By Brad Lopez
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It's been fairly quiet on the all-ages front since April 15, when the City of Denver began enforcing an ordinance that prohibits persons under 21 from sharing the same air with those of legal drinking age in small and midsized music venues. So far, there have been no implosions, lawsuits or riots -- to the possible chagrin of a rather amusing guerilla faction that has papered the land with crude fliers calling for the immediate reclamation of "Denver's streets" and youth-friendly venues "by any means necessary." In the inner sanctum -- where club owners, promoters and other local-music-business types live and lunch with attorneys and city councilpersons -- slightly less confrontational methods of getting the kids back into the mix have been proposed. The good news is that some of these seem to be working.
Around the time these words are printed, Denver councilwomen Elbra Wedgeworth and Susan Barnes-Gelt will be introducing a draft of an ordinance that would amend Denver's cabaret-license laws to allow mixed-aged crowds at certain types of events at certain types of clubs. The proposal will be made to the council's six-member Safety and Personnel Committee, which Wedgeworth chairs. Also expected to attend are Denver Department of Excise and Licenses director Helen Gonzales, all-ages-club opponent Mike Patrick, a detective with the Denver Police Department, and alert members of the public. (If you're reading this before 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 30, you can still attend the public meeting in City Council Chambers on the fourth floor of the City and County Building. Keep it zipped, though: No public comments or questions will be allowed at the meeting. That will come later, Mr. Smith.) The draft -- which was crafted after Wedgeworth met numerous times with members of the local music community, including Chris Swank of nobody in particular presents and the Aztlan's Tim Correa -- would essentially restore the status quo that, until six weeks ago, allowed venues to host underage attendees as long as they were kept separate from the legal crowd by way of physical barricades, among other things. The proposed ordinance amendments would also strengthen and clarify requirements for businesses that wish to operate under a new split-premises permit. In other words, the days of the chain-link fence separating the men from the boys will go bye-bye permanently if this policy is put into place.
"When the draft was written, it was done with awareness of the concerns and issues raised by Helen Gonzales and Mike Patrick," Wedgeworth says. "Before, there was an issue of how the venues with mixed crowds were interpreting the permit. They would improvise a lot of the safety requirements. They'd put up a volleyball net to keep crowds apart. With the new permit, they would be required to have permanent structures -- walls -- to do that, as well as separate entrances, restrooms, etc."
The drafted ordinance is very much in its infancy, Wedgeworth stresses. The committee must approve it before it can be introduced to, and voted on by, the entire Denver City Council, a process that could take who knows how long. And while she feels confident that the proposal -- written by assistant city attorney Kurt Stiegelmeier -- will be openly received by her colleagues, she knows that getting it passed could be an unexpectedly bumpy road.
"It is impossible to know how these things are going to go," she says. "We're not sure that this one meeting is going to be the one where we say, 'Okay, let's go forward.' We just want to generate a discussion -- put it out there and see what the committee and the director and the public think about it."
One aspect of the Wedgeworth/Barnes-Gelt package that's likely to generate discussion -- at least in the electronic-music community -- is the section that deals with the increased regulation of "dances," i.e., those scary happenings known as "raves." For some time now, Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitmanhas encouraged the council's Safety and Personnel committee to address "rave-type events," Wedgeworth says. "He's had some very legitimate safety issues related to the raves and their regulation, and we decided now would be a good time to address them."
So, kids, this might be a good time to consider a career other than rave promoter -- in Denver, at least. Under another proposal in the draft (separate from the mixed-crowd fix), the number of locations a promoter could use would dwindle significantly. The amended ordinance would make it tough -- if not impossible -- for any venue to host a dance-oriented event (one where patrons, not just performers, dance) that lasts beyond 2 a.m., unless it was strictly licensed as a dance hall where no alcohol could be sold. Ever. Conversely, no facility licensed for alcohol would be allowed to obtain a dance-hall permit. And promoters who opt to rent nontraditional venues for raves would be out of luck, because the temporary amusement permit that currently allows for this would be revised to specifically exclude "dances." Even more bad news: The amendment would also give the Department of Excise and Licenses, as well as the police, more power in deciding just who should be granted permits for dance events, whether on a one-time or permanent basis.