NIVA Conference Brings the Music Industry to Cleveland for Three Days of Live Music and Education

The National Independent Venue Association honors Cleveland with three days of live music, education and community building for the first annual conference.

In 2008, Sean Watterson, along with his late partner Sean Kilbane, opened Happy Dog as a way to reconnect with Cleveland. At the time, Watterson worked for a bank and had previously fought terrorism and money laundering for the federal government.

Twelve years later, that political and financial expertise has proven essential in saving Happy Dog, Cleveland’s other independent venues, and countless scenes across the country.

Just weeks after the pandemic halted in March 2020, hundreds of venue owners across the country — including Watterson, Cindy Barber of the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern, and Kathy Blackman of the Grog Shop — formed the National
Association of Independent Sites. With Watterson in charge of the Ohio precinct, NIVA’s primary goal was to pressure
Congress for Federal Aid – a goal achieved by the $16 billion grant for closed site operators in 2020.

Now, two years later, the association is paying homage to Cleveland with its first annual conference on July 11-12, which kicks off with a pre-party at Beachland on July 10. The event features a host of live performances and panels, serving to strengthen ties. with the community and between members. This is the first time that many of them, even the most instrumental, have come face to face.

NIVA co-founder and executive director Reverend Moose, known for his work with New York-based creative marketing firm Marauder, says the conference allows NIVA members to connect, share ideas and celebrate. their accomplishments.

“They’re our people,” Moose said. “These are our people, and we should come together much like a family reunion.”

Cleveland’s experience of hosting major events such as NBA All-Star Weekend made the location a no-brainer. The kindness and support of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was also an asset, Moose says, especially after inviting a few dozen NIVA members to the 2021 induction ceremony and honoring them during the event.

The city’s arts community also has a rich history of lobbying for its popular music venues. In 2011, albeit on a much smaller scale, the owners of independent clubs, music venues, and dive bars in northeast Ohio banded together
together as the Cleveland Music Club Coalition to successfully lobby the city to reduce harmful admission taxes.

“It put us in a great position when the pandemic hit,” says Watterson. “The Cleveland clubs already had some muscle memory from when we were fighting this admission tax battle.”

During the upcoming conference, Beachland, The Rock Hall, Grog Shop, Music Box Supper Club and Pickwick & Frolic are all set to host hosted panels with industry experts, specialized educational sessions and the first awards ceremony. NIVA awards at Rock Hall. Oregon Space Trail of Doom, Daisha McBride, Discord Theory, The Cavves, The Babylonz and more are scheduled to perform at Happy Dog on both conference nights.

In hopes of solidifying itself as a long-term force, NIVA has revised its goals to go beyond merely alleviating pandemic-related hardship. Soon, the group hopes to offer support to those affected by natural disasters or future public health crises, provide access to health insurance schemes through its new NIVA Care initiative and launch a workforce development program. designed to train qualified professionals for jobs in the music industry.

While COVID was a catalyst for NIVA, Moose says, the need for this kind of support was always there.

“[Independent venues] really are the anchors of communities,” says Moose. “Yes, music, development, arts and culture are important, but the community itself is what drives all of these other elements. The independent sector launches the superstars of tomorrow.

Alice P. Darby