First they celebrated. Then they mourned. And that was just last weekend.

Now music venues and small stages across America have no idea how to feel — much less what to expect — as the latest government stimulus package pinballs between the White House, the Treasury Department and the Speaker’s Office.

The collapse of the live music industry in America was one of the most predictable outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet despite the industry flashing warning signs and even pooling their resources to hire lobbyists, targeted aid to the nation’s shuttered music venues — the places that were the “first to close and last to re-open” — has been a pipe dream.

The last week, however, has been especially sadistic to all business owners affected by the coronavirus lockdowns but especially music venues. The industry hailed a $10 billion aid package for closed music venues and stages — the Save Our Stages Act which we’ve written about here before — which was finally included in the House version of the larger stimulus bill, the updated HEROES Act. This was a major victory, and was celebrated as such.

This, right here, is a credible description of what being a hostage feels like, of riding the wave of dark hints and empty promises every day.

Within 48 hours, however, the HEROES Act was dead and the Save Our Stages Act with it, with Donald Trump announcing he was suspending all negotiations until after the election. Apparently, Trump hates helping people enough to risk losing the presidency to avoid doing it.

And then it was back on. Sort of. Just twenty-four hours later, those who saw this as another shitty negotiating tactic from The Art of the Deal were vindicated when Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to rekindle talks on a “broad coronavirus stimulus plan” Thursday, even while the White House communications director denied Trump’s interest in a “larger package.”

All indications of what the White House wanted out of this strongly suggested the narrowest sort of stimulus imaginable — a stimulus that would leave out aid for restaurants and music venues in favor of another one time payment of $1200 to individuals.

Yet just after this conversation, Pelosi and Mnuchin with House committee chairs Maxine Waters and Nydia Velazquez specifically discussed “how restaurants, small stages & other small businesses can gain better access to capital,” according to Speaker Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill.

Today, the White House reportedly extended a $1.8 trillion stimulus offer to the House – $400 billion less than the House version, yet significantly more than the narrow stimulus package they were promoting just a day earlier.

This might be confusing but it’s perfectly understandable: whole sectors of the American economy are being held hostage. This, right here, is a credible description of what being a hostage feels like, of riding the wave of dark hints and empty promises every day. This time, nobody’s trying to hide the crime. Everyone knows where the hostage is being held. It’s cruel, even diabolical, but completely rational for the shitshow we’ve grown used to.

Everyone knows that some form of broader stimulus is necessary. Even the Fed, which will be printing up the magical dollar bills to distribute, is begging for it. Likewise, everyone understands the dilemma of those in industries which cannot function normally due to government-imposed lockdowns. But we’re still wearing the blindfold, listening to disembodied voices cajole and threaten each other over our fate.

Where does this leave the thousands of independent music venues across America? In limbo — a familiar place over the last seven months and one the music industry is getting to know all-too-well.