Update/Correction: Despite what I (and every civilian I spoke with) thought I heard (and re-heard in the Cox broadcast), the amendment requiring one security person per 50 attendees (instead of one per 100) did not pass. Slowdown’s Jason Kulbel e-mailed last night to say the amendment never got seconded. The column (below) has been updated to reflect the correction…
The ordinance takes effect 15 days after it’s signed by Mayor Fahey. I assume the venues can apply for this special license after that time. I talked to Slowdown’s Jason Kulbel before the meeting. He said Councilman Brown’s biggest concern with the ordinance was the lack of a “barrier” requirement — i.e., demanding the construction of a barrier within a venue that would divide minors from the rest of the audience. Such a barrier would be prohibitive (and nearly impossible) in Slowdown, where it would have to run from the stage to the bathroom all the way to the front entrance. That wasn’t going to happen, which meant Brown was never on board…
Column 169: No Poles, No Pasties
All ages shows become more legal.
It’s been about 20 years since I’ve been to an Omaha City Council meeting, and in that time nothing has changed about the council chambers — the paneled décor, the dirty upholstered chairs, the institutional florescent lighting. The place even smells the same, a mixture of dust, mildewed paper, Brylcreem, toilet bowl deodorant and bureaucracy.
Only the players have changed, but really, is Frank Brown that much different then say, Fred Conley? Is Garry Gernandt a big leap from Bernie Simon? No, not really. It certainly didn’t seem that way at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, which felt like stepping into a time machine, complete with all the usual inane discussions, dumb questions and stripper references that I remember from my days at J school.
At stake was the future of all-ages shows in Omaha bars. The council was voting on the so-called “music venue” ordinance introduced by Councilman Jim Suttle that would let bars allow minors onto their premises during live music events as long they were properly ID’d and identified as minors. The first reading of the ordinance was two weeks ago, and afterward no one thought it would pass. Certainly I didn’t.
But over those two weeks, the folks at Slowdown and The Waiting Room tried to find a way to make the ordinance more palatable to a council that’s stuck somewhere in the year 1972.
Among the compromises was an amendment that would call for those under the age of 18 to have a notarized parental consent form on file at the bar. I figured that could be a deal breaker — who wants to bother with looking up forms and checking signatures when there’s a line of people waiting to get into your venue?
But the Slowdown guys seemed fine with the amendment, especially considering that the alternative would mean only being able to allow access to those over 18, or worse, only those over 21. All-ages shows are a major staple to Slowdown’s business plan and philosophy. In the face of losing that option, digging through a database for a consent form was no big deal.
Neither, apparently, was the inability to sell pitchers of beer — not allowed under the ordinance. Neither could a patron buy more than two drinks at a time. Other new amendments included a more thorough definition of a live music venue — it must have a permanent raised stage, fixed lighting and a house PA. That definition leaves O’Leaver’s out of consideration, since it doesn’t have a real stage.
But the amendments didn’t stop there, and that’s where the inane discussions began. Councilman Gernandt suggested that the $250 “music venue permit fee” just wasn’t enough. How about $375? More “investment” would make the license owners more watchful, right?
And what about this part here that says there will be only one security person for up to 100 attendees, and another for each 100 additional attendees? Come on, how is one person supposed to watch 100 people? How about one security guy for every 50 attendees? Slowdown’s Jason Kulbel argued that such an amendment could result in overstaffing. Do the math. It would mean 10 designated security personnel for a 500-capacity show. That’s a lot of burly guys in “security” T-shirts. Between those two amendments, only the increase in the permit fees was adopted.
Then it was Councilman Brown’s turn, and that’s when things started to get out of hand.
Among Brown’s concerns: What’s to stop someone from dropping off their kids at Slowdown at 8 p.m. and using the bar as a trendy babysitting service? Nothing, of course, though as Kulbel said, it might be a lot cheaper and easier to drop your kids off at Denny’s.
What about karaoke? According to the ordinance, a live music venue would be defined as a place where a “live instrumental and/or vocal musical performance is occurring.” Well, isn’t karaoke a live music performance? What’s to stop a crappy karaoke bar from letting minors in?
And for God’s sakes, what about exotic dancing? What’s to stop a strip club that also has live music from allowing kids in the door? Hey, what about pole dancing? A shiver ran through the crowd. An amendment must be made that disqualified establishments that allow exotic dancing and pole dancing. It didn’t matter that the city prosecutor said such an amendment would be meaningless, as he wasn’t aware of any definitions for exotic or pole dancing in the city laws. “Without a specific definition, it’s impossible to enforce,” he said.
Still, the strip club amendment passed, bundled with the karaoke amendment.
But wait, what if someone stood on stage without an instrument and sang wearing nothing but pasties and didn’t dance? Would that be allowed? I’m not kidding, that scenario was actually considered and discussed. Kudos to the crowd of more than 100 kids, musicians and other interested parties for not laughing their asses off during this discussion.
In the end, the City Council adopted the ordinance to amend section 15-41 of the Omaha Municipal Code by a vote of 5 to 2. Chuck Sigerson, who remained silent throughout the ordeal, and Frank Brown voted against the ordinance. Brown said he felt that that all of the discussion was proof that the ordinance needed more fine tuning. He was wrong, or at least his cohorts thought so.
Afterward, everyone seemed pleased that all-ages shows would again be permitted in Omaha, just like, well, they always were. Except from now on, you’ll have to leave the pasties at home.
Wednesday night at The Waiting Room it’s karaoke of a different nature — Girl Drink Drunk, TWR’s version of Lincoln’s Shitook Karaoke featuring members of The Third Men and The Black Squirrels backing you on lead vocals. $5, 9 p.m. and by the way, it’s all-ages…
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