Backwash

The City of Denver prepares to vote on a bill that affects all ages.

The kids, it appears, will be all right after all.

On Monday, December 17, Denver City Council is expected to approve a new type of cabaret license that allows patrons under 21 -- under 18, for that matter -- to regularly attend concerts and shows in most clubs and venues around the city. What makes this move exciting is that in most cases, adults over 21 will be allowed to attend the very same shows and still enjoy adult-type amenities, such as beer.

That's the largely happy result of six months of back-and-forth discussion between members of the Cabaret Task Force, a thirty-person volunteer body organized by Councilwoman Elbra Wedgeworth in late July. Wedgeworth created the group after the Department of Excise and Licenses began to enforce a long-overlooked clause of the city charter mandating that kids be kept out of establishments that provided both music and booze -- something most small venues had gotten around with the now-defunct split-premises permit. At the time, the city appeared to be responding to the near-hysteria over Ecstasy following the deaths of Boulder high school student Brittney Chambers and, later, a young raver named Jared Snyder. Youthful fans of local music, however, decried the new restrictions, pointing out that by cutting kids off from legitimate social activities -- like going to see indie-rock shows at the Bluebird Theater -- the city and the police would only encourage the kinds of clandestine activities they were actually hoping to eradicate.

"What we were interested in from day one was really just leveling the field and making sure that the law was fair to everyone," says Wedgeworth. "We didn't want to take away kids' opportunity to go and enjoy music, because that's part of what being a kid is about. And we wanted to protect businesses that faced the possibility of being negatively affected by the law as it stood. So we got this big group together, and we just picked it apart."

The task force was given until December 31 to pick away and come up with ideas on how to change the law. In the intervening months, the city's hallowed entertainment halls have been open to everyone, regardless of age, with owners assuming responsibility for ensuring that minors were prevented from obtaining alcohol. Shockingly, this period did not result in any drunken, mixed-age riots. (Apparently, kids in Boulder have cornered the market on that stuff.) The relatively tame state of things since August suggests that Rock Island's David Clamage may have been right when he suggested that the entire cabaret code be dropped altogether. The existing ordinance, after all, was initially drafted to create a license class for proprietors of 3.2 beer, a curious liquid concept that long ago went the way of Apple Slice.

The task force's process was relatively tame, too. Members describe their meetings as meticulous, often painfully slow and sometimes frustrating, thanks to a city-appointed moderator who made sure the discussion was always within everyone's "comfort level."

But even if the group didn't cover as much ground as some might have hoped -- remember, we're talking about government -- there's plenty to celebrate in the way things have worked out. Restaurant owners certainly have reason to smile: Initially told they would have to prevent youths from eating at their establishments if they had so much as a lone mariachi strumming away in a corner near the kitchen, they are now free to welcome kids back to the table. Happy, also, are proprietors of small entertainment establishments that, under the old law, were prevented from allowing mixed crowds while venues of higher seating capacities, like the Fillmore Auditorium, were entrusted to do their own policing. If the new bill passes, all businesses with clean records -- meaning no history of alcohol-related arrests or problems with nuisance abatement -- will be free to apply for the new license; venues that hope to host mixed-aged events must submit a written plan of operation that will be subject to routine approval.

Wedgeworth says she's confident the bill will receive the seven votes it needs to pass the council and land on Mayor Wellington Webb's desk. Young -- and older -- people are invited to make their own feelings on this issue known on Monday, when the public can speak at the council meeting before its members vote. Aspiring civil servants, take note: The meeting will be held in the Denver City Council chambers, on the fourth floor of the City and County Building (the large, colorful one on Bannock Street), at 6:30 p.m. On your way over, you might want to pick up a bouquet of flowers for Wedgeworth, who over the last year has proven to be a friend of both the young music lover and the independent concert promoter.


All in a week's fun.

Anyone remember Circus of the Stars, the ultra-cheesy Sunday-afternoon pre-reality-TV show that provided washed-up sitcom stars a chance to reclaim their glory by getting shot out of cannons? Mr. Pacman and the Bobby Collins Death Metal Armada do. On Friday, December 14, the two bands will host their version at the Bluebird Theater. And while we can't look forward to seeing Erik Estada jump through flaming hoops, this Circus of the Stars still sounds like big fun. The program will include breakdancing, video screenings, a quasi-fashion show and a performance by something the Pacsters describe as a "juvenile choir." Radical.

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