West Hollywood music venue The Troubadour has long been one of the most storied venues in popular music. In the 1960s and Seventies, Laurel Canyon singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Jackson Browne frequented the joint just a short drive away through the Hollywood Hills. In 1970, Elton John played his first U.S. shows there — the crowd included Neil Diamond, David Crosby and Leon Russell — that helped kickstart his career. Geffen Records signed Guns N’ Roses shortly after catching their set at the venue in 1986. Today, it’s a stop for both established stars and young artists and a popular choice for star-studded Grammy parties.
While the venue has fared well in recent years, regularly hosting special shows for the likes of Billie Eilish and the Black Crowes, they’ve never faced a greater threat to their existence due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Owner Christine Karayan was forced to lay off most of her staff, losing all but two of her workers, and she’s started a GoFundMe mainly to pay her staff. (The GoFundMe has raised nearly $60,000 since launching at the beginning of April from over 1,000 donors.)
The Troubadour isn’t alone in its struggle; it’s one of more than 1,300 venues that have banded together to found the National Independent Venue Association to encourage government officials to modify legislation to more easily accommodate venues and other businesses entirely reliant on attendance. Many of these venues worry they’ll close by the end of the year if no legislative action takes place to soften the blow, a NIVA spokesperson says.
Karayan spoke with Rolling Stone on her mounting fears for the venue’s future, fighting for legislation to save venues, and the importance of places like the Troubadour for local communities, artists and fans. She had more questions than answers.
I’m sure everyone across the board is concerned. Every small business is concerned in what their future holds, if there is a future. The question for the independent venues is if we can we safely get to the other side of this, quite frankly. The loans that are currently available, or not available I should say, are not really conducive to the types of business models we have in terms of being able to pay back in the timely manner.
The question is, “Are we going to be a footnote in history?” We’ve got no shareholders, no corporate funding and no income coming in whatsoever. But the bills are still coming, and the reality of what I do for the most part is getting on the phone with the landlord, or insurance company, or AT&T. We can’t stand this much monthly payout with zero coming in.
We’re all in the same scary boat; this same scary bit of uncertainty. We figured maybe we can at least get some legislation to help us. We just want to modify these existing programs; we just want to make the terms a bit more conducive to the way we work so we can get back on our feet and be able to move forward from this.
The Troubadour reached out to the city of West Hollywood, and NIVA offered support sending letters to Adam Schiff’s office and Dianne Feinstein’s office and to Kamala Harris’s office as well. Amy, my talent buyer, has been pounding emails, and I called every single person I know who might potentially know someone. I don’t know what did it, but we were able to obtain a video meeting with Congressman Schiff, and he seemed interested in our plight for NIVA. Hopefully we can set up another conversation; our end goal is speaker Pelosi.
We’re just looking for a chance, really, but if so many other businesses are in the same boat, it’s hard to expect to get priority. But even a few hundred dollars is a few hundred we didn’t have that we can put toward the bills.
We set up a GoFundMe page initially because we had to lay off the staff fully except for the two people in the office getting the joy of cancelling and refunding for tickets. When we set it up, I thought, “Wow, I can’t believe this is happening, we’ll be ok.” I thought it’d just pass in a few weeks and that’d be it. I don’t know where my brain was, to be honest. As each day unfolded, I just thought “Oh my God, no.” This isn’t anything anyone could’ve imagined.
In terms of the city, they offered their full support for anything we need to get done, but financially no. West Hollywood is an entertainment hub; there are way too many businesses at a complete standstill. In fairness, they can’t allocate to anyone because it’s just not right. We had some calls of support from agencies we work with telling us they’d do whatever it takes to help, but I don’t know what that means. We have great relationships with them, but they’re struggling too. Everyone’s got their own story right now.