ALL-AGES DIALOGUES Part 8: Shannon Roach of the Vera Project (Arthur, 2006)

The ALL-AGES Dialogues: A conversation with Shannon Roach
by Jay Babcock

In 2006, I spoke by telephone with Shannon Roach, executive director of the Vera Project in Seattle, for a piece on all-ages philosophy/history/yadda yadda. The piece kept expanding, so much so that it looked like it would have to be published as a series across multiple issues of Arthur. Some of the interviews ended up getting published; unfortunately this one didn’t, basically due to internal Arthur chaos in 2006-07. Anyways, in the spirit of better-late-than-never, here is a slightly edited transcript of our conversation. — Jay Babcock

Previously in this series:
Interview with John Sinclair (MC5 manager, activist, poet-historian)
Interview with Chuck Dukowski (Black Flag, Chuck Dukowski Sextet)
Interview with Calvin Johnson (K Records, Beat Happening, Dub Narcotic Sound System)
Interview with Greg Saunier (Deerhoof)

Interview with Will Oldham

Interview with Jim Ward (At the Drive-In, Sparta)

Interview with Shannon Stewart (Vera Project, All-Ages Music Project)

Shannon Roach: I’ve been involved with the Vera Project since September of last year, of 2005, as a staff member, but I went to the first show that Vera ever had, in January 2001. It’s a big part of the music community here in Seattle. That first show was the Murder City Devils, Botch and the Blood Brothers. It was really fun.

Arthur: The Vera Project has moved around, right?

It’s the name of the organization, not a particular space. It’s named after an organization called Vera in Gronigen, Holland. The Vera over in Europe is a community center that’s over a hundred years old and its focus is on the popular arts: music, film, visual art. And it’s truly all-ages: people from the entire community participate in it. Totally government-funded. Things are a little different in Europe, you know. (laughs) The idea of Vera came from that. James Keblis and Shannon Stewart, who you talked to, they did a study abroad over in Holland and found out a lot about the Vera Project and then brought those ideas back here, and filled a specific need in Seattle, which was for all-ages music. 

Why was it needed?

Well, there was a law called the Teen Dance Ordinance (TDO) here in Seattle that prohibited people under 21 from going to see live music with people over 21. So audiences under 21 …the venues had to have a lot of insurance. It was basically illegal for people under 21 to see live music. So there really wasn’t much of an all-ages scene here, which is kind of crazy because Seattle is known for its music, it’s totally culturally rich in music. When I was younger, I couldn’t go to see live music shows. I had to go up to Vancouver or down to Portland, leave the city to see some music. A little nutty. The TDO prohibited young people from seeing music so there was really a need here in Seattle for a place for that outlet, for young people to see and to play music.

Vera initially did shows out of a union hall called the Local 46, a huge union hall. Every show that Vera had, volunteers and staff came in and set up a PA system. They would have to take all of the folding chairs down from the union meeting, set up the PA system, run the show and clean everything up and set all the chairs back up exactly like they were for. Like 500, maybe more. It was huge. That was a fine space.

Vera also did some shows out of a theatre over in the international district called the Theatre Off Jackson. It was a good space, it was a little bit smaller, and it was also a theater so it was set up to be a little more acoustically sound and conducive to music. In 2003, Vera found a space in downtown Seattle on 4th Avenue. That was also an old theatre, the Annex Theater. It was really cool, this old building that was probably going to be torn down sometime soon and Vera moved into it as is, and the whole community came together to help build out the venue, helped to put together the sound system, do a bunch of construction in there to make it safe for people. So then for the first time the Vera Project had a home, and it just totally exploded from there, because it makes it a lot easier to have shows. So there were MORE shows available. And then ot also expanded to have an art gallery, a silkscreen studio and night tech classes, and all kinds of community events that were a little more difficult to put on before. 

Who gets booked there? Bands that normally play bars, or bands that are on a completely different circuit?

Both. The thing is, Vera has really great shows. I don’t know if you’ve been to the website, looked at some of the bands that have played, but there’s a good mix between established bands that are gonna draw really, really well and then also it’s a place where people who are getting established can come and play. So there are some shows that there’s gonna be a line around the block and people are gonna be turned away. And there are other shows that are smaller and more intimate. It runs the gamut really. We get national and international touring artists, and then we get local people as well. 

Door price?

Never more than ten dollars. That’s part of Vera, really, is for it to be an accessible space so that people can afford to come there. It’s a small capacity, the stage is low, there’s all these opportunities for young people to be involved in everything from stage management to being a sound assistant to taking tickets at the door to helping book, so it provides people with direct access to artists with makes it a little bit unique.

It’s run as a non-profit?

Non-profit, yeah. It became a non-profit in 2001. Our space on 4th Avenue was slated to be demolished and so we thought that we were going to have to vacate. One of the things that’s really important to Vera is to be in a central location where people from all over the region can access us. That’s a little bit easier said than done. It’s really hard for a non-profit to find an affordable space in downtown Seattle. Our shows don’t make a whole bunch of money because we don’t have alcohol there and the ticket prices are intentionally affordable. So the Seattle Center offered us a space there, it’s this big conference room, a long-term lease, a really affordable price. It’s called the Snow Kwami Room. The Seattle Center is where the Space Needle is. It’s a big city-owned property where there’s a big basketball stadium, the Space Needle, the children’s museum, the science center, it’s one of those big huge fun municipal campuses. So it doesn’t really have the street cred a space in the middle of downtown would have but at the same time it’s still downtown Seattle, and it’s easy to get to, and the cool thing about it is we get to build up this conference room into our own space. We’ve gathered up a whole bunch of people to help us come up with concepts for it, and we’re working with architects and construction people to turn this huge 6,500-square foot conference room with linoleum floors and fluorescent lights into a venue and an art gallery, silkscreen studio, recording studio, all kinds of stuff. It’s going to be really nice. It’s very ambitious. But it’s also, in the 4th Avenue space, what I hear a lot from people who use it, is that once they had a place to call home, everything, all the opportunities expanded for everybody, no matter what they were interested in, it really did help for the Vera Project to expand. And so having a place where we can stay for a while and grow into it is going to really benefit a lot of people for a lot of years to come.

The shows, do you run them earlier than a show in a nightclub would be?

They usually start around 8pm and are done by midnight. 

Weekend matinees?

Not very often. Usually we’ll only do a weekend matinee if it’s a performance that we can’t get any other time that’s really exciting. It’s nice to have a nightlife for all-ages. It’s so important. 

Urban kids don’t have garages. They NEED a place to go and play music and see music. It’s so important. It’s part of their culture. It’s so ridiculous for them not to be able to participate in it.

I think a big part of our success too is “No booze — no drugs — no assholes.” That really helps for the whole community to say, Yeah that place is okay. And the nonprofit model really helps too.

ALL-AGES DIALOGUES PART 7: SHANNON STEWART of The All Ages Movement Project (2006, Arthur)

The ALL-AGES Dialogues: A conversation with Shannon Stewart
by Jay Babcock

This interview was conducted by phone in late summer 2006, as part of a series of conversations I was doing with various folks regarding the history of all-ages, philosophy/ethic of all-ages, the state of play of all-ages, yadda yadda.

If I remember correctly, when we did this interview Shannon was exiting her position at Seattle’s legendary Vera Project—where she was co-founder, program director and talent buyer—to start a new advocacy organization called the All-Ages Music Project. In 2010, she published In Every Town: An All-Ages Music Manualfesto, described as “part-history, part how-to,” with a foreword by Kimya Dawson.

This conversation shoulda been published long ago but stuff kept going awry and we didn’t get it in the mag. My apologies to Shannon, and to the readers. Hopefully this piece will be of use to present-day readers. — Jay

Previously in this series:
Interview with John Sinclair (MC5 manager, activist, poet-historian)
Interview with Chuck Dukowski (Black Flag, Chuck Dukowski Sextet)
Interview with Calvin Johnson (K Records, Beat Happening, Dub Narcotic Sound System)
Interview with Greg Saunier (Deerhoof)

Interview with Will Oldham

Interview with Jim Ward (At the Drive-In, Sparta)

Arthur: What do you think happened to all-ages shows? Why did so much music become restricted to the over-21 crowd?

Shannon Stewart: Well, you have to look at the relationship of the music industry to alcohol. That’s the easiest answer to it. Those things are easily tied. Since the drinking age in this country is 21, therein lies your answer. Because those industries have become co-dependent, or I guess the music industry has become co-dependent on alcohol at least in terms of spaces. 

When did that happen, though? Because it wasn’t always that way.

That’s probably something I’d leave up to you to answer. I think it’s changed with the drinking age and the tightening liquor laws and the rules about youths not being able to be in a bar at all even if they’re not drinking. Every state has a different poilicy on that. Up in Washington State, until about four years ago, young people just couldn’t go into bars at all. It sort of loosened up a few years ago so that you can have separated areas, so there can be like an all-ages area and there can be a big wall or else some sort of rented gate system where you can herd up all of the drinkers sort of like cattle behind the all-ages area, and have all-ages shows that way. But still the venues are losing a lot of money because a lot of the ticket sales go to guarantees, and they’re trying to pay their bills on the bar sales, which is why I think there’s a burgeoning movement of nonprofit all-ages venues. 

Tell me about that.

There’s a lot of different versions of it. Like one version of it would be the teen center that the city starts to try to bring youth in and engage them in a way that’s meaningful to them that is moderately successful depending on who’s running it. There’s a ton of them. The old firehouse in Redmond, Washington, which is actually—when you talk to Shannon Roach you can ask her about that, because she used to work there. And in the Midwest there’s a bunch of them. Usually in affluent areas where the taxbase is such that it’s not inconceivable that the city would spend the money on a music space for teenagers. That’s sort of the bottom line of it. 

The other spaces that are getting the most momentum behind them are spaces like The Smell [In Los Angeles], these fly-by-night, making-it-up-as-we go-along but somehow they’re still existing ten years later even though it seems like every time you go there, they should be gone [chuckles] or be on their way down or something. The other ones around the country are the K Cafe Collective in San Diego, and ABC NO RIO in Manhattan, and Gilman’s in Berkeley. Those are the ones that have managed to scrape by for decades and have been really influential, I think, in this generation of new all-ages organizations, which are a lot more younger people forming collectives and starting their own spaces out of makeshift places and art galleries and stuff like that. If you ask a lot of those folks who influenced them, a lot of them will reference these old punk institutions that I mentioned before. They find out about them through D.I.Y./internet. 

The final piece of that are spaces that are becoming big non-profit institutions, and communities that maybe started out with a small gaggle of people working to just put on their own shows but had some really savvy business people involved who were like, ‘We should get money for this’ and then secured foundation grants and federal/state/local money in order to make their space sustainable. The Vera Project is an example of that. AS220 in Providence, Rhode Island is an example of that. The Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They’re generally between 200 and 500 capacity, which is about the size of your average competitive music club in urban areas. 

In suburban areas of major metropolitan cities there’s not so much a feeling of competition from other clubs because I think a lot of times people will just do two shows. So artists will have two shows, a 21 & up show and it’ll be at a bar in the city and then they will have an all-ages show and it will be on the outskirts in the teen venue. 

What kind of pressures, if any, are these spaces under from surrounding communities? 

The pressures from the surrounding community depend on how conservative they are. They are real and a lot of those spaces have to fight for their funding, and are usually really under-staffed and have to fight. Also there’s pressure to be sort of your conventional youth program with terms of supervision and rules and regulation about how you’re supposed to interact with youth. That definitely impedes the organic nature that goes hand-in-hand with being part of the show-going culture. And there’s so many rules about who can be a volunteer and who can’t be a volunteer and what age you have to be to go there. And how money gets handled, and dealing with the cash basis that artists need to deal with is really, really hard. There are a million little tiny things that get in the way that people have to weigh out—the pros and cons of either being affiliated with the city and having some security in your facility and your funding source versus being totally on your own and not having to deal with all those little regulations. 

In the older DIY institutions in the country, the issue is just one of staying relevant and staying young and connected to the constituents that are looking for all-ages places to go and see shows and being able to also stay solvent and keep track of financial records and keep an accurate archive/history of what’s happened there. All that stuff is really challenging because most of those spaces are organized all-volunteer, collectively run, with the exception of ABC NO RIO… well I guess Gilman now has a coordinator too, but ABC NO RIO has a director of the space that actually is in charge of doing that administrative stuff now, but that’s fairly recent. 

There is something that is totally fine about the culture of all-ages shows: that is, you get a lot of energy from young people who gather and get together and do their own thing for a while and burn out and it’s over. That is a huge piece of the all-ages music scene: spaces can come and go. It’s kind of okay because people pass through that time of their life, like you come and go through youth too, and so like at your point in time when you’re a young person going to shows there will be a space, and then it dies off about the time you’re old enough to go to bar shows, and then another space will bubble up and it’ll do the same thing. I don’t think that’s necessarily healthy or fair, especially to the spaces that really do want to survive but just can’t make it, but I also think it’s just something that is the natural cycle of space, and youth music stuff.

You’ve said you think all-ages spaces are going to be increasingly hip-hop–oriented.

I don’t have statistics to back it up, but just looking at the changing demographics of generations…of the young generation of the United States right now and what has been becoming more popular over time, I would go as far as to theorize that the majority of youth are into hip-hop in one way, shape or form. As they get older and want to go to shows and be part of the hip-hop music scene, they need outlets. A lot of spaces that are just putting on indie rock bands that appeal to the 30-year-old bearded guys or whatever aren’t necessarily doing it for them. I think definitely in cities and urban areas there’s a movement towards youth organizations that focus on hip-hop. I’d go so far as to point out that there’s actually a generation called the hip-hop generation and that’s very much about how young people in the US today are really interested in hip-hop and that’s a big part of their cultural identity. I think that’s going to start to take over all-ages music spaces as years go by.

What about these all-ages ‘emo places,’ what do you think about those?

This is just me personally but I really associate a lot of those emo places with the suburban teen centers for some reason. I see a lot of those kids coming out of these affluent areas where they happen to have pretty cool parents that empower them to use their garage as practice spaces. That could just be a gross generalization on my part but that’s how I’ve experienced it this far. 

There’s the Chain Reaction in Anaheim, the Showcase Theatre in Corona…? I assume there’s a bunch of those all over the country?

I don’t know if there’s a bunch of those. I’d say it definitely is region-specific. I think that some spaces have these ‘Bbig! All-ages! Venues! We are the hottest all-ages venue in this city!’ and sometimes those are emo and sometimes they’re are metal and sometimes they’re ska and sometimes they’re punk. I don’t know how long the Chain Reaction has been around but I sort of see those as part of the come-and-go spaces in some ways. I guess I’m just not versed in emo. It does seem like there are a ton of those shows because it is really popular with a certain section of the youth population but in terms of spaces that are explicitly emo…

The door price at all-ages show is still generally low, right?

There’s a few reasons for that. One is that some really foundational people in the all-ages movement—if we are to say there is one—set it up that way. Like Ian Mackaye or whatnot, with the $5 door, $8 record cover. There is the economic reality that in a lot of these areas, youth don’t have disposable income but there a lot of places where there is a healthy rock all-ages scene, you’re actually dealing with people who do have disposable income. Whether or not the ticket prices need to be a lot lower than your average 7 or 8 dollar show that I would go and see, or probably $10 now, if I wanted to go and see a show in San Francisco, I don’t know if it has to be lower. I think it really depends on the economic climate that you’re in. 

My project is looking at pretty much commercial-free spaces, nonprofits and collectives and whatnot, that are doing all-ages shows that have a big youth-run component: either they have all staff that are people under 25, or they have youth membership with voting power, or they have some piece of high-level youth involvement in their governments and running the organization. I’m looking at where these spaces exist and where they don’t exist and why. And the importance of having a space that is somewhat commercial-free and a cultural space for youth to come together and have their part in the music scene, and have a place to build community with one another. I’m almost looking at the civic engagement piece of that: if young people have a space like that where they’re engaged in, where the artistic medium is culturally relevant to them, then they’re likely to build skills and tools and relationships that help them start their own things on the outside, and also get involved in their community and become community leaders. That was definitely a piece of the Vera Project and I’m sure Shannon [Roach] will talk to you more about that. I’m looking at these venues like churches of young people that are secular.

Youth autonomy zones. Chuck Dukowski was saying it was very important to him not that youths have their own space but that there’s a space in which all ages can mingle, because otherwise the younger ones don’t benefit from the wisdom and experience of their elders, and the elders don’t benefit from the energy of the youth.

I would just temper that statement, which I absolutely 100% agree with, with also the notion that because most of our spaces in this country are set up to cater to adults, it’s important that all-ages spaces have a priority to catering to youth, just to combat that feeling that you get when you’re a young person and you walk into a space that’s full of adults… that feeling that you don’t really belong there, you don’t feel welcome there, you’re not really being treated like you belong there. I think the emphasis on youth, on having a high level of youth involvement is really important in all-ages spaces, just to combat that general societal problem. I am not a fan of cut-off ranges of ages, like ‘we only serve 13 to 19 year olds’ because I think exactly what Chuck said: there’s a disconnect between what it means to be an adult that has lifestyle that’s maybe a little different from what you think or what you’re told it’s supposed to be.

There are lots of communities that have been segregated by age. It might not be geographic, though. I’m going to go to this convention tomorrow, the national hip-hop political convention, and I really want to network with other folks that are gonna be there and probably a lot of that networking will take place in bars. But I am bringing someone who is 18. And it’s just a problem of I want her to be able to network with me, but there’s this cultural phenomena of adult organizers that you go to bars to do this, with because that’s a sort of set-up space for you. Youth don’t have that. Or, there is no place where it just naturally is both. 

ALL-AGES DIALOGUES, PART VI: JIM WARD of At the Drive-In, Sparta (Arthur, 2006)

The ALL-AGES Dialogues: A conversation with Jim Ward
by Jay Babcock

This interview was conducted by phone in late summer 2006, as part of a series of conversations I was doing with various folks regarding the history of all-ages, philosophy/ethic of all-ages, the state of play of all-ages, yadda yadda.

When we did this interview, Jim was 30 years old and operating his band Sparta full-time, continuing on from his work as a member of the legendary At the Drive-In, which he co-founded as a teenager in 1994 in El Paso, Texas.

This conversation shoulda been published long ago but stuff kept going awry and we didn’t get it in the mag. My apologies to Jim, and to the readers. Hopefully this piece will be of use to present-day readers. — Jay

Previously in this series:
Interview with John Sinclair (MC5 manager, activist, poet-historian)
Interview with Chuck Dukowski (Black Flag, Chuck Dukowski Sextet)
Interview with Calvin Johnson (K Records, Beat Happening, Dub Narcotic Sound System)
Interview with Greg Saunier (Deerhoof)

Interview with Will Oldham

Arthur: When you first started venturing outside of El Paso to play music, how did you do it?

Jim Ward: Well, I got a copy of Book Your Own Fucking Life, and I just started calling. My grandparents has set aside some money for college for me, like a hundred dollars a year or something like that, it wasn’t very much. But when I graduated [from high school], it was a couple grand, and so I bought a van, a $1,300 1981 Ford Econoline, with some help from my parents who were really supportive of what I did. And, yeah, just started calling people.

Were you still going with the all-ages ethic?

Yeah, basically there were no bars and booking agents in there. You were just calling somebody who was doing shows at their parents’ restaurant after it closed, or at a community center or a house. Then you just went out and played those, and from those you would meet people who were somewhat like-minded. I was 18 when I started touring, so I couldn’t even be in the bars. In L.A. in 1996, it was pretty hard to be all-ages, so you would end up playing a bar and just sitting in the parking lot all night. You were allowed to go in and play and leave.

Like a servant.

[Laughs] Yeah, sort of. I mean, I understood the rules and it wasn’t really … we weren’t really there to party or anything, we were just there to play.

It must have been strange to play places where a bunch of people were excluded.

Yeah, whenever we would end up in bars or places like that, when you had to get that show, it was rare that anyone was there, or that it was very exciting… Which I understand now at my age: to go to a bar and have some loud, crazy band playing? It’s not always what you want to do on a Friday night. But when you’re 18, 16, 15 … that’s everything in the world to you. The louder and crazier and more abstract the better.

That’s the thing: The under-21s are open to stuff.

Yeah, you’re looking for something that’s yours. You don’t necessarily want something that’s established. You want to discover, that age is all about discovery. Which is why bands come out of that culture, because it’s this intense batch of people trying to find themselves and find each other, and I love it.

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ALL-AGES DIALOGUES, Part V: Will Oldham—”I think the best thing we can probably do would be to make fake IDs more available” (Arthur, 2006)

photo by Valgeir Sigurðsson

The ALL-AGES Dialogues: A conversation with Will Oldham
by Jay Babcock

This interview was conducted by phone in late summer 2006, as part of a series of conversations I was doing with various folks regarding the history of all-ages, philosophy/ethic of all-ages, the state of play of all-ages, yadda yadda. Shoulda been published long ago but stuff kept going awry and we didn’t get it in the mag. Still, almost four years later, it’s a good, pertinent read. Thanks to Will for his time and patience, and special thanks to a certain friend of Arthur who transcribed this conversation a long time ago.

Will Oldham, as Bonnie “Prince” Billy, is traveling and playing shows right now with the Cairo Gang. More info:

Previously in this series:
Interview with John Sinclair (MC5 manager, activist, poet-historian)
Interview with Chuck Dukowski (Black Flag, Chuck Dukowski Sextet)
Interview with Calvin Johnson (K Records, Beat Happening, Dub Narcotic Sound System)
Interview with Greg Saunier (Deerhoof)

Arthur: Do you prefer to play all-ages shows? Is it a priority for you, or does it even matter?

Will Oldham: It matters and it makes a difference, but it isn’t a ‘priority.’ Does that make sense? Every show is contextualized for what it is—in that way, it’s important. But I guess my skewed stance is that I’ve always approached this work of making music in terms of… I think my main drive is to write and record music, so playing live is always just a weird experiment. So to me, every aspect of playing live is part of that weird experiment, whereas a lot of bands and musicians seem to make records of the music that they make. [For me] it’s the reverse. I think that every time that you play live, it’s like, ‘Whoa! What was that all about?’ It’s great whoever the audience is. You try to find the most fun audience, I guess.

Arthur: I noticed that when you are touring shortly, you’re playing a bunch of record stores…

Yeah, an all record-store tour.

Arthur: One of the weird things, from what I can tell about the performance environment in America, is that one of the few places where people of all ages can see quality music in a live setting now is the record store.

Yeah. “Quality music.” One thing that I had started to think about before we started on this topic was… like, how old are you?

Arthur: 35.

I’m 36, and my sense is that, if you won’t take offense, is that we are out of touch. There are quality shows going on six out of seven nights a week that are all-ages shows, in people’s houses, in public places, and we just don’t know those bands. Because I’ve seen some this year—I’ve seen some every year. And it’s like, Whoa, where’d these kids come from? And these kids came from the same places we came from, and they’re making great music that we don’t have access to, because… It’s the same way that bands that I went to see play 20 years ago, people who were 22, to 36, to 50, they would be saying ‘There’s just no music going on these days. There’s no shows like I remember.’ And meanwhile, I was having the fucking time of my life!

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CALVIN JOHNSON (K Records, Beat Happening) on the importance of ALL-AGES gigs, and the secret history of age segregation in rock n roll


photo: Danielle St. Laurent

“What’s Wrong With Having Fun?”

A History of All Ages: A conversation with Calvin Johnson

by Jay Babcock

Calvin Johnson is the founder of Olympia-based K Records. He was in Beat Happening, Halo Benders and Dub Narcotic Sound System, and recently toured the USA in tandem with Ian Svenonius. His influence on underground American music in the last 25 years is enormous; read more about him at wikipedia.

I spoke with Calvin by telephone in early 2007, following on an interview I did with former MC5 manager/poet/historian John Sinclair, published in Arthur No. 24, in which we tried to figure out how rock n roll music went from being an all-ages thing to what, all too often, it is today: age-segregated. Calvin had some ideas about that…

Arthur: Where did you see your first shows?

Calvin Johnson: I was going to some stadium shows. When I was 12 I saw Paul McCartney & Wings. That was in the Kingdome, which is like 75,000 people. I was like, This is different than the Casbah Club in Liverpool. This isn’t the same. I kind of view that as more… Having read this biography of the Beatles and their whole world in Liverpool just seemed really exciting. Very little of that excitement existed in the stadium. And I’m like, Hmm. Something went wrong here. Just shortly after that is when I started reading about punk rock and I recognized that as being within the spirit of that local scene that the Beatles came out of.

It was about two or three years later that I went to my first punk rock show which was… A band from Seattle called The Enemy played here in Olympia. Then I started attending shows in Seattle. There was an all-ages club called The Bird that was in an old warehouse, then it moved into an Oddfellows hall. They had shows twice a month at this Oddfellows hall. That was really exciting.

Arthur: How did age segregation in rock ‘n’ roll music performances start, do you think?

My knowledge is second or third-hand on these things, but in reading rock n roll histories or biographies, it seems like some of those people, like Little Richard, was playing in nightclubs and juke joints that were serving alcohol and they were mostly oriented towards adults, meaning people in their 20s and 30s.

So live music was divided in a demographic way: there were these teen-oriented events and then there were adult-oriented events, and rock n roll was viewed at first as teen-oriented music. It seemed to have been normally in these environments that are dance-oriented—the armory, the school cafeteria, gymnasium, the local union hall—might be rented for these teen events.

When people like Little Richard and Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis became rock stars, and they were playing at those kinds of shows where there’s 10 or 15 acts on the bill and they each do their one or two songs that are well-known, kids were still trying to dance in the aisle. [in faux announcer voice] “Can’t stop the kids from dancing! They’re dancing in the aisles! Crazy! Bedlam has broken out!”

You look at films like Charlie Is My Darling—the Rolling Stones on tour in Ireland in ‘65—and you see it’s sort of a transition to this more concert-type situation, where it’s not necessarily a dance, kids are still dancing, and the set-up seems so nascent, they don’t have huge P.A.s or amps, they just have their regular amps and drums, little vocal public address system, and it’s …very quaint.

But it seems as though in the Northwest here, there was a circuit more or less of all-ages teen dances, which were held at various either hall-type situations or clubs that catered to teenagers and…

Arthur: How is that different from a sock-hop?

A sock-hop is more like high school dance where people are just dancing in their stockinged feet. It seems like the demographic is what divided things rather than a legal situation. The demographic was, ‘only kids would want to go to that show.’

Arthur: ‘Who else would want to?’

Yeah. It’s difficult to say, because I’m just piecing this all together, I didn’t live through it, but it appears that it had this vibe that as the audience for rock n roll starts to age into the ‘60s, and people were in their 20s and still interested in rock n roll, the focus changed. I blame the Beatles for that, because they created the atmosphere for where every rock band was suddenly Beethoven, and was creating “Great Works.” So it was more like when you go to the concert symphony orchestra and everyone is paying attention in this way and dancing is almost like an insult. It’s not that the Beatles had that attitude, but I think that the way that their music developed, people started to view music that way, and then these more serious prog rock bands came along and people suddenly forgot all about having fun. What’s wrong with having fun?

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GUERRILLA GIGGING: How the Libertines (and other bands) did it in London (Arthur, 2008)

Originally published in Arthur No. 28 (March 2008)

Five years ago, London’s gig-goers experienced a cultural upheaval the effects of which are still being felt today. Paul Moody takes up the story.

It seems so long ago now. But just under five years ago, London’s nightlife found itself at the center of a seismic cultural explosion that still reverberates around the U.K indie-verse today. As with the psychedelic scene based around the UFO Club in Tottenham Court Road and the punk movement’s Soho HQs The Roxy and The Vortex, it involved a small group of movers ’n’ shakers taking control of the pop apparatus to create something new, exciting and—whisper it—revolutionary.

For a short while the fat cats of the British music business—a dismal alliance of promoters (tell me, have you ever seen a skinny one?), lazy managers and idea-free labels—were on the back foot, and oh, what pleasure it was to be alive to see it and be involved in it. In its place? A new form of night-time activity, where gigs could take place on a bus, a subway train or even, at one memorable soiree in Regents Park, up a tree, and the old ways—not least the capitalist chicanery of (yawn) advance credit card bookings—could go swing.

Ever since The Stone Roses had attempted to subvert the medium with their gig at Spike Island in 1990—deemed a failure by anyone who hadn’t actually been there—promoters in the U.K had ensured that any free expression amongst bands was brutally clamped down upon. At many venues—not least the once-prestigious The Rock Garden in Covent Garden—young bands were even forced to endure a “pay to play” policy which meant they had to cough up £50 before they could even get on a stage. Worse, it was an unspoken rule that if any band dared go beyond these preset boundaries, there would be hell to pay.

I’d had firsthand experience of it myself.

As a member of London art rock band Regular Fries, in the late ’90s, I’d found any means of creative expression conducted outside the studio frowned upon. Our determination to play gigs involving film projections, banks of TVs and an array of props brought despairing looks from our own management, so you can imagine what promoters made of it when we walked through the doors of venues clutching six-feet high “Fries” letters. The idea of playing gigs outside the established circuit—a well-trod path involving The Barfly, The Garage and The Astoria—was treated like heresy. Why couldn’t we just play by the rules like everyone else?

Promoters actively discouraged us from playing at venues no one else had with lame talk of “bad acoustics.” “Why do you think no one else plays there?” was an asinine excuse we’d regularly be subjected to.

This came to a head when, due to a fire, a headline gig at London University (ULU) was cancelled at the eleventh hour. Hastily, we printed up flyers to paste over the front of the building telling our fans to head to a nearby venue in Camden where another promoter—sensing a windfall—had hastily juggled his bill so we could play last.

Within minutes, our well-intentioned belief that “the show must go on” had all but turned into an international incident. The promoters at ULU threatened violence for advertising another chain of venues on their doorstep. Our own promoter blew a fuse at our temerity in organizing an alternative ourselves. And our manager even warned us darkly that if we played the gig, our agent would never book us a tour again. All because we wanted to play a gig at short notice.

It was in this climate that the concept of the “guerrilla gig”—which peaked in June 2004 with a “happening” at Buckingham Palace, headed by Pete Doherty—took root.

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Originally published in Arthur Magazine No. 25 (Dec 02006)

Let the Kids In Too: A History of All-Ages, Part II
By Jay Babcock

For whatever reason, it wasn’t until earlier this year that I realized the best music events in Los Angeles were missing something really crucial: people under 21. That is, under-21s—let’s call them ‘kids’—are routinely excluded from seeing of-the-moment bands and old masters, in relatively accessible and human-sized settings, at an affordable price. These kinds of shows almost always happen in over-21 bars; or in tiny clubs, in sketchy environs, late on schoolnights. Occasionally they happen in Clear Channel/Live Nation-managed venues—amphitheatres, sports arenas, football fields—but even there it takes heavy change ($65 to see The Mars Volta open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the 18,000-capacity Forum?!?), and most of the time all you get is an accountant’s idea of spectacle. Put simply, kids today are deprived of the formative live music experiences that previous generations of human beings—of almost all cultures, from here back to the cave days—experienced as a matter of routine. Music: intimate, intense, performed as something deeper than mere commerce, and received by the community of listeners in the same way.

If music succeeds in connecting to kids today, it is in spite of the music industry, not because of it. How do we know this? Because that’s what some of us have experienced for ourselves, and, more importantly, because that’s what those who came before us tell us—see the comments by blues-jazz scholar/poet/MC5 manager John Sinclair in Part I of this series, published last issue, and see the following conversation with a punk rock legend…


Chuck Dukowski played bass and wrote several key songs for seminal American punk rock band Black Flag in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Besides being (to quote the writer James Parker) the “attitude engine” of Black Flag, Dukowski played an integral role in the day-to-day operations of California-based SST, the independent record label that was arguably the most artistically and culturally significant label of the ’80s; besides Black Flag, its roster included the minutemen, Husker Du, Meat Puppets, Opal, Saccharine Trust, Screaming Trees and Soundgarden. Today, Chuck rocks the nation as bassist in the Chuck Dukowski Sextet, an acid rock/freakout four-piece featuring his wife Lora, his son Milo, and legendary L.A. reedsman Lynn Johnston.

Arthur: What were the first shows that you attended?

Chuck Dukowski: The very first ones were giant arena concerts. Long Beach Arena in particular. And then shortly subsequent to that, movie theaters being used as the venues that could hold in the hundreds. You’d see bands like Little Richard, Captain Beefheart, Spirit … bands that weren’t filling the arenas. They were all-ages, no booze involved.

Arthur: Was there a rule about where Black Flag would play?

CD: We tried to play all-ages venues as much as possible. Because ultimately, we could play to 3-4,000 people in all-ages here in Los Angeles as early as 1980. We’d play to that many people, and turn around and play a place with an age limit, and we’d be cutting the audience to 250-300—a huge difference.

Arthur: What about outside of Los Angeles?

CD: In the beginning of my touring in Black Flag in the late ‘70s and the early ‘80s, there were quite a few states where the drinking age was 18. And so you’re playing Ohio, where the drinking age is 18, and there’s piles and piles of piles of people there. Once you get to 18, it’s harder to differentiate [laughs], and so things open up. It’s harder to tell the difference between a 17-year-old and an 18-year-old or a 19-year-old, so they kind of let everybody in who wasn’t obviously young, really young, say, 13. But yeah, if you were 16, you were probably getting in.

Arthur: So they were essentially over-16 shows. Now, when the national drinking age was raised to 21 in 1984, bands had to make a choice about which audience to play to: the over-21 bar scene, or the all-ages situation. And nightclubs could outbid all-ages venues to hire bands, so bands would end up playing there to the degree that they needed—or wanted—the guaranteed money.

CD: I can remember booking artists at SST. The bars would have a small room, 200 people, and be able to offer bands thousands of dollars to be there because they could figure on selling so much alcohol. Booze is the vice, the crack, of the live entertainment world. Look what’s happened to jazz. It’s moved into supper houses. They’re technically all-ages, but those places can be expensive situations to get into, which limits that music’s audience to the people who are affluent enough to become part of that. I think it’s rough for young people to get involved in that. At least the punk rock scene and all the offshoots has some more open-ness and more alternative venues, and anybody can play anything. Places like the Smell and Il Corral in Los Angeles today, where anybody can go and hear all kinds of music too. Ultimately, the more vital music is happening in the more open-ended situations. When I play an all-ages show these days, there’s more people there than if it weren’t all-ages, and they’re more involved and open to what we’re doing. They’re people who are interested in learning new things, not just getting what they had yesterday.

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JOHN SINCLAIR (MC5, etc) on ALL-AGES SHOWS (Arthur, 2006)

originally published in Arthur No. 24 (Oct 02006)

Let the Kids In Too: A History of All-Ages, Part One
by Jay Babcock

After this spring’s ArthurBall, someone posted to our website saying, “Hey, how was Growing? I really wanted to see them, but I’m only 17.” Now, if anyone needs to see Growing—a drone duo who are making a very challenging, contemplative sound right now, not unlike the first Fripp & Eno album—it’s a 17-year-old: talk about raw material for a formative experience. And yet, he—or she—was denied, because ArthurBall was an 18 & over event. Which meant that I was partly to blame.

That wasn’t a happy thing to realize. I’d been 17 once. I still haven’t recovered from my own formative experience back in 1988 when I saw the Mirage/Huevos-era Meat Puppets at Variety Arts Center in L.A. I was a teenaged square amidst 1500 freaks of the universe at a cheap, all-ages gig headlined by true goners: enduring the Kirkwood brothers’ 20-minute encore cover of the Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy” left a much deeper, richer impression on my tender, gradually opening mind than seeing U2 and the Pretenders at the Coliseum a couple months before. That was a painfully loud, stage-managed spectacle, a queasy mix of overwhelming power, machine precision and mass audience; the pajama-clad Meat Puppets, on the other hand, were… well, they were fun. They operated on a scale that was recognizably human. They seemed genuinely off-the-cuff, in-the-moment, willing to misfire. Their single stage prop, a pair of Playboy bunny ears spontaneously draped on a microphone, resonated with me in some deep, pleasantly weirdifying way. That Meat Puppets show pointed to a way out: a different way of leading one’s life—of embracing your idiosyncrasies and weird visions and interests rather than suppressing them. It was like some beautiful rite of passage, an initiation into art and imagination and other people—a sideways welcoming into a more creative, fertile, vibrant, rich way of being. Years later, I’d find out that, of course, I wasn’t the only one who’d undergone such an experience: almost everyone I know who is involved with music as a performer or enthusiast or whatever can point to some bizarro show that changed their life when they were a teenager, that lit up new paths.

I wonder if that kind of experience is readily available anymore to those who want it. I mean, the Mars Volta are amazing, but you have to pay $65 to see them open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers at a basketball arena. Growing are cool, but Arthur Ball is 18 & up. And so on. The sad truth is that although exciting music is regularly performed all over L.A.—at backyard barbecues and loft district rent parties, dive bars and supper clubs, nightclubs and art galleries, high school football games and homecoming dances, city parks and Sunday morning church services, street corners and subways, outdoor amphitheaters and baseball stadiums—maybe the only time when a good number of people of all ages can gather together to witness quality music, at an affordable price, with a good sound system, is when an artist plays an in-store set at Amoeba Music on Sunset Boulevard. Kudos to Amoeba for providing this basic public service to arts-starved Angeleno teenagers, of course—it’s more than the public schools and mainstream broadcast media do—but surely it’s not a positive indicator of a culture’s health when the best venue for all-ages music is a record store. ‘Dancing in the aisles’ should mean something more than grooving politely in the Used Funk/Soul section as cash registers ring in the distance.

We lose something as a society when we don’t allow our youth to experience music—by which I mean real, living, breathing music, as opposed to commerce-driven pop—in a decent, accessible, affordable, relatively intimate setting where music is given the opportunity to be truly experienced as music. Something has gone wrong here. But what has happened, exactly, to get us to this point? And is it just Los Angeles, or is it nationwide? What can we do about it? What did they do in the past?

I decided it was time to call John Sinclair.

During the 1960s, John Sinclair founded the Detroit Artists Workshop, managed the MC5, headed the anarchist White Panther Party and got thrown in jail for 10 years for giving two joints to an undercover cop. He was freed after serving two years due to the intervention of John Lennon, who wrote a song for him and appeared at a 15,000-plus arena rally to bring attention to Sinclair’s case (check out the “The US vs John Lennon” documentary for more details). He is a renowned poet, scholar, deejay and journalist, and at 64, still a towering presence. We talked about all-ages shows outside a brandname coffeeshop in Culver City over half-finished crossword puzzles.

John Sinclair: Here’s a point I want to make about this right off: This whole ‘age’ thing is a function of the whole white American culture—it isn’t a universal thing. When I was coming up, you had no congress with anyone more than two years older or two years younger than you, unless they were your brother and sister. You had no congress with adults, with anybody but your own age peers. Everything you did was around that; we were alienated from all the others.

Now, I grew up listening to blues and R&B on the radio in the Fifties. I’m not into country music. I avoided it like the plague. I came from a farming community, and I didn’t want no part of that! Once I heard black music on the radio, I wanted to be where those people were. They were having a lot more fun than anybody I knew, and then when I started going to their dances. It was a beautiful thing. They had big shows in Flint, Michigan. Rhythm and blues shows. I saw everyone that came to Flint between 1955 and 1960. I went to these rhythm and blues shows and there’d be 3,000 black people and 20 white kids who were music freaks and liked to dance. The thing that hit me the hardest about these shows was that there were people of all ages there: little kids, grandmas, and most of the crowd was young adults who were older than us. The teenagers like us were only a stratum. There were people in their 60s, people in their 40s, the finest women you’d ever seen in their 20s just dressed to the nines, red dresses and shit. Knock your eyes out. And there’d be little kids running around and it was no big deal. And the people who wanted to have a drink, they had a flask in their pockets. If they wanted to smoke a joint, they had a joint. It was just like going to a different planet. It was so much hipper. And they were also so accepting. It wasn’t like you would be nervous about being there. They’d let you have your fun, you’d dance with the black girls. It was just like being in heaven for me, man. Because where I lived, I hated everything.

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Feb 1, 2007 Los Angeles Times

ID? No way
Clubs for the under-21 set are coming of age. Besides giving kids a place to hang, they are often barometers of the next hot thing.

By Jessica Gelt, Special to The Times

The tiniest boy to ever don a Misfits T-shirt hops onto a raised platform above a writhing mosh pit at the Allen Theatre in South Gate. His doe eyes are wide and dark and his tight gray Dickies bunch around his small behind. After a breathlessly fast number, the lead singer of the up-and-coming Latino and Filipino punk band Defied says, “We’re gonna speed it up,” and the pit erupts in howls. Round and round the rockers go — in a knotted, fist-flailing circle — while the boy watches with unconcealed awe.

The littlest Misfit is not yet old enough to realize that the wild people in the boiling pit below him are just kids themselves. Beneath the Mohawks and the leather and the metal-adorned attire, there are likely pairs of underwear washed by Mama.

All-ages clubs — not empty warehouses or skating rinks or dumpy basements, but proper venues with snazzy sound systems and snack bars full of salty-sweet savories — are a relatively new phenomenon. They have cropped up mainly during the last decade and have since become uncannily accurate barometers of what is about to become hot in music. The reason is simple: They provide a safe, alcohol-free place for young people ages 10 to 20 to see the bands they love, something the jaded 21-and-older set takes for granted. This is approximately the same excitable demographic that, according to the Recording Industry Assn. of America, was responsible for more than 20% of all music sales in 2005. They are also the MySpace generation. Through them trends flow like white water.

The Allen Theatre is a monument to faded glory; its hundreds of royal-red seats are stained and torn, its floors are soda-sticky and its bathrooms ooze mildewed character. In short, it is the perfect place for rock ‘n’ roll. The neighborhood kids feel that instinctively.

Teens at the show say they come to the Allen regularly, and a number of them say they know the security guards and the owner. “I’ve been here before,” says 17-year-old Walter Ticas, who came with his 24-year-old sister. “I like it because I get to see the bands up close and have fun.”

Owner John Riley opened the Allen because he recognized the need for a teen haven. Ten years ago one of the kids in his neighborhood was fatally shot while sitting on a street corner on a Saturday night.

“It was like he died because he didn’t have anywhere to go,” says Riley, who, with his wife, Cory, began running shows out of a signless building they called Our House before moving on to the Allen. “I’ve done this long enough to see how the kids are developing and what paths they’re taking. One of our bands, Left Alone, is signed to Hellcat and doing really well.”

Brian Defied, the 20-year-old singer for, you guessed it, the band Defied, remembers when the only shows his band could get were in friends’ backyards: “No one wanted to give us a chance. This was the first place that had us come and play. John, the owner, and I are good buddies. It’s like family here.”

That sense of devotion is key to the success of all-ages venues, most of which are not big money-making endeavors. “Labor of love” is how owners describe their work, which is why within a 50-mile radius of downtown L.A., only a dozen or so such places (with the wherewithal to mix touring bands with local acts) exist.

“Everyone wants the alcohol, because that’s where the real money comes in,” explains Andy Serrao, 24, the booking agent for Anaheim’s Chain Reaction. Serrao matriculated from being a patron of the club to working as a security guard before taking over his current duties. On a recent Saturday night, indie-pop favorites Meg & Dia and Daphne Loves Derby attract a capacity crowd of 240. Mini-hipsters roam the black room in tight, giggly cliques with a perfection of style that comes from hours spent self-consciously grooming. A shy couple holding hands shells out $2 for a Slushie at the well-lighted snack bar.

Over its 10-year existence, Chain Reaction has gained legendary status among all-ages clubs. Like most venues of its kind, it has a reputation for being tightly run and well-policed. Its tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster, and the bands who’ve paid their dues there read like a who’s who of modern rock: My Chemical Romance, AFI, Jimmy Eat World, the (International) Noise Conspiracy, Transplants, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Fall Out Boy, Avenged Sevenfold and Panic! at the Disco, to name a few.

Tim Hill, the club’s owner, says that one of its original success stories was Capitol Records’ signing of the band Yellowcard onstage after a show. In fact, major labels have looked to Chain Reaction and its ilk more than a few times for the next big thing. On this particular night, the vice president of a major label is at the show with a red Harvard baseball cap pulled low on his forehead.

“That really says something, for someone from Hollywood to come down to Orange County to get the pulse of the nation,” says Vincent Pileggi, the manager of the band Reel Big Fish, who, with Hill, has started a cottage industry around Chain Reaction. Next door is a record and lifestyle shop called Off the Chain, and a soon-to-be-opened cafe in its rear will be called Food Fight.

Twenty miles east in Pomona, the cavernous Glass House has also opened up an adjacent record shop. In addition, one of its owners, Paul Tollett, is the president of promotional firm Goldenvoice and founder of the massively successful Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival.

“Paul uses the venue as a tester for up-and-coming bands. It’s a gauge for Coachella,” says the Glass House’s manager, Erick Palma. “The band tonight is Black Lips, and they’re really blowing up.”

Palma continues, “Jack White from the White Stripes says this is one of his favorite venues in America — Conor [Oberst] from Bright Eyes, Conrad [Keely] from Trail of Dead, the Hives — every band on their way up comes through here.”

Out front of the venue a jocular group of fans of the band the Hitchhikers gathers to talk. These fans are old enough to be at a bar, but they’ve chosen to come here, which highlights another aspect of all-ages clubs that makes them special: They really do draw all ages. Rick Randow, 27, who claims to be a “super Hitchhikers fan,” says he is 19 days sober, a feat easily sustained during a night at the Glass House.

The lack of alcohol at these clubs creates a different atmosphere. Drunken aggression is replaced by a sort of attentive Zen. In this way, all-ages audiences are like harmonious tribes.

The more niche-market the sound, the more tribal the audience becomes. Il Corral, a raucous all-ages art space near Melrose and Heliotrope that specializes in “experimental and noise” music, attracts avant-garde eccentrics ranging in age from 13 to 40-plus. James Edwards, a 26-year-old UCLA grad student in musicology, waxed poetic about the scene at a recent show featuring the ironically named Smooth Grooves and the acoustic stylings of the shirtless John Thill. “I have yet to think through whether it’s legitimate,” Edwards says, “but this is the closest you can get in L.A. to a more self-sufficient and less alienating artistic culture.”

Aaron Goodell, 48, with his salt-and-pepper hair and black fanny pack, puts it more simply: “It’s beautiful. I’m not sure what they’re doing here, but it just looks like it grew organically in this building.”

Sean Carnage, a mustachioed 35-year-old promoter for the venue, says that one night Anthony Kiedis from the Red Hot Chili Peppers hung around for a show. “The great thing about all-ages is that it brings out older people who wouldn’t go to Spaceland or the Silverlake Lounge — maybe they’re burned out and this is where they come,” says Carnage, who recently directed a documentary about the club and its scene called “40 Bands-80 Minutes!”

Inside, Thill, with his small white pastry-puff of a belly, balances on a chair beside the venue’s climbing rope. As the entranced crowd gathers around the 24-year-old library assistant, he croons a ballad of destruction: “The day I started laughing at the motorcycle crash, on the shoulder of I-10 / I knew I’d committed the cynic’s sin.”

Freedom of expression — or at least the sense that adolescent angst deserves a forum — is vital to such venues, which is why a hole in the wall called the Smell in Harlem Place Alley just off 2nd Street in downtown L.A. is the stuff of legends.

“That was the whole point from the beginning,” explains Jim Smith, one of the Smell’s founders. “To open an all-ages club that was strictly geared toward the art and the music without all of the things that got in the way of that, like alcohol, the bar atmosphere and bouncers. We just wanted a space where people could hang out and be creative.”

The Smell has been run by volunteers for most of its nine years; Smith keeps a day job as a union organizer. With its CBGB’s-worthy, spray-painted bathroom, vegan snack bar and well-lighted bookshelf full of political zines, the Smell has never concerned itself with the next big thing, an attitude that has made it a magnet for just that.

Jaime Lopez, the brazen lead singer of the hard-driving all-girl band Traeh (“heart” spelled backward), says, “I saw Le Tigre here when I was 16 — it was a really important show — I still remember that show. The power went out, like, three times; everybody was sweating.”

Lopez remembers a now-closed all-ages incarnation called the Alligator Lounge. “Their Monday night house band was Incubus, and I read an old journal entry of mine where I was, like, ‘I hate that hippie house band Incubus.’ “

Every venue secretly dreams of nurturing a house-band-makes-good like Incubus, and owners seek out that special sound. At the just-opened Wire in Upland, dedicated husband-and-wife team Donavan and Rachel Foy took out a second mortgage on their house and sold both of their cars to showcase the musical hopefuls of the Inland Empire.

Located on 2nd Avenue in quaint downtown Upland, the Wire is clean and professionally run, with art-covered walls and a fabulous sound system. Donavan, who taught middle school science for five years, told his wife, “I didn’t want to be a burned-out teacher who made life miserable for his kids.” Rachel laughs. “He kept his word.”

“We could have done a nightclub, not a place for all these kids to go,” Donavan says. “Nothing against anyone who does it differently, but we didn’t feel it was the right thing to have alcohol — we could certainly make more money if we did that — but it takes away from the bands.”

The Foys’ idealistic strategy is beginning to take off. “We’ve been having between 120 and 150 kids show up for four to five shows a week; and we’re starting to get people who are up and coming and on their first tour as a signed band.”

For every indie kid who shows up at the Wire, two hard-core fans might appear at the much larger Alley in Fullerton. The decade-old venue, run by intense, beanie-clad James Barnum, attracts distinctly iconoclastic fans.

“The crowds we bring to downtown Fullerton are the kids that may not express themselves well in the classroom or on a football field,” Barnum says. “These are the kids that express themselves better on our stage in front of a crowd.”

From 1997 to 2001, the Alley played host to bands such as Linkin Park, Hoobastank, Alien Ant Farm, Strung Out and Zebrahead.

Outside the high-ceilinged, sweat-stained club on a recent night, a young man with a shaved head stood before a semicircle of tattooed compatriots screaming inarticulately about the uselessness of the Iraq war. One monkey-sized hanger-on stood behind him extending his middle finger; the kids listening to the diatribe shooed the interloper away in anger.

The political discourse at all-ages clubs may be shrill, but it’s as important as the music. The lead singer of the punk band Resilience, who goes by the name Fury, says: “People who are working 9 to 5 get really jaded. We’re singing about world change, so it’s better to hit them when they’re younger.” Adds the band’s guitarist, Skut: “Playing to one kid with a lot of heart is better than playing to 100 fans without that energy.”

After all, it’s raw, unaffected energy, that elusive zeitgeist of change, that drives musical revolution. At the Cobalt Cafe, the 15-year-old all-ages haven in Canoga Park, the scene smacks of youthful anarchy.

The dingy storefront room resembles somebody’s bed-ridden aunt’s house, replete with a dirt-stained carpet emblazoned with pastel flowers, a white cottage-cheese ceiling and mismatched faux-leather furniture.

On a sleepy Wednesday night, the venue’s owner, Dave Politi, is sick and there are no adults visible in the Pleasure Island-gone-mad interior. About 20 or so patrons flail around the room to the wailing of singer Chris Sanders of the New Jersey-based hard-core band Anchors for Arms, which had a show fall through and was booked at the Cobalt at the last minute. “We play all-ages clubs about three-quarters of the time,” Sanders says. “When [fans] get to be a certain age, [they] stop caring about these sorts of things.”

Maybe. But through the years, all-ages venues have spawned many a dedicated fan who returned to the scene of his or her rock baptism.

Next door to the Cobalt Cafe, Chris Funk, 29, tends bar at a low-key pub called Scotland Yard. “When JFA [Jodie Foster’s Army] played there, there were 40-year-old dudes rocking out with 10-year-old kids, and everybody knew the words,” Funk says. “When I was in high school, I was going there too; it’s the only place you can go when you’re under 21 to see punk rock bands in the West Valley.”

Indeed, such venues supply the sugar to feed the musical sweet tooth of their teen demographic.

“This is the melting pot of all the original music that goes on in L.A.,” says Aaron Buckley of the experimental band Anavan, which recently played to dozens of screaming fans at Il Corral. “Places like this are prime, because everybody who comes to them really, really wants them.”

Calling all ages

The Allen Theatre, 3809 Tweedy Blvd., South Gate, (323) 249-9775. A giant old theater run by a dedicated husband and wife who set out to create a place for neighborhood kids to safely blow off steam.

The Alley, 139 W. Amerige Ave., Fullerton, (714) 738-6934. A sweaty, all-out rock venue located in downtown Fullerton. In April, the Alley will open up a fenced-off beer garden for patrons who are 21 and older.

Chain Reaction, 1652 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 635-6067. The darling of Southern California all-ages clubs. If you’ve heard of a band, it has probably played at Chain Reaction at some point.

Cobalt Cafe, 22047 Sherman Way, Canoga Park, (818) 348-3789. Kids roam free in this tried-and-true venue, which is never too full of itself to give unknown touring bands a chance.

The Glass House, 200 W. 2nd St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802. This giant venue is located in the Art Colony of Pomona and is co-owned by Coachella founder Paul Tollett, who uses the space as a testing ground for the festival.

Il Corral, 662 N. Heliotrope Drive, Los Angeles, no phone. An all-ages art space that hosts live music special events. The draw here is “noise and experimental” sound, and the crowd is a bit older and more eccentric than at your typical all-ages venue.

Koo’s Art Center, 530 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 491-7584. Once a Santa Ana mainstay, Koo’s has relocated to Long Beach and promotes creative expression, including visual and performing arts, and live music.

Showcase Theatre, 683 S. Main St., Corona, (951) 276-7770. Kids from downtown L.A. to Whittier drop the venue’s name in casual conversation about their weekends.

The Smell, 247 S. Main St., Los Angeles, no phone. It smells like teen spirit in this nitty-gritty performance space in a downtown L.A. alley. The neighborhood is swiftly gentrifying, making punk shows here feel even more punk.

The Wire Music and Art Venue, 247 N. 2nd Ave., Upland, (909) 985-9466. One of the most well-maintained of the venues on this list. A young husband and wife who care about kids and music hope to keep it that way.