The Magic Bag has hope for the new year

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published January 11, 2021

 The Magic Bag has been shut down since March of last year. Management stated the venue applied for loans and  grants to help keep the business going during the pandemic, but the recent passing of the Save Our Stages Act  gave it and other independent venues across the country a big boost.

The Magic Bag has been shut down since March of last year. Management stated the venue applied for loans and grants to help keep the business going during the pandemic, but the recent passing of the Save Our Stages Act gave it and other independent venues across the country a big boost.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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FERNDALE — Independent venues across the country have struggled since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. One such place in Ferndale is the Magic Bag.

The Magic Bag, the largest concert venue in the city, has been shut down along with every other entertainment venue since March of last year. Unable to host any kind of event, the building hasn’t been able to bring in any revenue.

In the months since the pandemic began, talent buyer Carey Denha said the Magic Bag applied for grants and loans in order to stay alive, equating it to taking out a third mortgage on a home while unemployed.

“We just kept looking for grants and loans to stay afloat,” he said. “There is no restaurant. There is no carryout for live entertainment. There’s been zero income at the Magic Bag since March. We’ve been able to scrape by to stay afloat until hopefully NIVA came through, which it did, thankfully.”

NIVA, the National Independent Venue Association, is a group of independent concert venues that worked to get the Save Our Stages Act passed by Congress as part of the recent COVID-19 relief bill. According to a press release, the legislation provides businesses a grant equal to 45% of their gross revenue from 2019, with a cap of $10 million per entity.

“This is the lifeline our industry so desperately needs to emerge from a devastating year,” Board President of NIVA Dayna Frank said in a prepared statement. “Without independent venues and promoters across the country working to engage their communities, staff, and artists, our voices would not have been heard — we are thankful for those tireless efforts. Careers came to a standstill overnight, and people continue to face personal hardships, which is why legislation like this and extending Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is essential.”

The legislation, according to Denha, essentially allows the Magic Bag to stay open to fight another day.

“To lose that (business) in any particular downtown district would be a loss for that area,” he said. “Once we were able to show them, they (understood) the impact of how live music and events bring people to the cities, and no one wanted to lose that — especially no one wants to lose any of the cultural icons of their city.”

In addition to dealing with the economic effect of the pandemic on the venue, Denha also had to manage his own health as he contracted the coronavirus at the end of March.

Denha said that figuring out how to keep the Magic Bag solvent while dealing with COVID-19 was the biggest hurdle he faced last year. He explained that he was hospitalized and suffered through the effects of the virus until December, which affected his mental capacity and muscles, all while having no underlying conditions.

“It would be like going to take a test and you had 12 beers,” he said of trying to work with the virus. “You’re just not going to be terribly sharp.”

Now that the Save Our Stages Act has passed, Denha feels optimistic about this upcoming year. He hopes that the vaccine will get rolled out soon so that everyone can get back to work, which is something for which he can’t wait.

“We’ve got to make sure that we can operate efficiently and properly, so we don’t have to close. Once everybody on staff has a vaccine and then bands are touring again, we’ll open,” he said.

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