nations and he needs to get DNA test […] He told him that he did this already to get the card in the first place!”

“What really kills me at this point,” she continues, “[is] that the band/the genre wasn’t welcomed by the Egyptian society. Every now and then the government would use metal bands to create false propaganda to distract the people from major political events. We were called a Satanic band and we had our picture in the newspapers once! They would even arrest musicians and metalheads and jail them!

“I moved to Canada to be closer to the music industry […] We thought that by me going there, I would be able to grow our band, play shows and live a healthy free artistic life.”

Danish EDM producer Eloq, meanwhile, was, like Soviet Soviet, detained overnight after being deemed to have the wrong documentation, despite being “informed by SXSW I had the right visa”.

Three members of British jazz four-piece United Vibrations – brothers Yussef, Ahmed and Kareem Dayes – were also denied entry “at the 11th hour”, according to label Brownswood Recordings, forcing the cancellation of the band’s set at tonight’s British Underground/Jazz Re:freshed showcase, which is backed with UK public money.

“We are sad to announce we will NOT be performing at SXSW in Texas because our ESTAs have been revoked under [president Donald Trump’s] new executive order,” reads a statement from the band, who said they believe the decision to be based on racial/religious discrimination. “We were looking forward to connecting with our brothers and sisters stateside to share our music. Why weren’t we let in? Our names? The music? The colour of our skin?”

“Our bassist was told his official First Nations card doesn’t prove he is First Nations and he needs to get DNA test”

Dave Webster, the UK Musicians’ Union’s (MU) national organiser for live performance and chair of the Music Industry Visa Task Force, comments: “We have escalated this to the highest level in the UK to try to ascertain what is going on. It is appalling that these artists have been denied the opportunity to showcase at SXSW. The US Embassy in London has provided no explanation. A letter from Nigel Adams MP and Kerry McCarthy MP requesting an urgent meeting with the US officials has been sent.

“Since the formation of the Music Industry Visa Task Force in 2015 some progress on these issues has been made; however, this latest development represents a huge setback.”

MU assistant general secretary Horace Trubridge adds: “The amount of public funding that has gone into getting our UK artists to perform at SXSW this year will have been wasted. It is outrageous that these ESTAs have been revoked and more outrageous that the musicians affected have not been told why.”

“The US Department of State has long recognised that entertainment groups may enter the US to ‘showcase’ on a B visa”

For its part, SXSW has taken the side of the performers, saying a tourist (‘B’) visa should be sufficient for playing unpaid showcases.

In a statement, its lawyer, Jonathan Ginsburg, says: “US immigration law allows foreign nationals to enter the US using a B visa or the visa waiver programme to conduct business, but not to render services. The US Department of State, accordingly, has long recognised that entertainment groups may enter the US to ‘showcase’, but not to perform under contract with US venues or other employers.

“SXSW is working in concert with other US organisations in an effort to ensure that both the State Department and CBP [Customs and Border Protection] continue to treat showcasing as a valid activity in B or visa waiver status. In the meantime, SXSW remains confident that the vast majority of consular officers and CBP officials understand and respect the need for, and the principle of, showcasing at promotional events such as the official SXSW event.”


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SXSW-bound Soviet Soviet jailed, deported from US

Soviet Soviet, an Italian band en route to Texas showcase festival South by Southwest (SXSW), have been deported as “illegal immigrants” by US immigration authorities.

The trio were judged to be lacking the proper paperwork after arriving in Seattle on an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation), a visa waiver programme for citizens of several, most European, countries.

Although ESTA travellers are barred from undertaking commercial activities, Soviet Soviet and their US label, Felte Records, argued unsuccessfully that their SXSW showcases were for promotional purposes only, and that they would receive no payment for playing.

In a joint statement, the band say immigration officers “interrogated [us] individually, in three different rooms. We were able to have the agents speak directly to the owner of our American label, without any success.

“After almost four hours of questions they told us their verdict: They had decided to deport us back to Italy and deny us entry into the United States. They declared us illegal immigrants, even if our intention was by no means to look for work in the United States nor never go back to Italy.”

Although Soviet Soviet say they “accepted the decision, as it seemed final at that point”, the band were – as ‘illegal immigrants’ – then treated as such, spending the night in prison.

“We spent the night in jail, escorted there as though we were three criminals”

“They took our digital fingerprints and took mugshots of us for their file,” the statement continues. “They confiscated our cellphones and we were denied the possibility of contacting our families and loved ones. Around 10.30pm, two prison officers frisked us, handcuffed us and brought us to jail in a police car. We spent the night in jail, and had been escorted there as though we were three criminals.

“The following day, after having completed all jail-related procedures (mugshots, declaration of good health and signatures), two other agents came to get us. We were searched, handcuffed and again escorted in a police car.

“They took us to the customs office we were in the previous day and we waited for our return flight, which was scheduled for around 1.00pm local time. Only a short while prior to taking off were we able to get back our cellphones and bags, and we were escorted right up to the aeroplane. We were relieved to fly back home and distance ourselves from that violent, stressful and humiliating situation.”

The incident comes after SXSW itself was criticised earlier this month for appearing to threaten foreign bands with deportation if they play unofficial shows around the conference.

Told Slant, a musician booked to play SXSW, pulled out after finding a clause in his contract stating the event “will notify the appropriate US immigration authorities” if an artist acts in a way deemed to “adversely affect the viability of their official SXSW showcase”.



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