Bandwidth

Fort Lauderdale’s ban of under-21 clubbers shows that when fun is outlawed, only outlaws will have fun

The metaphorical fallout following Fort Lauderdale's declaration of war against kids who just want to have fun has all the characteristics of the real thing: It's lingering, radioactive, and cancerous. It immediately infected the town's nightlife, surprising club owners who were led to believe the law wouldn't be enforced for a few weeks, and not without warning even then. Our local media, in the meantime, have weighed in on the issue with a twisted mixture of old-fogeyitis and misinformation.

In the latter category, the Sun-Sentinel's Sean Piccoliattempted to make a feeble point in his October 4 column titled "Music makers lament age law." Piccoli led the piece by setting the scene: "When Greg Gershengorn, bassist for the Fort Lauderdale hard rock band Crease walks onto a local club stage and looks out into the crowd, he sees a lot of wristbands -- paper bracelets worn by underage patrons so that bartenders know not to serve them."

That simply ain't the case, unless Gershengorn was performing on a stage located in some parallel universe. Poor Piccoli couldn't have had it more bassackwards had he tried. Think about it: If wristbands differentiated under-21 kids from the drinking crowd, couldn't they simply be pulled off, Mr. Seany-pants? Has this guy ever even been to a club? Has he ever looked to see if his own wrist was banded? Should he perhaps leave it on until the next morning? Shouldn't the dailies employ music writers who actually go to shows, if only to make the cubicle available for routine fumigations?

Egregious errors aside, Piccoli's relative propinquity to the oppressed kiddies at least prevents him from sounding like his insufferable colleague at The Miami Herald, Fred Grimm, in his October 6 column. Grimm attended our city commission vote and came away siding with tinhorn dictator Tim Smith, whose mind was probably made up ten years ago when he had his first fateful brush with a nose-pierced server at Miami Subs. His latest attack on homegrown fun is consistent with his efforts to clean up the city, set curfews, and roll back the hours clubs can serve liquor.

Smith polled the protesting throng at the meeting, and after learning none had voted in that day's election (which was open only to registered voters in District 1) he unilaterally decided they deserved no voice. This no-vote, no-voice policy sat well with the Grimmster, who doesn't strike Bandwidth as anything but the fuddiest of duddies. "There's a price to pay for hip apathy," Grimm scolded the baggy-pants set, probably wagging his finger.

While readers waded through these public-disservice messages, three of the city's busiest music clubs -- the Chili Pepper, the Culture Room, and the Metal Factory -- all paid a price in the days following the vote. "This killed us over the weekend," laments the Culture Room's Greg Aliferis. "Killed us. Our numbers were way off. We had police coming into the club, checking us out, and making all our patrons nervous. I have bands canceling now who don't want to play in a strictly 21-and-up environment. This is devastating to us right now."

The Chili Pepper went ahead with an all-ages concert on October 5 featuring 3 Doors Down after selling more than 1500 tickets in advance. "We decided to go for it," says manager Skip Murray. When the cops showed up in force, the club was given this Hobson's choice: Either shut down the event or lock up the liquor. The Chili Pepper stopped serving alcohol until the show had ended and the under-21 gang was herded out, but Murray says, "It was very unfair. It's costing a lot of people a lot of money."

October 7 at the Metal Factory, local Lucifer-lovers Death Becomes You were doing their best to preach the dark text of Anton LaVey and rile up the audience, but the group who'd most appreciate the calculated-to-offend antics (which included toy flying bats, a coffin, inverted crucifixes, faux blood, and the like) were kept outside. DBY, already a group of angry young men before the law was passed, loudly lambasted the lamest town in South Florida at every turn.

While the clubs are trying desperately to work with the city commission to strike a compromise (Aliferis says he's "looking for an exemption, for immediate relief") and kids are out in the cold, the appearance of selective enforcement should make everyone affected bristle. Cops stationed at the Chili Pepper and the Culture Room mean there's no one left to investigate the Shooters, Bootleggers, Parrots, and Elbo Roomsin town, where it seems to be business as usual. If the city, as it claims, doesn't have enough manpower to keep Club Atlantis in line, how can it hope to enforce this ordinance all over town?

It strikes Bandwidth as suspicious that this musical chilling effect seems to be directed at the individuals who were among the squeakiest wheels at the public hearings held prior to the vote. If the City is actually taking steps to punish outspoken business owners who have operated in peace for years, maybe it's time to hold a legal-defense-fund benefit.

But this isn't just a local problem. National musical acts that don't draw enough fans to fill the National Car Rental Center, Sunrise Musical Theatre, or MARS Music Amphitheatre now have yet another reason to forget South Florida when planning their tours. Even with Broward judge Jeffrey Streitfeld calling the city's overreaction "draconian" and buying some more time for the beleaguered clubs to comply, it's apparent the only way Fort Lauderdale's independent music scene can survive is to burrow underground.

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