Live Nation, with help from Willie Nelson, getting musicians “On the Road Again”

Willie Nelson
Photo: KXT archives

As we’ve noted a few times over the course of the past year, Willie Nelson has a whole lot going on.

But if all he’s accomplished — and has yet to accomplish — wasn’t enough, he’s added one more item to his extremely full plate: Helping bolster the financial fortunes of artists performing at a handful of Live Nation venues across America.

As part of the “On the Road Again” initiative, Live Nation is committing to helping musicians “at the club level” (the booking leviathan’s own words) by forgoing any cut of merch revenue (a common practice among venues, where up to 30% of proceeds would go back to the venue), providing stipends on top of performance pay and giving bonuses to behind-the-scenes employees, like venue crew members and local promoters. Live Nation is also making a $5 million donation to Crew Nation, a global relief fund for live music crews.

“Touring is important to artists so whatever we can do to help other artists, I think we should do it,” Nelson said in a statement announcing the initiative. “This program will impact thousands of artists this year and help make touring a little bit easier.”

Locally, the only impacted venues will be the House of Blues (both the main room and the Cambridge Room) and the Echo Lounge & Music Hall.

While on its face the news would seem heartening for musicians playing the affected venues — it should be noted the beneficiaries of “On the Road Again” are wholly Live Nation owned, operated and/or booked spaces — there is some concern of impact elsewhere in the music business.

Indeed, the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), a trade association created in the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and the driving force behind the Save Our Stages Act, the largest-ever federal investment in the arts, released a statement to Consequence calling Live Nation’s efforts — which have an ambiguous end date; the press materials only allude to “the rest of this year” — “a calculated attempt to use a publicly-traded conglomerate’s immeasurable resources to divert artists from independent venues.”

“Independent stages, where the majority of artists, musicians and comedians start their careers, are small businesses and nonprofits,” read NIVA’s statement in part. “They are continually facing rising costs, increased deceptive ticketing practices in the resale market, and ongoing challenges following the global pandemic. … The economics of touring must drastically improve for artists and independent venues. There has to be a better way.”

Whether Live Nation’s efforts to make touring for musicians working at the club level less onerous is a good or a bad thing remains to be seen. For now, a Texas icon is eagerly lending a hand to help get fellow artists back “On the Road Again.”

Preston Jones is a North Texas freelance writer and regular contributor to KXT. Email him at [email protected] or find him on X (@prestonjones). Our work is made possible by our generous, music-loving members. If you like how we lift up local music, consider becoming a KXT sustaining member right here.