The lack of all-ages music in Vancouver
By Cazzy Lewchuk, Staff Writer
Vancouver is well-known for its breakout music scene. Some of Canada’s biggest artists have come from the area—Hedley, Hey Ocean! , Marianas Trench, Bryan Adams, Carly Rae Jepsen, Sarah McLachlan, and of course, Nickelback. In addition to the aforementioned musicians, many equally talented but lesser known artists are based in Vancouver—too many to list here. If you’re between the ages of 13 and 35, and you enjoy live music, odds are good that you’ve checked out a local concert at some point.
However, Vancouver’s music scene is extremely limited in terms of accessibility—specifically, for those under the age of 19. Some of the most popular and well-regarded venues are strictly 19+, such as the Commodore Ballroom, the Rickshaw Theatre, and the Biltmore Cabaret. All of these stages are 19+ due to licensing restrictions involving the serving of alcohol.
Most cities host concerts in liquor-serving venues. To avoid serving minors, there are usually two options. The first is to simply refuse to serve patrons without valid ID. This option is used in Vancouver at extremely large venues, such as Rogers Arena. In some smaller venues, a wristband or stamp may be used to differentiate between legal and underage audiences. The second option is to “de-licence” for the night, meaning the venue has its permit to serve liquor temporarily revoked and the entire event is dry.
Vancouver is well-known for its restrictive liquor laws. A recent law passed in 2014 actually made it illegal for a venue to “de-licence” temporarily for an all-ages event, unless the licensing is before a venue’s primary hours of establishment. This means the Commodore, which opens at 7, cannot host an all-ages concert after that time—even though the vast majority of concerts are held at night.
There are very few options available in Vancouver for an all-ages concert as none of the venues available seat more than a couple hundred people. This creates two scenarios for touring bands: skip Vancouver entirely (as is the case when the majority of their audience is under 19) or play at a 19+ venue, leaving out many teenagers. The irony is that underage people are some of the most enthusiastic and dedicated concert goers around.
A non-profit group known as the Safe Amplification Site Society is dedicated to funding and organizing all-ages events across BC and Vancouver. According to their website, they “are working towards the establishment of a permanent, legal, sustainable, affordable, and accessible all-ages venue.” Safe Amp is volunteer, extremely low-budget, and does not even have a permanent venue established (their current rental, Astorinos, holds 350 people). The fact that Vancouver does not already have such a venue is astonishing. Absence of even a concert hall with seats for 400 people, focussing on a key demographic of live music is a serious flaw in the city’s arts scene.
The failure of a proper all-ages venue in Vancouver has led to many all-ages shows either being cancelled or being driven underground, often held in non-certified venues or even houses. These shows do not always have permits, safety regulations, and many feature discreet underage drinking.
The limited access to music concerts not only hurts the audience, but the many musicians looking to perform. Bands across Vancouver have trouble finding show or venue opportunities that allow them to play to an all-ages crowd. This leads to a decline in show attendance and a reduced number of local concerts or active bands.
Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson has allocated funding in his capital plan proposal for an all-ages venue. It’s clear that Vancouver needs a permanent place for music fans of all ages to enjoy some great concerts. However, the restrictive bylaws are a much bigger part of the problem. A lot of money could be saved and business could be increased by simply lifting the restriction of “de-licensing.” The intent of the law is to prevent underage drinking from occurring—despite the venue’s lack of alcohol being the entire point of letting teenagers inside.
Cancellations of shows and inadequate opportunities for thriving talents to perform is a prime example of art suppression and why Vancouver is often known as “no-fun city.” Youth arts—especially music—have huge benefits, and blocking music is a huge barrier to supporting talent and creativity. Reasonable law reforms are necessary to free the music scene of such barriers. It would not only encourage the bands and musicians, but would also help boost the economy of the city and help more people tune into the arts community.