From the outside, one might think right now is the perfect time to be a music lover in Vancouver. That is if you are over the legal drinking age.
As you may have noticed, the music scene in Vancouver is in a strange sort of flux right now. While some of our bands are grabbing the attention of major media outlets like Rolling Stone, who recently published an article about the high calibre talent this city is producing, a closer look reveals things are breaking down fast, especially for all ages shows.
This city used to be host to a plethora of all ages venues, most of which have been shut down for a number of reasons up to and including underage drinking. This problem has only worsened when the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch (LCLB) announced a new law stating any venue with a Liquor Primary License could no longer “delicense” to host all ages shows.
According to Ryan McCormick, activist and organizer for the Safe Amplification Site Society (SafeAmp), it is not only a shame that those under 19 are being shut out from seeing the vast amount of talent this city has to offer, but it is also persecution.
“To me, its a matter of human rights. The term ‘all ages scene’ seems problematic to me. We don’t have an ‘all races music scene’ or an ‘all genders music scene.’ The music scene should be all ages by definition,” says a passionate McCormick over a coffee at Cafe Deux Soleils. “What is fucked is that there are these laws that prevent people of a certain age from going into venues. Of course there will be laws where you have to be a certain age to buy and drink alcohol, but you shouldn’t be banned entry to a building because of your age.”
SafeAmp is non-profit organization dedicated to being a voice for Vancouver musicians and has set up a goal to create a safe, sustainable, legal, affordable, accessible and permanent all ages performance space in the city, as well as putting pressure on city hall, the province, and the LCLB to amend its liquor laws.
According to LCLB Ministry Spokesperson Cindy Stephenson, in 2012 approximately 20 out of 2,328 establishments with a Liquor Primary applied for delicensing. Under the new liquor laws that are being put into effect, venues no longer have the ability to apply for delicensing, therefore any venue with a Liquor Primary can no longer host all ages shows. The question is, why put this law into effect when less than one per cent of these venues are applying for delicensing?
For Mo Tarmohamed, operations manager of the Rickshaw Theatre, this new law is unnecessary and nonsensical. The Rickshaw Theatre, a venue once allowed to host all ages shows and serve alcohol, has been trying to negotiate with the LCLB to get them back to a similar arrangement. Tarmohamed thinks it is a shame that kids are being shut out of venues and believes this new law is an unfortunate setback.
“From an all ages perspective, we have taken a huge step backwards. We were hoping we could get to a point where we could have a beer garden for all ages shows. Now we can’t even have an all ages show here with absolutely no alcohol.”
If organizations like SafeAmp and establishments like the Rickshaw are working towards creating more opportunities for all ages shows, and public opinion seems to be in favour of repealing some of the more archaic liquor laws, why is a new more restrictive law, that essentially only affects people under 19 and their ability to see live music, being implemented? What have the kids done to get on the bad side of the liquor lawmakers?
The LCLB cites one of the major concerns being underage drinking, as it is frequent complaint by both parents and police. A point that is null and void to Tarmohamed.
“What is the difference with someone going to The Vogue and pre-drinking. Or before their prom? Or drinking outside Rogers Arena before a hockey game… I’ve been to Canucks games and there are always abusive comments and I’ve seen scuffles, and so, do you just shut everything off? No alcohol sold at hockey games?” says Tarmohamed with a laugh.
If the city decided to make all hockey games 19+ or if they banned all alcohol from Rogers Arena the backlash from Vancouverites would be swift and intense. Why can a 16-year-old go to a hockey game where alcohol is served in public, but can’t see a band at a venue where alcohol is in a sectioned off area, or not even in the venue at all?
Another major concern cited is safety, which is a valid point according to Sarah Cordingley, music director of CiTR and organizer of Girls Rock Camp. However, how they are dealing with these safety concerns are somewhat antithetical.
“I’ve been involved with or been a patron of very unsafe, illegal venues, and it has made me realize that when that is the only option for underage kids to see live local music, its kind of setting them up for situations they might not be able to handle, such as drugs, drinking, and indoor smoking,” says a concerned Cordingley. “Kids are going to find a way see bands, and if these illegal and unsafe venues are the only option, these shows will keep happening,” she says.
McCormick maintains a similar belief to Cordingley and believes the city needs a radical reevaluation of its policies.
“People are going to listen to and play music regardless and since the city and the province are so concerned with safety rather than banning venues, because that will only drive people into more unsafe venues, the better solution would be to provide an alternative solution that is safe and affordable,” says McCormick. “Right now we are in a situation with the law where any sort of underground space is punished and eventually shut down. It is just like how they used to arrest people for skateboarding at the malls. Eventually the powers that be figured out you need to build skate parks and give people an area where it is condoned. I feel like the same thing that needs to happen with music.”
“Kids need a place to play music and be around music,” says local musician Kyle Shields of Abbotsford-based band Open Letters. “Growing up, I was surrounded by a very bad group of kids and what separated me from them was having a place to go and play music. Being so passionate about music and being able to play is what kept me from joining a gang or doing drugs and it would be cool if we had a place that was funded, or even subsidized.”
At the heart of matter, all ages shows are about finding a place where people of all ages can belong and celebrate something they are passionate about — music.
By Joshua Erickson
Illustration: Kara Grotek