Age is but a number: confronting 21+ concerts

In 2011, something happened. Stateside Presents, a local concert promotion agency, opened The Crescent Ballroom with the promise of breathing life into Phoenix’s music scene. 

Fast-forward two years and The Crescent Ballroom has become a raging success. For proof, go to one of the many sold-out shows and watch the crowd groove and sway.

The Crescent Ballroom serves as Arizona’s premiere home for live music. That was solidified the moment that bona fide Arizona heroes Andrew Jackson Jihad decided to record their definitive live album earlier this year.

The Crescent Ballroom succeeds in ways that Clubhouse, Marquee and Trunk Space have all failed. On behalf of all the Arizonan music lovers out there, I would like to extend a huge, “Thank you.”

That being said, there is one issue that arises over and over again, each time occurring at a seemingly more crucial moment than the last. That one little caveat to a night full of good times and great music are the dreaded phrase “21+.” If you’re not 21, you are barred from all the good things in life: dancing, grooving and swaying to your favorite band.

However, everyone under the fabled age of 21, myself included, needs to curb their anger for a second. Contrary to popular belief, the ‘man’ does not hate you and your love of music when ‘he’ makes a show 21+.

Actually, the ‘man’ behind The Crescent Ballroom, Charlie Levy, is on your side. When asked about the advantage for 21+ shows, he empathetically claimed, “There really is no advantage.”

In fact, the law is to blame for your favorite band’s 21+ show. An Arizona law requires concert venues with capacities under 1,000 to separate concertgoers under the drinking age from those who can enjoy a drink with their live music.

When factoring in expenses for a show, the folks over at The Crescent Ballroom have to factor in additional security and how much of the room they have to designate for patrons under 21.

Underestimating that space can lead to a crammed environment and overestimating that space can lead to an awkwardly large enclosure. So, naturally, decisions have to be made; after all, it is a business.

The other party involved in all of this is the artist actually playing the show. That extra chunk of change that can be made by an artist performing at a higher grossing 21+ show can be the gas money from here to Austin — a big deal for a young band with a relentless touring schedule.

The premise of 21+ shows is unfair, and there is really no question about that. However, it is a necessary evil. It’s not a stretch to claim that music is fueled by and inspired by the youth.

After all, these are the people who are most passionate about music; the teens who are still figuring things out, wearing their hearts on their sleeves and forging deep emotional bonds with their favorite songs and bands.

In the words of ODB, “Wu Tang is for the Children.”

The powers that be at Crescent understand that. There was undeniable passion in Levy’s voice when he said, “I wish the laws were different and every show was able to be all ages. I have been going to shows since I was 15, and that’s how I got into a lot of music. Morally, I want people to be able to see music and art, but it’s just the laws we have to live by.”

What’s the answer? There is a way that Phoenix can become an environment where every show is all ages, and that starts with involvement. Change doesn’t just happen, after all.

Phoenix is a robust culture where everyone needs to be involved and make choices that actively make art economically feasible in the Valley of the Sun.

Shop local, corral all of your friends to go to that weird show with you downtown and, most of all, vote for candidates that share your beliefs and who believe in Phoenix.

Reach the columnist at jpbohann@asu.edu or follow him on Twitter @JordanBohannon