Pitchfork Press

Cronkite Summer Journalism Institute 2012

State laws prevent nightlife, concerts from opening to all-ages

Photo by Julian De Ocampo – The Crescent Ballroom puts on dozens of shows each month, and while the majority of them are all-ages, several of them are exclusively for those over 21.

The nightlife at downtown Phoenix has been slowly rising over the past several years, but not for everyone.

If you are under 21, you are better off staying home than trying to get into some of the hot social locations and events cropping up around the area.

Club owners like visiting entrepreneur Chris Pordo, owner of multiple Seattle clubs and venues, justify this policy by saying that they “don’t want to deal with the legal ramifications.”

Pordo stated that in any state, a liquor license is a slippery thing to own. Mistakenly giving one minor an alcoholic drink can land a club owner in hot water, showering them with fines and penalties.

“Some club owners are just afraid of losing their license,” Pordo said, pointing out that while some clubs may mark minors to avoid the sale of alcohol to teens, it just isn’t ecnomically viable.

“It isn’t worth it to take this risk, especially since these people won’t be buying anything from the bar,” he said.

Despite not allowing minors into his clubs, Pordo said he does not mind going to events with minors.

“Minors going to them? I don’t care. I’m not mingling with them anyway, and it does allow for a bigger audience. It also just depends on what feel the venue is going for,” Pordo said.

But for those under 21, the age minimum can be cumbersome at best.

Carla Perez, an ASU student who works and attends classes on the ASU Downtown campus, said that for those under 21, many parts of Downtown Phoenix are off-limits.

She said that the lack of choices in food is particularly irritating due to the age limit set on some bars.

“They should just let us go in but not serve us alcohol. They don’t have to let us sit near the bar, but at least give us a place to be and spend time at night,” Perez said.

Another point of contention on age segregation that affects an even wider audience is that of concerts and entertainment.

Many teens scan concerts listings every day, their eyes glistening each week as their favorite bands make exoduses out to the Valley.

But they read the small print a little closer and that joy can quickly turn to disappointment because of two numbers: 21.

Twenty-one is the minimum age at a number of concerts occurring at venues all across the Valley. For many Valley teens, the label “21 and over,” or its lesser known but still restrictive cousin “18 and over,” is the death knell for hopes of adrenaline filled nights of fist-pumping glory to their favorite bands.

But why does this restriction get put in place?

The answer is both legal and financial, according to Charlie Levy, owner of the Crescent Ballroom, a new but burgeoning music venue and bar in the area. Levy also heads Stateside Presents, one of the state’s largest concert promoters.

Levy stated that Arizona state law actually requires venues with a capacity under 1,000 to physically create a barrier separating drinking and non-drinking sections.

Larger venues, like Tempe’s Marquee Theatre and the super-sized U.S. Airways Center in Downtown Phoenix, are relieved of this burden and allow the intermingling of both drinkers and minors.

For Levy, it’s a constant balance between accessibility and finances. All-ages shows add the additional cost of setting up a physical barrier between the age groups, as well as security to enforce the policy.

“I have to ask myself, ‘Are there enough people that are under 21 that are going to this show for the cost of the barrier and the security to watch it?’ If there’s going to be a large number of younger people going to see the show, the revenue will pay for the show. If it’s only a handful of kids, it won’t pay the costs,” Levy said.

But don’t get the impression that the venues want to turn away minors. In fact, Levy acknowledges that all-ages shows are the ideal to live up to.

Photo by Julian De Ocampo – Legal roadblocks force age restrictions on a number of shows due to the financial stress placed on music venues.

“It stinks,” Levy said. “I wish the law wasn’t that way. It totally stinks, but it’s something I have to deal with and everyone has to deal with. It’s not ideal, but if you look at the calender there’s a ton of shows that are all-ages. I wish every show was all-ages. But the law is the law, I have to deal with it.”

Kalyn Valley, 18, a recent graduate from St. Mary’s High School who has attended concerts at the Dodge Theatre, Crescent Ballroom, and other venues, feels that the division between age groups should depend on the actual content of the entertainment rather than to legal or financial reasons.

“It depends on the artist. If there’s specific types of genres of music maybe sometimes it shouldn’t be broadcast to such young children. The environment – there’s going to be a lot of older people around there – I don’t know if younger kids should really be around that, but otherwise fans should be allowed in.”

But other teenagers who would be barred from the events actually appreciate the age barrier.

Mikaela Joy Bennet, a high school student visiting Arizona State University from Illinois, concurred and said, “If a show has a lot of inappropriate things going on such as lyrics or message, then it should be over 21, especially if there’s a lot of alcohol.”

There is a possibility, however, that one day minors will have room in the mosh pit. Legal activism could one day change the law and act as a critical piece of whether or not a show is declared all-ages.

“Go and talk to your state legislature and your governor and tell them you want to see live music. Tell them clubs and venues under a thousand should play with the same rules as big places as Comerica [Theatre] or Orpheum [Theatre]. It really isn’t fair,” Levy said.

But for now, Levy said he’s doing his best to make sure anybody – drinker or not – can enjoy the show.

-Julian De Ocampo, Entertainment Editor

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