August 28, 2008

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Finding a place for the kids to play
Underage performers need to do extra digging to find gigs
By Dana Unger dunger@hippopress.com

It ain’t easy being a musician. Even less so if you also happen to be underage.  Most music venues across the state are primarily bars and clubs, where many minors can’t even enter, let alone perform.

Facing obstacles such as state liquor laws, most underage performers will tell you: the places they can rock out at are scarce.

Colin Batty, the young singer for the Kingston alternative/metal band Elsyon, said he’s all too familiar with these kinds of problems.

“Some places don’t really care about the age as much as they do the music,” he said. “But there have been a few places, bars mainly, that have flat-out told us that as children, we weren’t as important. Because we know more people around our own age, we aren’t bringing business to the bars when we have shows. So they tend to avoid us.”

According to the New Hampshire General Court’s Web site, venues licensed to sell liquor are prohibited to employ entertainers who are under the age of 17 “in a place where alcoholic beverages are sold,” limiting the possibilities for many young performers.  Though the deck seems stacked against them, alternatives do exist, and more are cropping up all over the Granite State.

Teen centers like Peterborough’s Club Cannon, and all-ages venues like Plaistow’s The Sad Café and Suncook’s Ground Zero, cater to young bands and their audiences, featuring live music several days a week.

Because these venues are all-ages, drugs and alcohol are prohibited and many also limit just what kind of music can be performed there. The Sad Café’s Web site states that the venue offers kids “a place to learn, practice and perform music of all kinds (as long as it is family friendly),” and managers at Ground Zero take the extra step of reading every band’s lyrics before even asking them to perform there.

Christian Skinner, the owner of Ground Zero, said “We stay away from booking bands that promote negative things such as suicide, hate, violence, drug and alcohol abuse.”

Most of these teen-friendly places are funded through state grants and organizations.

Club Cannon is run by the Creating Positive Change coalition. Plaistow’s The Sad Café has several grants through the Rockingham County Division of Children, Youth and Families, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the NH Department of Health and Human Services, as well as through donations and the revenues the venue makes from its shows.

Advertised as being funded “out of pocket,” according to their Web site, Ground Zero owner Skinner says that his venue faces unique obstacles.

“Because any money we make goes right back into the place, it makes it a bit hard for a strictly all-ages, no alcohol venue/teen center to remain open.”

And other factors like rising gas prices are making things worse.

“The economy is hitting us really hard right now,” Skinner said. “A lot of bands have had to cancel due to gas expense and parents are having a tougher time giving their kids money to get into shows.”

However, it’s not only teen-oriented venues that are showcasing underage performers. Bars like Milly’s Tavern and The Dover Brickhouse are featuring regular all-ages events, during which no alcohol is served.

“We have an all-ages show every Sunday from 4 to 10 p.m.,” said Chris Serrecchia, co-owner of The Dover Brickhouse. “We make sure to pull all the liquor out for those hours.”

Some teen performers say they actually favor playing the all-ages clubs and centers.

“Personally, we prefer venues to bars because the people are there to listen to music and find new bands,” confessed Elsyon’s Batty. “In bars, sometimes you’re just playing to drunk people trying to get more drunk.” 

“We have played at lots of all-age venues like The Sad Café and Ground Zero and lots of bars like Rocko’s and Milly’s,” Batty said. “Generally crowds are more diverse and larger in the all-ages venues. You get more crowd energy from a venue crowd.”

Jordan Lampert, guitarist and singer for the Portsmouth band Man Down, said that he doesn’t think the venue obstacles are relegated to just teen performers.

“I’m sure a lot of bands over 21 have trouble too, because some of their fan base might be underage,” he said. “And those kids don’t get to see them if they’re not playing underage shows.”

What changes do these young musicians want to see for the all-ages music scene?
“We need more low cost shows and free shows for bands so its an option for people to just stop by as a casual decision,” Batty said. “It’s all about having fun, putting on a good show, and getting a good response from the crowd.”


Brendan Hogan plays at the Nashua Folk Festival. Courtesy photo by Todd Lehman.

Nashua Folk Festival Schedule
Where: Greeley Park, off Concord Street, Nashua. Free. www.nashuafolkfestival.com

Saturday, Aug. 30
1 p.m. Chordwood
2 p.m. Danielle Miraglia
3 p.m. Will Knox
4 p.m. Avi & Celia
5 p.m. Building James
6 p.m. Will Kindler
7 p.m. Liz Longley

Sunday, Aug. 31
1 p.m. Larry Zarella
2 p.m. Paul Sylvain & The Rockin’ Road Dogs
3 p.m. Brendan Hogan
4 p.m. Duty Free
5 p.m. Erin McNally
6 p.m. Brian Bergeron & The Late Greats
7 p.m. Christopher James