By David Rolland
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The pending move by Fort Lauderdale city officials to ban patrons under the age of 18 from entering clubs serving liquor looks likely to succeed. On June 6 a committee was granted 30 days to draft a proposal, and further discussion will commence at that time. Last Sunday night at the Chili Pepper, a group of teenagers unwittingly gave the politicians even more reason to curtail their fun, creating a small burst of vandalism after the band Insane Clown Posse canceled its appearance there.
By 9 p.m. a downpour had washed away most of the soot, which was the result of small fires set by the hundred or so teenagers who came to see the show. "Damages were very minor," says the Chili Pepper's Skip Murray. "Evidently they didn't like cash registers because they melted 'em. And they broke our goddamn disco ball, those sons of bitches."
Woody Graber, a publicist for the concert's co-sponsor, SFX/Cellar Door Productions, said the decision to pull the plug was last-minute, with the band's agent canceling the show at 7 p.m. Friday night. Two weeks prior to that date, the show was moved from indoors to the outdoor courtyard. The change presented "production issues that the band found unacceptable," says Graber. "There's not much we could do except contact Ticketmaster and the radio station involved." A few hundred tickets were sold; all tickets can be refunded at point of purchase.
Harry Tyler, an Orlando promoter who helped SFX produce the show under the banner Fat Harry Productions, says this is the third time in as many years the band has pulled a similar stunt. This time, when the group's management learned the show was to be held outside, it was suddenly decided the venue couldn't accommodate the Posse. Evidently the kids planning to attend the show didn't hear the news or didn't care. "Signs were posted up outside," Graber says. The teens burned the signs.
"The kids aren't making a real good example of themselves," continues Murray. "We're about the only place in town that realizes if you're old enough to vote and pay taxes and die for your country, [you] should be able to dance. But they certainly aren't helping our cause."
While dance clubs seem supportive or ambivalent regarding the 18-and-older measure, live music venues in the county would find it difficult if not impossible to hold all-ages events. With small, local live concerts, no teenagers allowed means no show. And that's leaving promoters close to the ground fearful of how the decision could impact their revenues.
Mayor Jim Naugle, along with commissioners Tim Smith and Gloria Katz, has endorsed the proposal, saying that under-21 patrons have no business hanging out in a place where the primary business is selling liquor. Is the commission's goal to stop underage drinking at clubs or to stop kids from going out and having a good time?
"I think they don't want kids going out having fun," says Mike Sharpe, entertainment director for the Chili Pepper, which hosts both dance nights and occasional concerts. "Ever since the Edge [the club's former incarnation], they've been like that. The Edge had rave parties that would start at 4 in the morning and go on till 2 in the afternoon, and it was age 16 and up."
Some clubs aren't sure exactly what the proposed ban entails and aren't certain if it's a good or bad thing for business.
"I don't know," continues Sharpe. "There's a good side and a bad side. The good side is going to be older people, which is always better for us because it's more people drinking and that's more money we make at the bar. The kids are sometimes the ones who start the trouble."
But he also points out that the under-21 ban would hurt the Chili Pepper, for instance, when it stages concerts like ICP. The vast majority of the band's audience is underage. The rest of the time, when the Chili Pepper is a dance club, "It's a Catch-22," Sharpe admits. "Our Saturday night shouldn't be hurt -- that's an older crowd. But Wednesdays and Fridays we might be hurt, because it's primarily 18 to 20 years old."
Grant Hall, a local promoter who books alternative music shows at FU*BAR and various clubs and warehouses around Broward and Palm Beach counties, believes the commission is barking up the wrong tree. The kids who show up for punk bands at the space are there for the music, he insists, not to drink illegally. And even considering nightclubs in the city like Roxy and Atlantis that allow 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds, Hall doesn't feel liquor is much of a factor.
"You know what's weird?" he asks. "I know they're not going to buy this, but it's the drugs. It's not the alcohol. Think about the people doing X and everything. [The ban is] not going to solve the problem. It's not gonna prevent the kids from rolling."
But if it's against the law for kids to visit and listen to music, Hall may make other, nonalcoholic plans. "I was talking to someone the other night, saying, "We should just go buy a lousy space and just do all-ages all the time, 'cause those kids are going to have nothing to do.'"
And what happens when kids are bored? Maybe the mayor's office and the city commission should look into finding more activities to keep teens entertained during the summer -- not fewer.