For the tenth time, Independent Venue Week will honor local music venues that have recently overcome unimaginable hardships. The cost-of-living crisis is now a threat for those who made it through the Covid lockdowns and capacity-reduction measures. BBC News spent the night at a well-known venue in Milton Keynes that is struggling to keep the customers coming in. Pubs and small venues across the UK are fighting to stay open. Could rising costs signal a final encore?
Perhaps never has the thrill of attending a live performance—with its raucous crowds, thundering bass, and sweat dripping from the ceilings—been more in jeopardy.
Even so, The Craufurd Arms is crowded on this bitterly cold Sunday night in January. The headlining act, the Los Angeles four-piece Dirty Honey, more than justifies their booking by selling out this 270-seat venue and drawing fans from across the nation.
The pub and venue have served the Wolverton community in various forms for more than a century. It was as quiet as an unplugged guitar amp not long ago in this room full of music lovers.
It was compelled to close its doors during the Covid-19 outbreak, just like other businesses across the UK. Furloughed workers and uncertainty about the organization's future.
Fortunately, a lower rent was negotiated with the landlord, and an Arts Council England grant kept it afloat.
In order to make some money, the establishment started selling branded goods and provided locals with a home delivery service using its fully stocked alcohol fridges.
About 1,000 fans donated £30,000 to keep the venue open, and their names are now proudly displayed above the bar.
"The pandemic was difficult; I worried about the staff and what would happen. Max Harvey, who has been co-owner of the Craufurd Arms with Jason Hall for the past ten years, says, "But we managed.
He admits that receiving such fervent support feels "quite overwhelming," but he cautions that the journey ahead will not be any simpler.
"Cost increases are currently the main danger. The cost of energy is just absurd, Max complains.
"Our electricity has increased fourfold from £16,000 to £72,000 annually, not including gas and water, which have both increased by a factor of two.
"These are the biggest increases in overhead we have ever seen, which poses a serious threat to the viability of the company. ".
According to Max, this has compelled even more adaptation.
In order to make some money, he has decided to close the location on Mondays and Tuesdays, but he is opening it up to more of the neighborhood, including for theater companies and video shoots.
Drinks prices, a major source of income, have had to go up to a level where people are still willing to pay while also covering the rising costs from suppliers because they have little control over the ticket prices they can charge because many touring acts make their own decisions.
"On a sold-out show, we might make $6,700 or $7,700 over the course of a weekend [over the bar].". You can take as many as eleven larger ones. But we're reducing to about four and a half," says Max.
According to him, concertgoers are attending gigs less frequently than they once did and are also spending less money when they do.
He laughs a little nervously and says, "How do we make our money?
"All we need to do is keep punching. Get the shows scheduled and work on drawing crowds. Be innovative and try new things. Due to the fact that it's a fantastic space, we're opening it up to creatives and anyone else who wants to use it. ".
The Music Venue Trust has been pleading with the government to find a solution since warning that rising energy prices pose an "existential challenge" for venues all over the UK in September.
Trina Yates, a Cambridge attendee, claims that it is still worthwhile for her to make the trip to a show that is only 50 miles away.
"There is a problem with some of the bigger venues where tickets can be several hundred pounds, which is really out of reach for many, many people. We received two incredible bands tonight for a price of £12.50, she claims.
Local resident and 26-year-old Antonella Sexton concurs. "It's reasonable. You see, I can't afford to spend £60–£70 on a major concert. Now £12.50, which equals two meal deals, is manageable. ".
The Craufurd Arms has an excuse to offer an event-filled week with tickets costing about £10 because it is participating in Independent Venue Week, which runs from January 30 to February 5. Pip Blom from Amsterdam is the one who gets things going.
According to organizers, it is a "celebration of independent music and arts venues and the people that own, run, and work in them," and it is taking place in more than 300 venues across the UK.
Being a part of Independent Venue Week is fantastic, according to Max, and it honors all the small venues across the nation that do wonderful things for their local communities as well as present excellent performances and works of art.
We adore it. Simply excellent awareness, really. Although we only play seven shows, many venues host tons of cool events like art exhibits and book readings, which is great because it gives us inspiration. ".
Max advises those who haven't been to a small venue in a while to "go to them. Employ them. Use the amenities they provide.
"They performed a play. You risk losing the venue if you decide "I'm a little tired, I don't want to go to that.".
It will be lost if you don't use it. ".
Presenter of BBC Radio 6 Music Steve Lamacq says, "Independent Venue Week has always played a vital role in assisting grassroots venues at a financially precarious time of year. But now, as venues work to recover from the Covid lockdowns and deal with the pressures of the current cost of living situation, it's even more crucial.
It's also a great time to see some new and up-and-coming artists before they appear on the stages of summer festivals. ".
According to a Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport spokesperson, "We know this is a difficult time for music venues, and we remain firmly on their side.
The Energy Bill Relief Scheme, which includes businesses and arts venues, has provided an £18 billion package of assistance to organizations over the winter.
"Until the end of March, when the new Energy Bills Discount Scheme goes into effect to provide additional assistance for the upcoming year, the scheme will continue to provide organizations with valuable assistance.