Young Seattleites Feel Limited By Lack Of All-Ages Live Music

Sep 2, 2014

At Seattle's Capitol Hill Block Party this July, a crowd at the Main Stage was waiting for hip-hop artist ASAP Ferg to come out. The crowd was chanting and everyone was excited.

"There's a lot of emotions attached to music that you don't get with talking to somebody or going down the street," observed Mila Widmayer, 16. She's a singer and a volunteer at the Vera Project, an all-ages concert venue. "Music just affects your life in ways that other things can't."

In Seattle, young people have access to a lot of live shows, but they say there are still limitations. 

The Capitol Hill Block Party is one of the events in Seattle where young people can see an all-ages show. But even there, many shows are closed to youth under age 21.

Last year at the Block Party, Widmayer planned to see an artist that she really liked, but was turned around at the venue for not being old enough. "We were all so disappointed, so we just went and saw another random show that we didn't really like all that much," she said.

This year was no different. Widmayer pointed out that two-thirds of the Block Party stages are 21 or older. The stage sponsored by the Vera Project and the main stage were the only places she could go.

"It really disappoints me," she said, "because I'm not able to get the experience of live music that I want."

Some other teens at the event felt the same way.

"It's unfortunate that 21 and over shows generally get the better artists," said Kenzo Perron.

"So much of the Seattle music scene is supported by under 21 fans," added Marco Schugurensky.

Daniel Glynn agreed that there are "definitely too few" all-ages shows. And this doesn't just affect the concert-goers.

Grace McKagan, of the Pink Slips, is an underage artist who wouldn't even be able to get into some of her own shows. "A lot of times we have to play clubs that are 21 and over shows," she said. "It's kind of difficult because I want my friends to come and see us and stuff, but they can't. And we have to wait outside, play our show, and then leave."

This issue pops up at many Seattle clubs, including Neumo's and Barboza. Steven Severin is an owner of both venues and has been working in the Seattle music industry for over 15 years.

He said it's more expensive to put on an all ages show, because the shows make money off of alcohol sales. If underage people are allowed in, the club has to have more security and a physical separation between where the drinks are and the all-ages area.

And in Severin's experience, some adults just don't want to go to a show if it's not 21 or over. "I've heard it more than once: People deciding they're not going to come because they don't want to be around younger kids. They want to have the freedom to drink on the floor."

In the last few decades, Seattle's music scene has gone through drastic changes. Starting in 1985, the Teen Dance Ordinance restricted underage people from going to concerts. After backlash and reform, the All Ages Dance Ordinance was instated in 2002. This made it easier for venues to put on shows that underage fans could go to.

Severin has been through it all. But from his experience with Neumo's, he observed that "it's pretty alarming how few underage kids actually come" to underage shows.

Mila Widmayer said  that the shows she's seen at the Vera Project usually don't fill up either.

But why? At the Block Party, music fan Daniel Glynn said that maybe it's because the word doesn't get out enough about all ages shows.

Marco Schugurensky said that most shows he's interested in are 21 and up. "Maybe they aren't doing the right job of pairing which shows would appeal to which audiences," he said.

Severin's advice to youth is to take matters into their own hands. "Go in and put on your own shows! Go be a part of the Vera Project which is always all ages. Do your own work," he said.

RadioActive is KUOW's program for high school students. This story was produced in RadioActive’s Summer Introductory Workshop. Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook.