Monday, July 07, 2003

Too Young to Jam?

OK, I have two more rants left in me, both about music (imagine that), but I'll save the big one for later and throw this one out before I go to bed:

Everyone, repeat this after me: The sale of alcohol should NOT prevent people from experiencing live music!

I've felt this way ever since college, but it came back to the forefront the other day after I found out that one of my under-21 buds was asked to leave a downtown jam session the other night. He was not trying to buy alcohol; he had no intention of doing so. He was just there to enjoy the music and maybe sit in, but he wasn't even allowed to be there.

I'm not gonna name names, since I've been to this place myself (and I'm not saying that I'll never go back again), I'm friends with the guy who leads the jam, and it's basically a great scene...except for the "21+ only" part. Never mind the fact that this place calls itself a "coffeehouse" when it obviously serves way more than coffee...the thing is, any young jazzer, which would include a majority of the area's college students, can't experience these sessions because of the sale of alcohol, and to me, that's wrong.

Granted, in Texas, there's this thing called the TABC (Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission), and they've been rather sneaky in the past, sending in "undercover underagers" and busting the bars who served them. This makes everyone a little paranoid--justifiably so. But the law doesn't say that people under 21 can't be in a place where alcohol is served--that would rule out bowling, going to Chili's, etc., for high schoolers and most collegians; it just says that the under-21's can't be served alcohol--justifiably so. There's nothing that legally prevents people of all ages from seeing live music (which I feel, as a music instructor, is an important part of the learning process). So why does it happen so often?

A simple answer: Lazy club ownership. It would take work to pull this off, and many owners don't care to do so. But it's worked beautifully in the past; let me cite some examples (yeah, I'm not slamming the bad guys by name, but I'll happily give shout-outs to the good guys):
  • The Gypsy Tea Room and Trees in Dallas (run by the same company). Most of their shows are 17 and up (not like most parents of under-17's would let them go to Deep Ellum anyway), and the way they still make their money is by charging the 17-20 crowd a little bit more cover charge to make up for the alcohol they won't be buying. They do big X's on the hands of the 17-20's and a totally different stamp on the hands of the 21-and-up's. Also, they have a "no in and out" policy for the under-21's to keep them from going and sneaking a beer in their car or whatever.

  • The late, lamented Liberty Lunch (say that ten times fast?) in Austin. All ages were admitted; the 21+ crowd had wristbands, and the under-21's had this huge stamp of a fish that took up the whole top of the hand and took like four days to wash off. The music was enjoyed by all. (I'm not sure if this ever reopened or not; the original location lost its lease and was bulldozed for an office building or a parking lot *sigh*.)

  • The likewise late, lamented Rock Bottom Lounge at the University of North Texas. My alma mater did the all-ages thing with wristbands for the of-age as well, and it was a great music place for the whole university community. Lab Band night has never been the same since it closed. (UPDATE: Thankfully, Lab Band night would get better, as I discovered the following spring.)

  • Sambuca in Deep Ellum and Addison. These jazz venues have bar sections which are taboo for the underage, but they also have sizable restaurant parts, so as long as you go there during kitchen hours and buy a certain amount of food, everyone is welcome.

  • Many of the Deep Ellum clubs in Dallas have all-ages shows on occasion.
Now the cynical among you might say, "Kev, we can't help but notice that two of those clubs aren't there anymore. Maybe they can't make any money without selling tons and tons of alcohol." Maybe, but the demise of Liberty Lunch, for completely nonalcoholic reasons, is stated above; the RBL at UNT closed because of the campus smoking ban, which couldn't "grandfather in" the little club in the basement of the Union. (The only night that made money after smoking was banned was Lab Band night.)

So I'm not begrudging the club owners' need to make a living...I'm just saying, take the extra step and make your place available to all, especially if you have jazz music, which must be experienced "live" at times, and definitely if you're going to have an "open" jam session. Do wristbands, hand could even go nuts and have two separate entrances, like this pizza parlor we used to visit when I was a kid. Please don't let your alcohol sales keep people from enjoying live music!

Besides, there's a selfish reason for the club owners to be nice to the younger crowd: They're not going to be under 21 forever. If you disenfranchise them now, they might just take their money elsewhere when they come of age in a few years.

(Oh yeah--I don't know if this will work, but I'm about to start looking for a place that would like to host an all-ages jam session. If I'm really ambitious, I'll put the house band together myself...)

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