Smile Politely

What happened to the all-ages venues?

What makes a music scene great? For me, part of it is having places where young musicians and music enthusiasts can be exposed to quality music from both local and touring bands. Places where people gather together purely in order to enjoy live music — not just to consume alcohol and socialize while passively taking in some live music. Places where the distinction between audience and performer is a little more ambiguous, where there isn’t an elevated stage clearly separating the two. For me, places like this were essential to giving me a deep appreciation of live music. I remember going to shows when I was too young to get into the bars at places like The Red Herring, The Dude Ranch, JFK House, Error Records, Dan Akroyd’s House, etc. For the most part, all of these places were extremely welcoming to younger folks. It seems to me that over the past few years there has been a decline in the number of local music venues that are open to all-ages. I’m sure there are a variety of reasons for this but it certainly affects the ability for young people to actively participate in the local music scene. Don’t get me wrong, there is still plenty of great music happening all over town — places like The Accord, Mike N Mollys, and The Canopy Club consistently book fantastic shows. However, all of these places are only accessible to people that are over the age of 18.

Recently I had a chance to get some input from a couple younger people — Josh Zuckermann and Saskia Bakker, who are very involved with the local music scene, in order to get their take on the importance of having music venues that are open to all-ages.

Smile Politely: What is your musical background?

Josh Zuckermann: I grew up surrounded by and playing music since as far back as I can remember. I started out with piano at age 8 and moved on to other instruments. My brothers were in the local band Rusalka and seeing them made me want to play shows in the scene as well. My band Kassius plays shows every blue moon in the scene (usually during the summer and breaks from school). I attend all the all-ages shows that I can. I really love the energy from a show. Lately, I’ve been working on my own solo acoustic music and want to start playing around town by myself.

Josh Z. Photo by Tom Chandler.

SP: What has your experience been like being too young to get into most local music venues?

Zuckermann: Often I’ll hear about a particular band coming to town but I have to curb my excitement and check first if they’re playing at a bar. Usually if I really want to get into a bar show, I’ll bring one of my parents and they’ll let me in. I’ve done this many times including going to see Maps & Atlases. Sometimes I’m not even allowed in with my parents there. Not allowing underage kids into certain venues is a hard problem to avoid.  Obviously bars wouldn’t stop selling liquor during shows just to let in under age kids. That would be bad for business. However, I still feel that more can be done to allow under age kids enjoy their love for music. I believe it starts with the bands. If they’re more willing to play house shows and events such as Undercut Collective, we could build an inclusive community for music lovers. It all starts with the inclusive intentions of the community. being under age has been a big hindrance for me. I’ve always looked forward to being 19 simply so I can see the bands I love. It’s a frustrating feeling. I bought a pass to Pygmalion Music Festival this year and it was a great experience. However, there were lots of bar shows that I couldn’t attend because I was under age. A few times I have stood outside the fence of Mike N Molly’s to watch some bands that I love such as Take Care. Though I am willing to pay, the experience is prohibited by the age limit.

SP: How has the music scene changed with regards to all-ages venues since you have been involved?

Zuckermann: When I first started going to and playing shows, Error Records was the place. Nathan Landolt kept bringing in amazing bands for cheap and still allowing local bands to play regularly. Not only this, but it was all-ages! High school kids could come to see their friends play at Error and it was an inclusive community. As a musician, I might often be overlooked as a performer because my friends are under age and can’t come to the show. Ever since Error Records closed, my involvement in the music scene has significantly decreased. Error Records was a safe and friendly environment. I started to go to shows at Thee Death Tower but in light of recent events it’s hard to know what is a safe venue for under age teens to see live music.

SP: What is the current state of all-ages shows in C-U? Do you know of a lot of people who would be interested in more all-ages shows?

Zuckermann: Undercut Collective is making big waves. Headed by a high school student, it’s an invaluable source for kids who want to see live bands. I’ve been to a few of the shows and I have not been disappointed. However, Undercut is more of an event organizer than a venue itself. The I4C has held a few shows that I have attended, yet some of them are still 19+. I truly don’t see a need for something like this at a venue that should be all-ages all the time. I have gone to a few shows at The Red Herring but haven’t seen any shows happen there recently. Perhaps I am unaware or they should start putting on more shows again. The all-ages venue situation could always get better. Whether more house venues arise or whether or not venues/bars lower the age limit to 18 even, the situation is one that demands attention from the music community. As long as there is a supply of all-ages venues, I can guarantee they won’t run out of high schoolers to come to the shows. There are a lot of talented high school musicians who are involved in band or such at their school. All they need is an opportunity to go to a show to witness the raw energy of a punk show has or the chill vibes from folk bands. All they need is exposure to get them involved in the scene. If people are looking for a solution to get out of a stagnant state, the solution is involving the next generation of musicians in the scene and placing all-ages venues at a higher level of importance.

Saskia Bakker. Photo by Chloe Rose Gerard.

SP: Saskia, how are you involved in the local music scene?

Saskia Bakker: Although I enjoy writing songs and playing guitar, the thing I love most is organizing shows. And that’s exactly what I do in the local music scene through my organization Undercut Collective. Undercut Collective works to put together shows in different venues around C-U, specifically orienting the shows to teenage audiences making them accessible and entertaining for teens that have never been able to experience the beauty of live music due to age restrictions.

SP: Most local music venues are 19+, how does this affect you?

Bakker: Almost every weekend there is a show that I want to go to but can’t due to being under 19. It’s incredibly frustrating especially as I become friends with local musicians and am still unable to access a way to see them perform more often than not. I do feel like this limits my involvement in the local music scene which limits my opportunities and altogether keeps me away from experiencing some incredible live music. Even some all-ages shows I have been to I still felt uncomfortable in. The adults seem to populate even the all-ages shows and gravitate toward the front in my experience, in those situations I become so aware of my age and inexperience, feeling self conscious surrounded by people decades older than me. Although again that just might be my personal experience.

SP: Describe the current status of all-ages music venues in C-U.

Bakker: From what I’ve seen, Undercut Collective shows tend to be the most geared toward teens than any others. In fact despite C-U being fairly progressive with an incredible and welcoming music scene, we have a severe shortage of all-ages venues. Although we have some great spaces out there, the bars and 19+ venues seem to monopolize. However, everyone in the C-U music scene is very supportive of all-ages shows and want to do their best to integrate teens into the local music community; there are many people working to make shows more welcoming and accessible. Hopefully we see some more all-ages venues in the future.

SP: What has Undercut Collective been up to recently?

Bakker: Undercut Collective just had a show a couple weeks ago at Channing-Murray with Fiona Kimble and Those Manic Seas from Richmond, Virginia. We have some fun shows coming up soon, with info to be released as soon as it’s finalized as well as some possible collaborations to be announced in the near future. We hope to expand and grow this year, and we are constantly working to bring people of all-ages into the local music scene.

Make sure to stay tuned to Undercut Collective in order to get more info about all-ages shows that they will be putting on in the future. Also, the Institute 4 Creativity is making a strong effort to have more all-ages shows including this and this.

More Articles