Rock of all-ages
All-ages: It’s about the music, but it’s also political.
Mac Schopen distinctly remembers the first time he was told he was too young to see one of his favorite bands play. It was Strychnine at Harry’s Watering Hole. When he first saw the little symbol on the flyer saying “+21,” he thought it was some weird code. Then he realized it meant he and his youth weren’t welcome. “I remember feeling totally, like, almost hurt. Like, ‘What? You don’t want me at your show? I’m not good enough to go to your bar?’ “
Schopen, co-owner of Sound and Fury Records, is now 27 and can get into any show he wants. But he still remembers the bite of that rejection years ago, and he thinks age—just like race or gender—shouldn’t be a barrier to live music.
Kids in Reno today are luckier than Mac was 11 years ago, when he started going to shows. Most young people interviewed for this story said they have plenty of places to catch live music in Reno. All-ages venues here range from independent basement shows to coffeehouses to clubs bringing in local and national acts. But the way many of the kids view this scene is different. Some are just happy to be able to go to a few shows of their favorite bands and rock out to the music. For others, it’s almost political—a way of life that takes them beyond that hallowed age of 21.
An Oasis for the kids
Muffled, guttural screaming and guitar shredding stream out of the New Oasis building on Victorian Avenue. Boys wearing black T-shirts etched with names like Slipknot and Skid Row and girls in tank tops and camouflaged cargo pants hang around the parking lot, waiting for the main act to begin. Inside, hair is flying onstage, gleaming in the stream of light as metal band Artimus Pyledriver lets out a healthy dose of freed aggression. Many in the audience try as hard as possible to look like they’re having no fun. Music vibrates from the stage, hits the concrete floor and shoots through the ribs, deafening the ears.
A group of friends wait in the back of the room for Remembering Never, the band they came to see, to start playing. Sean Mosh, a 19-year-old who looks older due to a bushy blonde beard and sleeves of tattoos, says he often comes to all-ages shows, and New Oasis, with a separate area for those over 21 and capacity for 947 people, holds some of the biggest. Reverend Horton Heat and Hank Williams III (who looks like a punked-out version of his granddaddy) are scheduled to perform there this summer. Past acts include Modest Mouse, Avenged Sevenfold and Insane Clown Posse.
“The importance of all-ages venues is so no one gets left out,” says Mosh. “Everyone can participate.”
The crowd gets livelier as Remembering Never takes the stage. A pushing fight breaks out during the first song but is quickly dispersed. A huge, red-faced man, sweaty and stinky, is ushered to a corner for a cooling down. But most of the audience is just enjoying the music, flailing on the dance floor or standing still with nodding heads.
Most kids forked out $17 for this show, but with the owner of Recycled Records as her dad, 16-year-old Katie Doege gets free tickets, making her a regular at New Oasis shows. “It bugs me about 21-and-over shows because no matter what, you like music, so everybody should be able to go.”
A smaller but similar scene is underway at Stoneys on Wells Avenue on a recent Wednesday night. It’s 8:30 p.m., and the bar, sectioned off in a different room from the stage, is fuller than the music area.
Element 80, a metal band from Texas, starts up. The lead singer, with power chords coming from two guitarists and a shirtless drummer backing him up, screams “Sanctify … you’re breaking down” into the microphone. Five young guys line up shoulder-to-shoulder below the stage for some synchronized headbanging. No one else is in the crowd yet. A few people sit in chairs toward the back looking sullen and serious, nodding in unison with the music. The song crescendos, explodes and ends, and a row of fists immediately fly up with the two-fingered rock ‘n’ roll salute.
The next song begins, and a few more young men have joined the crowd. One is wearing a black Faelsafe T-shirt, showing his appreciation for the upcoming local band. Nodding with riotous affirmation, they gather around the Element 80 guitarist as he inches up to them from the stage. Their backs arch forward and upright, dancing in front of the guitar. They’re believers, bowing to it—a god in a rock ‘n’ roll ritual.
At the end of the show, four of the front-line headbangers immediately go to the merchandise table. One is 20-year-old John Goodrich, who, still full of adrenaline and sweat, says he loves these shows because “you can come in tired or anything, and you get straight-up pumped right away.”
Standing near him is Jared Fitts, who just turned 21, so he’s not limited to all-ages shows. “The only thing it affects for me is who I invite,” he says, noting that many of his friends are underage.
Some people are so adamantly opposed to places that discriminate by age that they won’t attend or play at their venues. But Derrick Drake, a bright-eyed, smiley 18-year-old who has something of a young River Phoenix about him, isn’t terribly concerned with age discrimination when he’s choosing where to listen to music. “If they sound good, I love them,” says Drake. “Everything’s about the music.”
For others, it’s not enough to be “allowed” to watch a show. There are principles involved, a code of ethics, if you will. That code involves a number of basic tenets, including: Support local independent music. Do it for the music, not for the money. Do it for all ages. Do it yourself because no one else will.
Adhering to this code is Justin Morales, who’s sweeping the sidewalk in front of a brick house on Taylor Street on a recent Tuesday evening. The sun is setting, and the first show is about to begin in the tiny basement of his home.
They call this place the Spacement, but really it’s just a house, where four guys currently live. All of its residents are in bands—Chthonic Youth, Young Lions, Bafabegiya—two of which are playing tonight along with a touring band from New Jersey.
Morales, 22, helps run a small recording studio out of his bedroom in the basement. The guys hold Food Not Bombs meetings here, host an inordinate amount of local band practices, and hold six or seven shows a month during the warmer season.
Spacement dweller Joe Ferguson, 27, books shows here while also finishing up his teaching degree and co-owning Sound and Fury with Mac Schopen. “This is an alternative to the mainstream, to the radio-oriented capitalistic ethic,” he says, a serious but friendly look on his face. “This is more do-it-yourself.”
Morales adds, “This place may operate like a venue, but at the same time, the point is not to be like a venue.” For example, they make no money off the shows at the Spacement. They ask for a donation fee of about $5 per show, but all of that goes to the touring band. The only financial gain they get comes when it’s their turn to go on tour, and their backs are scratched in return.
Oh, and they would never book or play a 21-and-over show, they say.
“When we were under 21, there were shows that’d come to town, and we couldn’t go to them,” says Ferguson. “We thought it was fucked up that a band would come to town and their fans couldn’t see them.” He and Morales both tour with Bafabegiya and have walked away from playing shows that weren’t all-ages. “For me, it’d be like playing a show where women weren’t allowed,” says Ferguson.
Down in the basement, punk band Chthonic Youth just wrapped up their set and are tearing down their gear. Member Josh Hardy, 23, says their band, too, would never play a 21-and-over show. “This is a very youth-oriented scene,” he says. “To exclude the people most likely to benefit from it is a shitty way to treat your fans.”
The New Jersey band is up next. Loud guitar chords cue the show’s beginning, and people sitting on the steps outside file into the roughly 25 by 20 foot space. The concrete walls and floor are scuffed, with particle board on one wall and patches of carpet on another side of the wall and ceiling. The space is so intimate, the lead singer sings directly in the faces of some audience members. In unison with the guitar strokes, people nod like bobble heads on the dashboard of a car driving along a rock-strewn road.
“Most music here is something punk or hardcore with guitar, bass and drums,” says Morales. “It might be fast, or it might be slow, but it’s going to be independent. At its foundation, it’s rock music.” He says the people playing there will also typically share the same code of ethics—anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, pro-community.
“The community aspect is becoming the most important part,” says Morales. “All of these ideas and everything we do goes beyond not going to a bar show or to Wal-Mart. It’s about spreading positivity where you live.”
Looking at the street where they live—a row of cars parked beside overgrown lawns, houses lined side-by-side—it’s surprising neighbors would stand for the regular stream of kids and loud music coming from the Spacement. And yet, being located on this trouble-ridden street may be one of the Spacement’s biggest assets. There have been some noise complaints made to the police. But in general, the police have bigger fish to fry, as the Spacement residents say drug deals and domestic violence are relatively common on this street. “We’re the least of their worries,” says Morales.
The Spacement has been shut down before, when kids have occasionally been drinking or harassing neighbors. Those people have been made unwelcome at the Spacement, and the house has a no-drinking policy. The no-alcohol rule is less a house ethic (a la Straight Edgers) than a house necessity to keep the police away and the Spacement open. For that reason, they also try to keep audience numbers down to a manageable 10-50 (although 100 people have been known to pack into the cramped basement).
Marisa Loreer, 20, is a Spacement regular. Wearing a pink bandanna over short black hair, she says she doesn’t feel the same sense of connection with the kids and the bands at other venues that she feels here. “Here, you’re surrounded by your friends, and the community aspect of it is one of the major reasons I come here.”
Morales knows the Spacement means more than just music to those who come there: “The kids here are obviously looking for something more. If they weren’t, they’d be at home playing video games or watching TV … A lot of people think we’re saving the world by being part of this. I think we’re just being less of a problem; we’re just slowing it down a bit.”
This idea of saving the world through music combined with ideals is nothing new. The hippies did it in the ‘60s, and it’s been a cornerstone of punk since at least the ‘70s. But lately, punk bands (along with hip hop) seem to corner the indie, all-ages house party market. One doesn’t often see a band of bluegrass kids waving their mandolins and banjos demanding a place of their own.
“I’d like to see that in every genre,” says Schopen at Sound and Fury. “Anything that’s about taking control of their own music scene.” But he thinks independent music has taken hold in the punk community simply because of punk’s inherently rebellious nature. “You tell us we can’t do something, and we say, ‘Fuck you. I’ve got a friend with a basement.’ … Kids growing up with mainstream media don’t seem to consider doing it independently.”
The music business
The politicized nature of those in the underground scene makes simply being an all-ages venue not quite satisfactory for them. Putting music before money is key. The Spacement kids make this clear upon mention of the New Oasis.
“The New Oasis is unsupportive of local bands,” says Morales. “It doesn’t have anything to do with what we’re trying to do. It’s all about draw and making money.”
Ferguson adds, “They don’t care about us or about music or about kids. If money wasn’t in it, they wouldn’t do it.”
Justin Maximov, whose Chico, Calif., JMax Production company books shows for New Oasis, says he knows that sentiment exists and that he even understands it, but it’s the price to be paid for bringing in bigger national acts: “The kids don’t know the economics behind it or how it works. They just say, ‘Oh, it was a $20 ticket. That’s a rip.’ But the way it works is the band comes to me and says, ‘We want to come to Reno, and we want 20 grand to play.’ Then we bring in the sound, the lights, we pay the rent, the advertising. All of the sudden, you need $25,000 to put on a show.” Maximov says that, depending on the act, it may cost between $3,000-$25,000 to cover all costs.
As for not supporting local bands, Maximov says touring bands usually ask that there be no local bands there. This is because there are sometimes already four or five bands on the tour, so adding more local ones means a longer show. “It’s really under the headliner’s discretion whether we put local bands on the bill,” says Maximov. “Ninety percent don’t want to.”
Tony Pulido, owner of Stoneys, which often holds all-ages shows, also thinks it’s a bit unfair to attack music venues for not living up to an anti-capitalist or anti-discrimination ideal. His business wouldn’t exist if he couldn’t charge money for shows, and he doesn’t agree that over-21 designations are discriminatory.
“We were kids at one time, too, and we were very rebellious,” says Pulido. “I know I thought things like that, but as I’m getting older, I realize that’s not the case. [Businesses] have reasons for it. Like if you’d stop tagging up the damn town or stop fighting in the place it’d be different. I don’t think they’re being discriminated against. I just strongly disagree with that. If I was 16, I’d be right along with them saying, ‘Yeah! Fuck that!’ But I’m 32 now, and I’m a business owner, and I deal with getting tagging all over my building.” He says his new truck was also broken into at an all-ages show.
“Most of the problems do come from underage kids,’ he says. “There’s been one fight in my bar in three years; all the fights that show up in blood are always kids and always at an all-ages show. It steers me away from wanting to do all-ages shows.”
Pulido started life as a business owner about six years ago with an indoor skate park on Keystone Avenue. The skate park was in a large warehouse, where Pulido also kept his shoe and clothing line. The summer heat made those months slow for his skating business, but he noticed kids would come listen to the band he had performing at the time. He started charging them to watch, which is how he got into the all-ages scene.
“It wasn’t anything I decided to do,” he says. “I love music, and because I had a skate park, [young people were] what was around. Everything just fell into place and just happened.”
He’s had Stoneys on Wells Avenue for three years, but it was repeatedly shut down for safety codes. He reopened only a couple months ago after spending thousands of dollars installing sprinklers, a water line, smoke detectors and enlarging the bathrooms to comply with safety codes.
“I’ve worked so hard to get to this point,” he says, “and I don’t want to be shut down because some kid stabs someone … It happens all the time, and that’s why a lot of people don’t do all-ages shows.”
Pulido acknowledges that most young people don’t cause problems, but he recalls the old maxim: “It always takes one bad apple to screw everything up for everyone else.”
Nevertheless, most bands know the kids are where it’s at. “The reality is 99 percent [of headlining] acts want to play all-ages because that’s who’s buying their CDs,” says Maximov. If you’re in the music booking business, and not necessarily a night club or bar owner, it has to be an all-ages show, he says. The risks come with the territory.
“More often than not, the kids are polite and respectful, and it’s the 21-and-over people that are the drunk and surly ones,” says Maximov.
Schopen, listening to the Pinkerton Thugs in his record store off Wells Avenue, says he understands the resentment of younger indie kids toward the bigger, more corporate venues. “When I was younger, I’d talk endless amounts of shit about places like that,” he says. But now that he’s older and a businessman himself, he sees that those venues are trying to survive in their own way.
Yet Schopen still sees the need for an underground, independent scene and all-ages shows. “A lot of these bands don’t have the draw they’d need to play at those other venues,” he says. “If you want to have any kind of independent music scene, you have to have those [independent] places.”
He points out that these basement shows are nothing new. They’ve been happening at least since 1979, when 7Seconds—who gave birth to the Reno punk scene before going on to earn national respect—were still in Reno. “So it’s been going on for at least 25 years,’ says Schopen, “and it’s something that’s going to continue to go on.”