When the band Sky Cries Mary takes the stage at the Fenix on May 9, the Pioneer Square nightclub and drinking establishment will be swarming with minors. What's prompting this outrageous behavior, where teenagers are shamelessly permitted to listen to live rock 'n' roll music under the very same roof where alcohol is regularly served? It's simple: Alcohol won't be served.
Because of all the hoopla about "added activities permits" and "teen dance ordinances," most denizens of Seattle nightlife assume that it's against the law for any club with a liquor license to host an all-ages rock show, and that the only options for kids are places that never, ever serve liquor, such as the Velvet Elvis or RKCNDY. Not so. As long as the licensee is in good standing, an owner can request permission to book a rock band and invite kids, provided the club makes two concessions: One, that the booze be banished from sight for the duration of the event; and two, that the fat lady sings by 8:59pm.
Sky Cries Mary singer Anisa Romero is actually quite slender, but she'll be responsible for ensuring that the band's set winds up prior to the 9pm curfew. She welcomes the possibility of 21-and-over clubs opening up to music fans of all ages. "Everyone is so frustrated with trying to play an all-ages show in Seattle," she says. Sky Cries Mary regularly treks down to Olympia's Capital Theater to play for the kids, she adds.
Although such all-ages matinees have been legal all along, some are touting the Fenix matinee as the long-sought solution to Seattle's all-ages rock show woes. After years of bad blood between the music community, Seattle police, City Attorney Mark Sidran's office, and the Washington State Liquor Control Board, Fenix co-owner and manager Rick Wyatt says the May 9 gig is "a step in the right direction" that he hopes will open up lines of communication. The Joint Artists & Music Promotions Action Committee (JAMPAC), which is co-hosting the event, issued a press release describing it as a "kick-off to a citywide awareness program regarding the issue of all-ages shows," and calling for greater cooperation between government officials and the music community.
But this spirit of cooperation is being undercut by other developments that will worsen, rather than improve, Seattle nightlife. The City Council is trying to hammer out the added entertainment ordinance, which would set regulations for liquor licensees that host live music in Seattle. At a public hearing last week, Sidran and others, citing a drain on police resources, criticized the council's draft for not placing enough responsibility on owners for problems that occur near their clubs. The club community meanwhile complained of a Sidran-endorsed clause allowing "summary suspension" of a licensee's added activities, whereby authorities could pull the plug on live music at a club that's been cited as a public nuisance.
Another obstacle to progress that popped up last week was a report that the state Liquor Control Board has asked for an investigation of its own 87-member team of enforcement agents based on complaints about extortion, conflict of interest, and racism. The announcement comes at a time when club owners like Wyatt were trying to establish a friendlier dialogue with the three-member board and the enforcement agents, who will now be distracted by an investigation involving the State Patrol and the FBI.
Such a diversion will likely hurt JAMPAC's hoped-for focus on the importance of all-ages shows, and it certainly doesn't bode well for what needs to be the next area of discussion.
Most club owners agree that all-ages shows like the Fenix's, where alcohol is prohibited, are financial duds compared to the more profitable scenario where beer and liquor are available. Other cities with vital music scenes don't have such a strict separation between all-ages and 21-and-over shows. Even under the Giuliani regime, New York City clubs are allowed to serve alcohol during all-ages events, provided that 21-and-over patrons show proof of age and wear a wristband to separate them from minors. Closer to home, Oregon's liquor board permits clubs to parcel off space for adults to drink, though the security requirements and bureaucratic hoops keep many from jumping into this arrangement.
Liquor board chair Eugene Prince says he understands the financial difficulties in hosting all-ages shows, and maintains that he's open to discussing the possibility of making the Fenix a stepping-stone toward a discussion of all-ages shows where alcohol could be served. But he notes that, all else aside, the board's concerns about underage drinking don't allow too much room for such a discussion. "I'd like to liberalize," he says, "but you don't want it to blow up."