All-ages rebirth?

Recent signs—and the efforts of a few dedicated promoters—could mean more rock shows for young music fans.

WHEN RKcNDY CLOSES later this year, Seattle’s all-ages rock show landscape will look something like a desert. It’s become especially barren this year, as the only other venue to regularly book shows for the under-21 set, Velvet Elvis, shut its doors in early summer.

Among the many reasons that a teenager can’t see her or his favorite band in a club setting in this supposed music capital, one stands out: money. It’s hard to make any cash—let alone sustain a business—off shows where liquor can’t be served, and the state dictates that minors and liquor and live music can all exist separately but never together. In recent years, civil society advocates like City Attorney Mark Sidran have encouraged the expansion of potentially crippling legislation like the teen dance ordinance, arguing that club promoters are too greedy to care about the well-being of underage patrons. So the situation is bleak.

But that’s not stopping some people from trying to find an oasis. The Pioneer Square nightclub the Fenix finagled permission to host all-ages shows provided that no alcohol is served and for several months has been booking the occasional matinee for young music fans. A new organization, the Northwest All Ages Show Association (NAASA), has stepped up efforts to find a permanent space where young Seattle residents can go to see live music—and where artists can play to young audiences.

One of NAASA’s heads, Kate Becker, is no stranger to hosting all-ages events. She’s booked shows into the Old Fire House in Redmond for seven years. Along with partner (and Seattle Weekly promotions assistant) Michael Compton, she’s recently begun promoting rock shows wherever possible in Seattle. So far, NAASA has brought bands such as Fugazi, Sleater-Kinney, Pedro the Lion, and 764-HERO to venues such as RKCNDY, Velvet Elvis, the all-ages dance club DV8, and Washington Hall.

Why does Becker bother? In part because she’s responding to bands that perform at the Old Fire House who say that they’d love to play for all-ages audiences in Seattle but can’t. “I live in Seattle and there’s a severe shortage of all-ages shows,” she says.

She’s also inspired by some of the recent positive signals coming from the political sphere. Becker and other community figures sit on the Music and Youth Task Force, which will soon present recommendations to the Seattle City Council on how best to revise the restrictive teen dance ordinance. Becker is confident that the yearlong discussions have taught council members that most all-ages shows go off without a hitch, contrary to media portraits that often equate young music fans with violence. “Many of those who make the laws have never been to an all-ages show,” she says. “What it comes down to is trying to mitigate peoples’ fears.”

The task force has made such strides that the Liquor Board and the city may consider relaxing the ban on liquor from all-ages shows. It’s now possible to imagine a venue like the Fenix or the Showbox hosting an all-ages show with a beer garden in the same room; this would make it financially feasible for such a club to consistently open its doors to music fans both young and old. “I tend to be an optimist,” Becker says. “I believe it can happen.”

Read our fall music picks.