The kiddies deserve to rock, too

I was interested last week to learn the Oregon Liquor Commission (OLCC) has relaxed its draconian hold on minors by allowing some venues to allow underage music fans into shows where alcohol is served. This will go into effect June 1.

Before this ruling, minors were allowed in venues large enough to keep them physically separated from the boozers. The Crystal Ballroom in Portland is one of the few venues big enough to contain a pen for the kiddies.

Strike one for the minors, eh? Not so fast, grasshopper. Teens will only be admitted to venues where drinking "isn't the main activity and the venue has an approved plan to prevent underage drinking."

So that pretty much means only venues with the Crystal Ballroom's capacity will have a chance in hell of gaining the OLCC's stamp of approval. And there aren't many of those around these parts, far as I can tell.

One local venue that would benefit from allowing minors would be Johnny B's, which hosts a number of punk shows every year. And we all know how much the little'ns love the punk rock. I've seen them line up near the windows as the bands rage inside just so they can be near hardcore acts.

My hatred of teens aside, I do believe they should have the option of seeing local punk banks in quality venues. Never underestimate those formidable early years in a young musician's life. Witnessing punk and hardcore music live certainly changed me for the better.

It wasn't until I saw a string of crappy college punk bands in the suburbs of Chicago in 1992 that I realized my love of Poison was leading me down a dark and hopeless road.

It's easy to feel optimistic at the OLCC's ruling, but everyone who understands state bureaucracy knows that gaining their acceptance will prove nearly impossible. There will always be a catch.

For instance, what exactly does "liquor is not the main activity" mean? Will Johnny B's be able to prove that liquor is not it's main activity? Will the Black Sheep, if it chooses to host late-night rock shows?

The OLCC is leaving it up to the venue to provide the plan for keeping the kids away from Jagermeister shots. Will marking their grubby little hands with X's suffice? Will venues have to string up a chained area with two stormtroopers to stand guard to ensure no sins are committed?

For years, Oregon music enthusiasts have complained that venues and bands have suffered financially because minors are barred from shows, with the Portland scene providing the largest outcry, of course.

I will say that the underage shows I've attended in other states are livelier than most Oregon shows I've witnessed.

A Portland blogger echoed my sentiments, saying, "You have to admit that Portland has THE LEAST energetic music fan base of any city that I have been to. Yeah, there are a lot of fans, but I always think I walked into a pouting contest when I'm at a show — it's incredible ... . And teenagers would show a lot more enthusiasm and have better conversations."

True. Although this same blogger goes on to describe how "teenagers have better drugs, aren't fat, aren't bitter, are living off their parents as much as most 20-somethings in this town, and are more motivated and better looking than most people at local shows."

The sad fact is as much as the kiddies love their punk rock they love their liquor, too. Whatever financial gain a venue could make allowing minors to join in the fun will be negated as soon as one of them downs a quart of Smirnoff and dies an oh-so punk rock death near the front amplifier.

We'll see how it all plays out in the coming months. To be continued ...

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail

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