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Capturing Los Angeles' COVID-Closed Venues

Gold-Diggers in Los Angeles

Photo by Farah Sosa

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Capturing Los Angeles' COVID-Closed Venues

With clubs closed until at least next year, photographer Farah Sosa spends her nights documenting L.A.'s shuttered venues—many of which may not reopen without federal support

GRAMMYs/Aug 6, 2020 - 12:33 am

There has been shockingly little pit hospitality for the entertainment industry during the coronavirus pandemic. As live music venues around the country — D.I.Y., independent, corporate and mid-sized holdings – settle into the fifth month of closures, many are waiting with baited breath for the passage of federal funding packages that could be the difference between life or death for American music.

Over the past several weeks, Congress has introduced bills that would alleviate some financial burden for small businesses such as music venues, recording studios and self-employed creators. The bipartistan RESTART Act would establish a loan program for, and offer loan forgiveness to, music creators through the rest of 2020. On July 22, the Senate introduced the $10 billion Save Our Stages Act — a Small Business Administration grant program that would provide six months of support for independent live music venues, which could use funds to pay for capital expenses associated with social distancing, COVID-incurred costs, as well as regular operation.

The Regent Theater in Downtown L.A. was originally a cinema built in 1914.
Photo by Farah Sosa

The proposed legislation is the result of months-long lobbying efforts from industry advocates like The Recording Academy and the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), as well as musicians themselves, but must be voted into law before Congress goes into August recess. According to a press release from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who co-introduced the Save Our Stages act, independent venues expect to lose $9 billion before 2021. In a letter to Congressional leadership, NIVA noted that the majority of its 800-plus members are in dire straits: "With zero revenue and the overwhelming overhead of rent, mortgage, utilities, taxes and insurance, 90% of independent venues report that if the shutdown lasts six months and there’s no federal assistance, they will never reopen again."

Many iconic musicians — including Elton John and Joni Mitchell — got their start at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. "The last show I saw there was Café Tacuba and they were outstanding!" Sosa said.
Photo by Farah Sosa

In Southern California – the epicenter of pop music and an important incubator for up-and-coming artists as well as those in sprawling underground scenes — venues have been shut down since March and will be among the last businesses to reopen. Los Angeles is now a tableau of shuttered venues and hopeful marquees encouraging people to hang in – though no one knows for how long. Industry analysts are looking toward spring 2021 for the return of live music, though Lollapalooza co-founder Marc Geiger recently said he didn’t expect concerts or festivals to return until 2022. In the meantime, Los Angeles nightlife photographer Farah Sosa – who also co-founded popular global bass crew Subsuelo – has been documenting this hopefully temporary absence of industry.

"I am predominantly a music photographer and when the pandemic started, of course all the venues shut down. And as much as I wanted to try to document COVID moments, it just seemed unsafe," Sosa said. “Instead of shooting people with masks, I thought that I would start documenting things that mattered to me the most — the places where all the magic happened. I started looking for venues where I had documented music before. We do not know if these venues are going to survive, so I wanted to make sure that the history remained somewhere." Since May, Sosa has documented approximately 40 venues around Los Angeles, working on dark, empty and often eerie streets.

The AEG-owned El Rey Theatre in L.A.'s Miracle Mile was the first Farah Sosa shot. "It was very shocking. Everything was dark — never in my life of living in Los Angeles had I seen that before."
Photo by Farah Sosa

Carl Lofgren owns three venues in L.A. – bar/nightclub La Cita, recording studio-hotel-bar Gold-Diggers and the nightclub El Dorado – all of which closed and furloughed employees. "We've shut everything down; we've minimized all of our expenses as best as we can. It's just a matter of us trying to make what little money we have stretch through until we can reopen," Lofgren said, adding that he is fortunate to own the buildings housing two of his businesses. "We felt that our needs and our businesses were pretty much being ignored [by the government]. When the protocols came out about how to reopen, they kind of just lumped us in with restaurants. So it's really difficult for us to get enthusiastic about reopening; we really need [legislators] to step it up, do what they do for other businesses and really come to our aid. I mean, look how much money they're willing to pump into the airline industry or the oil and gas industry."

Gold-Diggers on Santa Monica Boulevard was previously a bikini bar before being reincarnated in 2018.
Photo by Farah Sosa

Even with federal funding from RESTART and Save Our Stages legislation, it’s possible that the reality Sosa’s photos depict will stick around for the time being. Brett Powell, who co-owns 1720 LA, a 3-year-old all-ages venue in Los Angeles’ warehouse district, wishes independent venues had received money earlier. "Now we're crossing our fingers and hoping that in the next few weeks we hear good news. But if we are just a percentage of venues that are still clinging on to hope, there are many that have lost hope."

1720 LA was financially healthy prior to COVID — which may make the all-ages venue one of the lucky post-pandemic survivors.
Photo by Farah Sosa

Independent venues – even those that own their buildings or have sympathetic landlords – have exceedingly high overhead and thin profit margins. Sources for this article said they had received no relief for the cost of city permits, insurance or high taxes. Yet the venue itself is just the tip of the iceberg; the network of businesses contracted through venues – from security companies to backline, food vendors and liquor distributors – as well as surrounding businesses that depend on pre- and post-show crowds have all suffered. "For every person you see on a stage, there's like 100 people behind them supporting," said Matthew Himes, director of programming and production for Levitt Los Angeles, a nonprofit that hosts 50 free and sonically diverse concerts in MacArthur Park throughout the summer.

"Levitt Pavilion is one of my favorite outdoor venues. They really worked hard to bring quality music to MacArthur Park, which was historically not known for being the best place to hang out," Sosa said. "Because of the music, it became a special place for the community."
Photo by Farah Sosa

Levitt relies on sponsorship and federal, state and local grants to fund its programming, though much of that has dried up as budgets shrink or are redirected to COVID safety. "The PPP loan was just a Band-Aid. We understand that this is gonna be at least another year for venues. A whole year is a long time to be able to fund every single person to at least pay their bills. People are getting other jobs, but L.A. has a 20 percent unemployment rate — I can't even get a job at Home Depot right now,” said Himes, who would normally be working six or seven days a week on Levitt programming.

The intimate Mint on W. Pico Boulevard has been in business since the late 1930s and for decades was a renowned blues venue.
Photo by Farah Sosa

Owners and promoters such as Live Nation, Goldenvoice and AEG are also suffering without revenue from festivals like Coachella and midsized spaces like The Wiltern and The Palladium – though those corporations are more likely to have the financial means to survive COVID closures. Goldenvoice and AEG declined to comment, though several people interviewed for this article expressed concern that corporations' smaller venues will suffer the most in the wake of COVID.

The Bootleg Theater in Filipinotown is an inclusive art space that hosts independent bands, theater, spoken-word and dance events.
Photo by Farah Sosa

"I don’t have anything against Live Nation or AEG, but I just don't think that them having a monopoly on music or the arts is going to be conducive. We need diversity; there needs to be some sort of competition amongst the arts," Himes said, adding that independent venues are where the majority of artists cut their teeth. "The whole L.A. jazz scene, like Kamasi Washington and Thundercat, 10 years ago they were at some bar in College Park in front of like, 20 to 40 people. There’s a progression that needs to happen for musicians to be able to get their name out there, and that requires all the people behind the scenes that elevate and curate that experience."

The Echo and nearby Echoplex are run by Spaceland Presents, which hosts punk shows, dance nights and the hugely popular Funky Sole DJ party.
Photo by Farah Sosa

"Bands like Chicano Batman, La Santa Cecilia, Las Cafeteras — 5 to 10 years ago when they started out, they couldn't even find a place to play. We were very proud to put them on our stage and now they're headlining festivals, and they're GRAMMY award winners," said Lofgren, who moved from Maryland to Los Angeles in the early 1990s for the city's iconic nightlife. "This is where we make the dreams; that's irreplaceable. Music is a cultural thing; are we gonna start giving up on our culture?"

A legendary Sunset Strip venue, The Roxy has hosted everyone from Bruce Springsteen and The Temptations to punk band The Germs and Pee Wee Herman. Its building is leased by Goldenvoice-AEG.
Photo by Farah Sosa

Without federal support, venues have had to find new ways to monetize their spaces. Some have turned to live streaming and other promoters have held drive-in concerts. Historic spaces like Silverlake's The Satellite are converting to restaurants. "We use GoFundMe and I know a number of other venues have as well," Lofgren said. "What does that say about our country when the only route that we have to save ourselves is by begging people to support us? It's not that I don't appreciate those people, because I certainly do. But it just doesn't seem right to me that we should expect other people, fans and customers, to be the ones to save us." The owner suggested streaming services like iTunes and Spotify offer some sort of financial support, adding, "I think it really needs to be a combination of government and private industry helping venues. I just don't know if that falls in line with the capitalist aspect of our world."

On July 17, The Satellite announced it would reopen as a restaurant. The Silverlake venue could "no longer afford to wait for the day we will be allowed to have shows again.”
Photo by Farah Sosa

Even after a COVID vaccine is developed, 1720 owner Brett Powell expects it will be difficult to convince people to go back out to concerts. "It’s tough to think about the next 3, 5, 10 years, especially not knowing how much longer this goes on. So of course, this could lead to venues not being able to operate anymore, be insolvent, but we like to stay positive," he said. Questioned Himes, "How is the audience going to come back? Do they have extra money for an extracurricular activity if everyone’s been out of work? If people don't feel safe and feel comfortable, that's going to affect us as well."

The Teragram Ballroom opened in May of 2015. It launched a GoFundMe page in March.
Photo by Farah Sosa

While the live music industry collectively holds its breath waiting for legislation to pass through Congress, there is hope in the bipartisan support for the RESTART and Save Our Stages bills. "Across all political beliefs, across all people, one thing is universal and that is music. It soothes the savage beast and it's something that we all agree brings joy to our lives," Lofgren said. "Supporting music and art culture should be universal. And I think if we don't do this, we're really turning down the wrong road for our country. The height of culture and civilization is when you're focused on creativity and artistic development."

Sosa was looking forward to shooting Finnish cello metal band Apocalyptica at The Mayan — a stunning DTLA movie palace built in 1927 which now hosts a variety of bands.
Photo by Farah Sosa

"The United States' music scene is extremely strong and dominates globally, and has for a long time. Not to be so grandiose, but a huge part of what makes up Los Angeles is our music," Himes said. "It’s not speaking in hyperbole or being overdramatic to say if we don't do anything, a year from now, you're not gonna have the culture that you use to have, that you grew up talking about."

The Theatre at Ace Hotel is a 1,600-seat Spanish-Gothic movie palace built in 1927.
Photo by Farah Sosa

Although photographing now quiet places that were once responsible for so much joy is emotionally exhausting, Farah Sosa remains committed to Los Angeles’ nightlife. "I do have a lot of hope that the people that come after me, younger generations of photographers, will be able to understand what a thrill it is to be on stage, in the first row, taking photos and documenting history," she said.

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Rolling Loud Festival Los Angeles Reveals 2019 Lineup

Doja Cat

Photo: Scott Dudelson/Getty Images

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Rolling Loud Festival Los Angeles Reveals 2019 Lineup

Find out who's bringing the heat to the hip-hop fest returning to L.A. this December

GRAMMYs/Oct 2, 2019 - 12:11 am

Today, Rolling Loud revealed the massive lineup for their final music festival of 2019, Rolling Loud Los Angeles, which is set to take over the Banc of California Stadium and adjacent Exposition Park on Dec. 14–15.

This iteration of "the Woodstock of Hip-Hop," as the all-knowing Diddy has called it, will feature Chance the RapperLil Uzi VertJuice WRLDYoung Thug and Lil Baby as Saturday's heavy-hitting headliners. Sunday's headliners are none other than Future, A$AP Rocky, Meek Mill, YG and Playboi Carti.

L.A.'s own Blueface, Tyga and Doja Cat, are slated to perform, as well as representatives from the diverse rap scenes across the country, including Wale, Juicy J, Lil Yachty, Megan Thee Stallion, Gunna, Tyla Yaweh, Machine Gun Kelly and Yung Gravy.

The lineup announcement follows the successful wrap of Rolling Loud Bay Area in Oakland this past weekend. The event's flagship Miami event took place in May this year, and the New York and Hong Kong debut editions will both take place later this month.

Tickets for Rolling Loud L.A. go on sale this Friday, Oct. 4 at 11 a.m. PST. The complete lineup and more info on this event and their other fests can be found here.

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Jay-Z And Meek Mill's REFORM Donates Surgical Masks To Vulnerable Prison Population

Meek Mill

Photo: Brian Stukes/Getty Images

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Jay-Z And Meek Mill's REFORM Donates Surgical Masks To Vulnerable Prison Population

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says correctional facilities are particularly vulnerable places for COVID-19 to spread

GRAMMYs/Apr 7, 2020 - 05:01 am

Jay-Z and Meek Mill's criminal justice reform organization REFORM has donated roughly 100,000 surgical masks to correctional facilities including in the states of New York, Tennessee and Mississippi.

The organization said it donated 50,000 masks to New York City's Rikers Island Correctional Facility, 40,000 masks to the Tennessee Department of Correction and 5,000 to Mississippi State Penitentiary. Spin reports that an additional 2,500 masks were sent to a Rikers medical facility. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says correctional facilities are particularly vulnerable places for COVID-19 to spread.  

"Incarcerated/detained persons live, work, eat, study, and recreate within congregate environments, heightening the potential for COVID-19 to spread once introduced," according to the CDC. Other vulnerabilities include the fact that incarcerated people, for the most part, can't leave and, depending on the size of the facility, space for someone to medically isolate could be limited.

"We need to protect vulnerable people behind bars & GET THEM OUT!" REFORM said in a tweet. The organization sees this as a threat to public health and said on its website that it is working with experts and advocates "to develop a set of common-sense recommendations that would make us all SAFER."

They also announced on Twitter that they helped the South Carolina Department of Corrections locate 36,000 masks for their population. 

Across the nation, COVID-19 cases have been popping up in correctional facilities, including North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee

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GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Will Smith Dedicate His 1999 Best Rap Solo Performance GRAMMY To His Son

Will Smith at the 1999 GRAMMYs

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GRAMMY Rewind: Watch Will Smith Dedicate His 1999 Best Rap Solo Performance GRAMMY To His Son

In his acceptance speech, he offers thanks to his family and "the jiggiest wife in the world, Jada Pinkett Smith"

GRAMMYs/Sep 25, 2020 - 11:17 pm

Today, Sept. 25, we celebrate the birthday of the coolest dad—who else? Will Smith! For the latest episode of GRAMMY Rewind, we revisit the Fresh Prince's 1999 GRAMMY win for Best Rap Solo Performance for "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It."

In the below video, watch rappers Missy Elliott—donning white leather—and Foxy Brown present the GRAMMY to a stoked Smith, who also opted for an all-leather look. In his acceptance speech, he offers thanks to his family and "the jiggiest wife in the world, Jada Pinkett Smith." He dedicates the award to his eldest son, Trey Smith, joking that Trey's teacher said he (then just six years old) could improve his rhyming skills.

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The classic '90s track is from his 1997 debut studio album, Big Willie Style, which also features "Miami" and 1998 GRAMMY winner "Men In Black," from the film of the same name. The "Está Rico" rapper has won four GRAMMYs to date, earning his first back in 1989 GRAMMYs for "Parents Just Don't Understand," when he was 20 years old.

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Tyga Talks Inspiration Behind "Go Loko" & Collaborating With L.A. Rappers Like YG

Tyga 

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Tyga Talks Inspiration Behind "Go Loko" & Collaborating With L.A. Rappers Like YG

"Growing up in L.A., it's a really big culture here, Mexican culture," the rapper said. "So we really wanted to do something to give back to the culture."

GRAMMYs/Jun 8, 2019 - 04:16 am

Tyga's latest collab has him paying tribute to Los Angeles' large Mexican community. The rapper is featured on fellow L.A. rapper YG's  leading single, "Go Loko" off his latest album 4REAL 4REAL and when asked about his take on the song, he says much of it was inspired by Mexico's cultural impact. 

"Growing up in L.A., it's a really big culture here," he said. "Even YG could tell you, he grew up around all Mexicans, so we really wanted to do something to give back to the culture."

The video features visuals and symbolisms inpired by the Mexican community, including mariachi, but also by the Puerto Rican community (you'll easily spot the boricua flag). The song also features Puerto Rican rapper Jon Z. Tyga mentioned the diversity of Latinos on the different coasts and wanted to make a song that also celebrates the different Latin cultures in the country. "We wanted to do something different to kinda try to bring all Latins together," he said. 

Watch the video above to hear more about the song and the vibe when he joins forces with other L.A. rapppers. 

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