Denver Needs More All-Ages Concerts
It was an incredible all-ages scene: Teens, middle-schoolers, even babies being held by excited parents were lined up outside Seattle venue Chop Suey last week by 4:30 p.m. for the Tacocat album-release party. Tacocat decided to put on two shows that day: a 21-and-up concert in the evening, plus a matinee-style event that day for the kids. But it was more than just an all-ages show; it was a gathering tailored to younger people often shut out of concerts because of age restrictions.
The 6 p.m. show was early enough for little ones to come out before bedtime and gave parents with younger kids a place to bring the whole family. It was also a space for teens to feel like they were actually welcome in a place normally reserved for adults. The venue was decorated with balloons, piñatas and blow-up alien figures (a rad homage to the band's newest single, “Dana Katherine Scully”). A photo booth with props was set up in the corner (where Tacocat took dozens of photos with excited fans), and there was ice cream for sale. It was clear that this show was for kids.
Something that stuck out for me about the perfection of this all-ages scene was the kindness of the venue's staff. So often, even when shows in traditional venues are all-ages or, at best, sixteen and up, the environment is still geared toward adults; it feels as if kids are intruding in an adult space — especially when that show is at a venue that operates mostly as a bar. But at Chop Suey that day, I saw a patient doorman explain the in-and-out policy to some very excited fans; I watched a line of kids be nicely greeted by the dudes running a small kitchen selling tacos. It was clear that young people were supposed to be there. It also made me think: Why aren't we doing more shows like this in Denver?
Tacocat's Bree McKenna hanging with cool teen fans.
I get that not every artist or band can pull off two well-attended shows in one night in their home town. I also understand that all-ages events aren't worth the revenue gamble for many venues — especially if liquor sales are such a crucial part of that revenue. But what if there was even a little bit of a move toward creating more spaces for kids to see shows? What if these spaces didn't feature alcohol as a main attraction and instead offered non-alcoholic drinks, food and other things in a welcoming environment made for kids?
What I witnessed at Chop Suey that night was some simple innovation: By creating an environment that not only allowed but welcomed young people, it packed the place. Tacocat's merch was flying off the table; kids were buying sodas and food. There was plenty of money changing hands, and it had nothing to do with booze.
Denver has some wonderful spots for those under 21 to see shows — our network of DIY venues are great for all-ages crowds (though not always specifically kid-friendly). The Soda Jerk family of venues has also been a big proponent of offering local and national artists a place to play where kids are welcome. Even some bar-centric venues can offer sixteen-and-up shows. But what I think we could benefit from as a music-friendly city is more teen-friendly spaces. When shows are devoted to and openly inviting to kids, kids will show up.
While Tacocat unfortunately can't put on an all-ages show of this scope at every stop on its tour (luckily, the band's Denver stop at the Larimer Lounge in April 24 is at least sixteen and up), the group can give our music scene a great example of how we can make local shows better. Teens have historically been voracious consumers of popular culture. They want to spend money on music. But more important, they need a place to go to see art, and that shouldn't be challenged just because of something they can't control — like age.
This takes work on all sides of the equation, though. A band like Tacocat has consistently reached out to younger fans and embraced younger bands during its nearly ten years together. A venue like Chop Suey obviously understood that it was taking a chance on booking a show at 6 p.m. on a Thursday during the school year, but it made the move and made it happen. Together, the band and the venue were able to create the kind of place where everyone felt welcome. I think that's possible in Denver, too. What do you say we give it a try? How we treat young people says a lot about how much we value the future.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies