First Avenue Productions CEO Dayna Frank on Independent Venues and Producing Safe Concerts During Covid

Erica Campbell / December 21, 2021

The Minneapolis-based showrunner discusses the impact of the pandemic on live music, tips for artists and venues, and more on a new episode of the Co.Lab Sessions podcast.

In the spring of 2020, Dayna Frank was running her business as usual. But in one day, that all changed. “We never thought we would be shut down, completely 100% shuttered with two hours notice,” Frank says about closing down First Avenue Productions due to Covid-19. “On Friday, March 13, 2020, we had bands loaded in. We were ready to rock that Friday night and had to pull the plug based on the governor’s orders.”

Frank and her team had to learn how to move forward the best they could while making quick decisions to sustain their independent venue at a time when live shows weren’t an option. That’s why she co-founded and became board president of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), lobbying to pass the Save Our Stages Act, now called the Shuttered Venues Operators Grant Program, which was signed into law and has allocated more than $16 billion to venues in hopes of saving local stages. At the end of 2020, Spotify also donated $500,000 to help NIVA in their mission.

The experience has not only allowed Frank to positively impact independent venues across the nation, but has given her the know-how to handle unforeseen circumstances, including having to re-open venues while maintaining new Covid safety regulations. “One thing I've learned in the past 17 months is that, literally, nothing is unexpected anymore,” she says. “The key to just moving forward is maintaining utmost flexibility.”

Safely Reopening Venues

Though she admits there’s no one-size-fits-all option, Frank notes that independent venues across the country have to make their own Covid-19 safety decisions based on their location and operating model. “The thing about independent venues is that we all are independent,” Frank says. “That means we operate to the best service of our individual communities. So a number have implemented vaccine testing entry requirements, a number have mandated employee vaccinations, masking, putting in filters, and even stringent cleaning protocols.”

According to Frank, “every area” of her venue was changed by the pandemic. “We put in metal detectors, because you can't wand or pat down [attendees]. We're in the final process of building new green rooms so we can accommodate physical distancing for bands. Staff doesn't always love being masked, but that's the policy, and that's what we need to do to keep people safe.”

Supporting Independent Venues

For artists and fans interested in supporting independent venues, Frank shares that no act is too small. “If you would like to support independent venues and promoters, the best thing you can do is book a show with an independent venue and promoter,” she shares. “Everybody right now is wanting to do shows, wants to do them safely, and is ready to do them. We have on the website, [where you can buy] some merch, some really cool headphones. But also getting involved on social media and logging your support. It all counts. Every action from five minutes to five hours counts.”

How Venues Impact Communities

Though the past two years haven’t been easy, Frank has been encouraged by how venues came together. “I've spent a long time, basically every day the past 16 months, talking to independent venue owners and promoters across the country. And so that's been really inspirational to me,” she shares. She’s also watched members of her organization create a positive impact outside of music. “A NIVA friend in New Orleans during Hurricane Ida opened up his venue and started feeding people, started housing people, and started giving out free water. Just jumping into the fight whenever we can be helpful.”

For Frank, it’s about more than music. It’s about building community. “More than ever, we need these places where people can come together and have shared experiences and meet people that might not think like them or that have differing opinions that can challenge them.”

To hear more from Dayna Frank, listen to her episode of our Co.Lab Sessions podcast below, and click here to browse more episodes from the series.

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