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DC music venues bounce back after pandemic slump

Shuttered for months during the pandemic, legendary venues like the Black Cat and 9:30 Club welcome back crowds

WASHINGTON — It’s a Friday night and the band We Were Promised Jetpacks packed a crowd inside D.C.’s legendary music club The Black Cat.

A huge contrast from 2020, when COVID hit, and club owner Catherine Ferrando found herself inside an empty music hall.

“We thought it would be a matter of weeks, but it dragged on and on,” she said of that year.

How would a business based on packing in crowds survive COVID? The world shutdown, but there were still bills to pay. Property taxes and electrical bills began to pile up.  

“We were worried,” Ferrando said. “We were sort of watching our bank accounts dwindle and what is basically our life savings.”

“So, we switched from running a club to being grant writers.”

Around the block, at the 9:30 Club, the owners went a step farther.

“We became a founding member of the National Independent Venue Association,” IMP spokesperson Audrey Fix Schaefer said.

IMP is the group that owns venues like 9:30 Club and The Anthem. Through their lobbying efforts, Congress passed more than $16 billion to help music venues in the pandemic.

“Without that there would have absolutely been a mass collapse of the independent music venue industry,” Fix Schaefer said.

That grant money saved D.C.’s venues from closing including The Black Cat. Almost three years later, live music is coming back.

“I think we are pretty much back to full steam ahead,” Ferrando said. “This week we have two shows sold out one tonight and one at the end of the week.”

Getting back on track couldn’t have come at a better time. This year The Black Cat celebrates 30 years of live music. It is a landmark anniversary for checkered- floored music hall, but it feels just a little bit sweeter than the others.

“The fact that we did have the pandemic in between that and that we made it through that and reinvent ourselves and get ready for what’s to come,” she smiled.

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