© 2019 WERW. Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York.

Alcohol and Live Music: Apples and Oranges?

November 5, 2014

After spending five days in in NYC for CMJ Music Marathon last week, I wanted to take this opportunity to write about a simple issue I encountered several times while in the city: not being 21. Typically when one hears the word “underage,” the immediate thought is under 21, and therefore unable to legally consume alcohol. However, when it comes to live music, (especially in NYC, as I discovered recently) this can also mean the inability to even enter a venue where your favorite band is playing that night, regardless of your intentions to consume alcohol. I pride myself for having the ability to read people decently well, but let me tell you: bouncers are the MOST DIFFICULT people to read. And this is good, seeing as their job is to adhere to strict guidelines when allowing customers into a club/venue. Even with this in mind, every bouncer is different. One night, at the Bowery Electric, there was a group called Faded Paper Figures  that I wanted to see, but the venue was listed as 21+. With no intention of consuming alcohol, I decided to go anyway, and when I arrived I flashed my CMJ badge, had my valid ID scanned (stating that I am 18), and the bouncer told me to show my badge to another man inside who would let me in. Was this a fluke? Did he misread my age? Was he just being nice? Did he trust that I wouldn’t drink because I didn’t give him a fake ID? Obviously I did not question my entry, so I will never know the answer to these questions. 


Other nights, I was not so lucky. The next night, I intended to go to Santos Party House, another 21+ to see MADE IN HEIGHTS. Since the previous night had gone so well, I hoped to be allowed in again. That did not happen. A few people in front of me, the bouncer announced that they would no longer be accepting CMJ badges, so everyone had to buy tickets. This was no problem with me; I don’t mind paying to see one of my favorite artists play a show. I am unsure, however, if the badges had anything to do with the checking of identification, so the result may have been the same even if we didn’t need tickets to enter. I asked the bouncer if he could X my hands, face, and all visible skin, clearly with no intention of buying or consuming alcohol. He refused, saying I wouldn’t be allowed in anyway. Wasn’t this the whole point of the age restriction? So the bartenders didn’t have to worry about checking IDs at their bar? What about avid concert-goers who simply want to see the performance of a lifetime, stone cold sober? People like me are out of luck. My friend and I headed to another venue called Pianos. Two of our friends, also underage, had told us that the bouncer had seen their IDs, and politely X’d their hands and let them go see the music. But when we went, it was either a different guy or he was in a worse mood, because we received no such treatment. Again, unpredictable!


After reading this article about venues in Portland, I do understand why some venues choose to hold mostly 21+ events. If the venue is a bar, their main goal is to cater alcohol to people. If they hold an all-ages event, they may lose money since not all of their patrons will be purchasing a $5 beer. Even if the events are ticketed, a majority of the ticket revenue goes to the band(s), not the venue. In addition, the venue has to hire additional staff to tend to the needs of the underage kids, like more security guards. The lights also have to be bright enough for a security officer to distinguish a minor from a 21+ audience member, to be sure that minors aren’t drinking beverages purchased by older concert-goers. For some places, it is worth the lighting/staff changes in order to continue serving alcohol to a mixed-ages audience. Some venues try to host all-ages concerts, but find them to be a pain since younger kids are very immature with drugs and alcohol, frequently showing up to the event under the influence and being obnoxious. However, lots of bands depend on these kids to buy merchandise, which many 21+ audience members seem to not care about as much. So, overall, hosting 21+ shows is a little more than just laziness. Doesn’t mean I’m going to stop being annoyed about it.


The point of this post was not to complain about my misfortunes; I just wanted to provide some background information as to why I am writing on this topic. Having grown up in Washington, DC and attending concerts at various venues (Echostage, The Hamilton, U Street Music Hall, 9:30 Club, Black Cat, Merriweather Post Pavilion, others), not once has age been a problem for me. In addition, not once have I intended to or consumed alcohol before/during/after any of these concerts. I have witnessed many, many tailgaters and drunk people over the years that I’ve been attending live music events. While this was not in DC, one event that stands out to me is the Luke Bryan concert at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. I purchased two $89.95 face-value tickets for my sister and I to go see this concert (however, I bought them from Stubhub, so I feel no need to disclose how much I actually payed for them). The parking lots were full of tailgating when we arrived; we did not realize just how many people were tailgating, though, until we got inside the near-empty stadium during the first opener. I just had so much trouble understanding why people would pay so much money for an incredible stadium concert, just to stumble in wasted halfway through the headliner and remember nothing from the night. There are many people like me who do not like to be under the influence for concerts, but I know there are many more people who would rather get drunk before a live music event.


Anyway, the point of the above story is that, regardless of size of the venue or age, people who want to be drunk at concerts will get drunk before concerts. According to an older article from 2009, Minneapolis was considering drawing a larger boundary between alcohol and age at live events. It can be 21+ with booze, or all ages and no booze, the intention being to eliminate 16+ or 18+ shows where underage kids end up drunk anyway. As mentioned earlier, even with added security and brighter lighting, it can be hard to tell who has X’s on their hands and who doesn’t. But this regulation is still ignoring the facts: who ever said that the only way to get drunk is to buy alcohol on-site? Whether it’s tailgating in a parking lot or pre-gaming in a friend’s basement, those who want to drink will drink. There’s no stopping that as long as the underage kids act like they’re sober at the door. So are 21+ venues really going to stop underage drinking? Not in the slightest. So please, let me in!!!


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