Reno’s local music scene is probably the most vibrant it’s ever been. It seems to be reaching a point of critical mass, where we could finally have a nationally respected scene. We could even become a tourist destination for music akin to Seattle or Nashville. But city laws are hampering this potential by excluding adults under age 21 from most of the city’s music venues. Often, the most creative and passionate musicians are under 21. Reno’s message to them is, “Stay home.”
I was 19 years old when I first got into the Reno music scene. I once drove an hour to Tahoe to listen to a local band, but I was turned away because the venue was not all-ages. So I listened to half the show with my ear pressed against the window, until the bar decided to break the law by letting me pay the cover charge and sit in the back. That should never have been illegal in the first place! Today, I play in two local bands with underage fans. They genuinely want to hear a home-grown alternative to manufactured corporate radio. They aren’t looking for an excuse to drink. But they’re excluded from, I estimate, at least 80 percent of our shows.
Reno laws bar “minors” aged 18 to 20 from entering almost any establishment that sells alcohol. These laws were supposed to prevent underage drinking but have been abject failures. Most minors drink. One study reports that 70 percent of underage University of Nevada, Reno students are drinkers. The drinking age is controversial, but exclusionary laws targeting adults under age 21 are another issue. This exclusion forces them into their own subculture, one that is, by necessity, criminal. It’s a subculture where drug and alcohol consumption takes place secretly, in dangerous environments. It is a subculture that fosters a distrust of law enforcement, often extending into adulthood. What else can you expect when police drive people from something as innocuous as a music performance? When young people are told that they can’t participate?
Thankfully, there are a small but growing number of Reno venues that are supportive of music for all ages. Several cafes and venues work hard to provide all-ages shows. But even many of these are hamstrung by our curfew laws. Reno is a late-night town; shows rarely start before 9 p.m. The city could extend the downtown curfew for minors by one hour, to midnight on weeknights and 1 a.m. on weekends.
Reno also needs new laws that allow any bar the option of letting minors come in and watch a band play. If we ever want Reno to be a tourist destination for music fans, the city should do everything it can to encourage local music. Despite its best intentions, though, by banning adult minors from anywhere alcohol is sold, all the city actually encourages is delinquency.