By Meghan Conley
Arts and Entertainment Editor
It’s a golden age for arts and music in Southern Maine with national acts passing through practically nightly and more local music than you can shake a stick at. Clubs are opening, changing hands, upgrading, and growing to provide for this entertainment explosion. It’s a night owl’s dream.unless you’re under 21.
Most music and an increasing variety of other events are being hosted by bars and clubs that serve alcohol which means that minors are often left in the cold. While Maine law prohibits an entertainment-hungry population from taking in shows in these venues, the clubs themselves are starting to make accommodations for the next wave of bar-goers.
Joe Smith, who is himself under 21, plays with local band Jeremiah Freed which appeared at a recent all-ages show sponsored by WCYY. Smith is happy for the chance to open his fan base to a relatively untapped audience.
“Playing all-ages shows is like a treat, because the kids are really enthusiastic,” he says. “At older shows, a lot of people just come out to drink.”
It was clear that the crowd at his show was there for the music. When doors opened at 7 p.m. the line, which stretched nearly a block long, poured into the club and straight to the front of the stage.
The overwhelming sentiment among audiences like these is that any show is a good show. With few options, genre, band name, and location are less important than the simple fact that there’s an event that is open to anyone.
Currently, the majority of all-ages shows are alternative rock, punk, and hardcore.
Ian Riley, who attended the show that featured national act The Calling along with Jeremiah Freed, usually prefers harder rock.
“Hardcore shows are the best, but you get people who just want to hurt people,” he says.
According to Riley, there are often problems at shows like these, and though he has been harassed himself, he enjoys the shows enough to attend anyway.
“I love going to the [dance] pits,” he says.
Naturally, there are those who are less content with the limited choices. Kyle Jackson, who is underage, feels there are not enough options for people his age.
When he considers his possibilities, he frowns. “I think since Zootz closed it’s pretty sucky.”
But how sucky it really is is debatable. While the loss of Zootz marked the end of a popular and well-attended dance night, the tradition of providing entertainment for a younger crowd has been picked up by such 21+ venues in Portland as The Iguana, The Skinny, and Asylum.
While the former two operate primarily as bars, the majority of Asylum’s shows are unrestricted. Kitchen Manager Bob Tenny estimates around 80 percent of their events are open to everyone.
“We try to keep it all-ages mostly unless the band requests 21+ for some reason,” he says.
In addition, the city is often plastered with flyers for punk and hardcore shows organized by underage music lovers themselves, and the Salvation Army’s “smoke-free, chem-free coffeehouse/club,” The Well, now hosts everything from hip-hop to acoustic nights.
And music isn’t the only thing becoming more available to younger audiences. Taking up where the all-ages poetry nights of Portland’s Oak Street Theater left off, The Well offers open poetry readings, as does the chem-free Center for Cultural Exchange.
So while the prospects may seem bleak, the chem-free scene is growing fast. And if it doesn’t grow fast enough, at least underage college students know there are only a few more years to full access.
Arts and Entertainment Editor Meghan Conley can be contacted at: [email protected]