New liquor laws threaten music scene

British Columbia’s Liquor Control and Licensing Board (LCBL) is at it again. After last year’s debacle surrounding The Rio Theatre’s liquor license, the LCBL has changed its policies to prohibit venues with liquor licenses from hosting all-ages events, even if there are no alcohol sales.

In an effort to cut down on underage drinking, the Board rewrote sections of its policy and as of January 15, 2013, licensed music venues will not be able to hold music-related all-ages events.

Under the old system, venues could apply for a temporary change to their license in order to accommodate underage patrons and performers. After the recent changes, however, venues will only be able to apply for such temporary exceptions four to six times annually, and only if the event in question “is not reflective of the primary business of the establishment.”

While larger, more profitable venues like the Commodore Ballroom and theatres like the Vogue and Rio are unaffected by the change, smaller and mid-level venues like the Rickshaw are now unable to cater to minors. These bars and lounges are crucial in the early stages of a musician or band’s development.

Early on in their career, a young artist’s fanbase is made up largely of friends and peers, and they aren’t playing shows at the Commodore or the Vogue: they’re playing smaller, more intimate venues with a capacity in line with their drawing power.

By shutting minors out of performances at these venues — even if alcohol is not being served — the LCBL make it that much more difficult for musicians to make any headway in Vancouver’s independent music scene before they turn 19.

[pullquote]A blanket-ban of all-ages events at licensed venues is not the answer.[/pullquote]Not that it’s easy in the first place—many bands with members who are minors struggle to find venues that will let them play, often forced to wait outside until their allotted performance time and leave immediately after finishing. It’s hard to create a relationship with your fans if you can’t interact with them after you’ve left the stage.

The LCBL’s changes come as a response to complaints from parents, law enforcement and school officials that minors were illegally consuming alcohol at all-ages events. While underage drinking is certainly an issue that requires addressing, a blanket-ban of all-ages events at licensed venues is not the answer.

In the words of NDP Critic for Arts and Culture Spencer Chandra-Hebert, it’s like “using a sledgehammer to swat a fly.”

All-ages shows are rarely a huge financial success, unless ticket prices are grossly inflated, and most venues rely upon revenue from liquor sales. This means that a dedicated, all-ages concert space is probably not feasible. SafeAMP has been trying to create such a space for years, but has yet to move beyond the fundraising stage.

The kids who sneak drinks into an all-ages show or borrow their sibling’s ID to fool the bartender will always be there—only education (on their part) and improved employee training and standards can help.

If young musicians and their fans can’t frequent sanctioned, supervised, licensed venues, they will turn to illegal, unmonitored concert spaces and party houses. It would be better if they were getting up to their usual mischief under the watchful eye of bar staff and security.[hr]

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