Column 168: Minor Threat; Jay Reatard, Black Keys tonight…

Category: Blog — @ 12:38 pm April 10, 2008

This column was written Tuesday morning, before Slowdown began its online petition drive, which you can sign here. Marc Leibowitz this morning sent out an insightful reason why you should sign it or send a letter to your councilman: “One of the main reasons we were able to bring so many shows to this market is that we were able to offer all-ages shows. And not just all-ages shows at venues like The Cog Factory that had no bar, but all-ages show at a venue that serves alcohol,” Leibowitz said. If all-ages participation at rock shows is banned at our primary venues (Slowdown, The Waiting Room), we’re going to see fewer shows coming through town.

Or Leibowitz will be forced to look elsewhere, to places like Sokol Hall and Sokol Auditorium — venues that have seen almost all of their indie music shows dry up with the opening of Slowdown and The Waiting Room. The Sokol facilities, which are not classified as “a bar,” would still be able to host all-ages shows and serve booze. Sokol would clearly have the most to gain if this ordinance fails to pass. Do you think that fact will impact how South Omaha Councilman Garry Gernandt will vote? Ah, but he’s only one vote. There are six more available. But by my last count, only two of those six supported the revised ordinance as it was originally presented. There’s still a lot of work to do.

Column 168: Minor Threat
Arguing for all-ages venues.
At issue is an ordinance introduced by City Councilman Jim Suttle a couple weeks ago that would create a new category of businesses called “music venues.” The ordinance would allow these designated bars to admit minors as long as the bars followed security measures, including having wristbands for those 21 and older and serving alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks in different glasses.

The ordinance was discussed at a City Council meeting two weeks ago. Among those speaking in favor were Matt Oberst (Conor Oberst’s father), David Jacobson (the father of Film Stream’s Rachel Jacobson, who also is an attorney representing Slowdown and the Waiting Room in the matter), Jason Kulbel (Saddle Creek Records executive and co-owner of Slowdown) and Marc Leibowitz (co-owner of One Percent Productions and The Waiting Room).

Their arguments are obvious to local music fans: Omaha’s world-renowned music scene was created by a bunch of kids who grew up watching bands perform at all-ages shows. To prevent the next generation from seeing these shows because they take place in bars (rather than halls) would be a tragic blow to the continued growth of the local arts and music scene.

Among those speaking against the ordinance were members of Project Extra Mile (PEM), a group formed to fight underage drinking. Their chief concern: What would stop an adult from pouring alcohol into a minor’s cup at one of these bars? That, and the notion that it would be wrong to allow minors to mingle with adults drinking in public.

At this point, the councilmen already have made up their minds. They either see the ordinance’s obvious benefits, or see it as another wrong-headed opportunity for bars to get their hooks into the innocent minds of our youth. As one of the councilmen put it, surely if this music is as good as the proponents say it is, it can survive at venues that don’t serve alcohol, right?

Councilman Suttle knew that the ordinance wouldn’t pass in its original form, so he moved the vote — originally slated for last Tuesday — to this Tuesday in hopes of reaching a compromise that more councilmen could support. Maybe it’s a change from “all ages” to 16- or 18-and-older. According to the Omaha World-Herald, Councilman Franklin Thompson “is concerned with how the city can keep businesses that aren’t serious about music from qualifying under the new ordinance as a way to get minors in the door.” In other words he’s “worried that unscrupulous bar owners will attempt to turn their businesses into music venues as a way to skirt the existing law,” the story said.

This is where we indie music fans are guilty of wearing blinders. We only think of Slowdown, The Waiting Room and Sokol when we think of this ordinance. We forget that it would apply to all the bars in Omaha, not just the ones we frequent. We know that the folks who run “our” bars are honest, trustworthy, ethical people who will enforce the ordinance’s restrictions with an iron fist. In fact, we’ve already seen it. These bars have been hosting all-ages shows since they opened a year ago and have never been ticketed. For anyone who knows them, the idea of these owners allowing minors to drink in their establishments is, to say the least, amusing. Have you ever met a more paranoid bunch of people? I haven’t.

Although I don’t have any children (that I know of), I can say with confidence that I’m comfortable with any of my underage nieces and nephews seeing shows at these bars, and could recommend them to my friends and co-workers who have underage kids.

But, ironically, the bars that are pushing for the ordinance aren’t the ones in question.

How would bars like Glacier, The Arena or Chrome Lounge be classified? They host live music in the form of cover bands on weekends, but are known more as pick-up joints than music venues. Suddenly parents wouldn’t be as concerned about their underage daughters getting drunk as much as their daughters getting hit on by a 21-year-old horn-dog.

Still, I can’t imagine a place like Glacier ever wanting to admit anyone under 21. Minors are bad for the bar business, even if they pay extra at the door. They don’t get drunk, and bars make money off drunks.

The only solution to Thompson’s concern would be for the City Council to grant “music venue” status on a case-by-case basis, similar to how they grant liquor licenses. I’m not sure how that would work.

Anyway, this is the part in the column where I tell you to Google “Omaha City Council” for the contact information and write your councilman and make your voice heard. Will it make a difference? It can’t hurt.

You may want to point out that the current ordinance allows kids to go bowling or to hockey games at Qwest or Royals games at Rosenblatt — all places that serve booze in the presence of minors in a far less restricted fashion than the new ordinance allows.

But they already know that.

Or you may want to point out that kids who really want to drink, are going to drink. They’ll get their booze from somewhere. The only place they’re likely not going to get it is, well, at Slowdown or The Waiting Room.

But they already know that, too.

Or you may want to point out that not passing the ordinance will take away one more thing for kids to do on a Friday and Saturday night, in a city that is painfully at a loss for things for kids to do.

They don’t want to know that.

Like the folks who run Slowdown, Leibowitz also is calling for a show of support at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, which starts at 2 p.m. Plan on going. For you kids, I can’t think of a better civics lesson.

Tonight at Slowdown it’s The Black Keys with Jay Reatard, and it’s SOLD OUT.

–Got comments? Post ’em here.

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