When I was 15, my life was school, work and shows. My friends, the music I listened to, the people I dated – everything about growing up revolved around those three things. I don’t mean to get all sentimental or anything, but going to concerts as a young teen changed my life.
Even though I grew up in a different province, I doubt my experience is much different from other show-goers. Finding a sense of belonging is important for young people, and music – like religion, politics and sports – is one way that people gather together.
“It is really important to support the all ages scene, and make sure we help people in high school and junior high feel like they are a part of the broader music scene,” says Waye Mason, executive director of The Halifax Pop Explosion, who started going to shows in Halifax when he was 15.
Despite the clear benefits of supporting young people who play in bands and attend shows – not only does it do a lot for the culture of the city, it also helps build supportive communities for youth – organizing all ages events continues to be a struggle.
For this year’s Pop Explosion, about 10 of the about 40 shows are open to all ages. In the past, the festival has even included an all-ages pass specifically aimed at under-aged music lovers who were looking for a deal. It’s not available this year.
“We have a lot parents call to ask, ‘is it safe?’ And it is!” Mason says of all-ages shows. “The kind of teens that want to go see a punk band or a hip-hop show often look forward to those types of shows for months in advance.”
Mason says that while booking all ages shows has never been particularly easy in Halifax, its become more difficult since the Alcohol and Gaming Authority took away all ages shows in licensed venues two years ago.
“In Ontario, they are able to do all-ages shows in a bar, so you have a PA and a stage and you can use it twice in a day; once for an all ages show, once later in the bar show,” Mason explains.
Under current liquor laws in Nova Scotia, under-age young people cannot enter most licensed establishments. Even where exceptions exist, they can only be there with a parent or guardian, and have to leave by 9 p.m.
By making it almost impossible for bars to hold events that underage folks can attend, bands looking to play shows that are open to the under 19 crowd have limited options.
That’s not to say that there aren’t spaces to have all-ages shows.
Concert venues like the Rebecca Cohn and the Halifax Forum are good spaces to hold larger events that will attract a bigger crowd, but the costs of these venues have them reserved for more mainstream artists. All ages shows are also commonly held in churches and church halls, an option that while technically open, is often expensive.
The Pavilion, that concrete box you may or may not have noticed in the South Commons, is the city’s only dedicated all-ages venue. It’s standard to see large groups of young people hanging out there on the weekend, and if you’re walking by, it’s hard to miss the sound of punk and metal bands often emanating from the space.
Unfortunately, the city’s concentration on cost recovery makes it difficult for the venue to stay afloat. In 2003, the Pavilion was forced to close because it didn’t have enough power outlets and no visible civic number. As a result of these small infractions, the space was closed for about two years.
In many cities, including this one, house shows have often served as an alternative to bar shows. While not everyone’s got a home that’s suitable for shows, nor are backyard shows an all-season option here in Canada, house shows can provide a cheap and viable alternative option to the available venues.
Sadly, the police are cracking down on noise complaints, leaving house shows a risky option for many. When the cops are shutting down house shows at 5 p.m. that have been discussed with local neighbours, it becomes clear that they’re not interested in letting the house show scene grow.
For me, what’s hardest about the current strategy of ghettoizing all ages shows to a small set of venues makes it more difficult for there to be mixing of people who are of age and folks who aren’t. People under 19 go to all-ages shows, while people who are over 19 go to bar shows.
There are so many ways that the city and the province could improve the conditions for building music scenes that cross the age of 19 divide. The government could provide grants and incentives for small business owners and community centres to hold all ages concerts, or to hold open mic nights, or to provide subsidized practice spaces. It could let all-ages shows happen in bars, and it could extend wet/dry privileges beyond special events and universities.
At the end of the day, these measures could help defray the main challenge when putting on shows: the price. Since organizers can only rely on the cover price at the door to recover costs, tickets for all ages shows are often higher than bar shows, and at 15, your allowance or part-time job probably doesn’t leave you with the cash to regularly afford the $10 to $20 or more ticket price.
Sadly, it seems that the city and province would prefer to focus their health and safety strategy on banning smoking from every public space and having the police stake out the skate park on the Halifax Commons for helmet infractions.
Supporting more projects that strive to build a stronger music community, that bridge the divide between those of us who are of age and our under-age friends, might also lead to healthier, happier young people, who have more support to make it through the growing pains of adolescence.