All-age club scene

Hits adolescence in Sacramento

Club Retro

Club Retro

Courtesy Of Club Retro

The Sacramento area has lots of nightspots that cater to the 21-and-up set.

But there are fewer options for those who haven’t turned 21—and maybe don’t have their own set of wheels—but nonetheless want to go out in the evening and hear live music. The same goes for aspiring local bands with teen musicians, looking for a place to play.

“There are a lot of places downtown where you can go for music,” said Matthew Oliver. “But not everybody’s able to get downtown.”

Oliver runs Club Retro, an all-ages club in Orangevale. It’s not a small operation.

“Our stage is one of the largest stages for a club in Sacramento,” Oliver said, adding “We’ve got capacity for more than 500 people, and we’re one of the only all-ages venues with a VIP room. We just installed ‘intelligent’ lighting with a programmable laser that moves around, scans the audience, and spotlights the band.”

Club Retro, which opened about a year and a half ago, operates out of the Family Christian Center. “But our goal is not to preach. We don’t share a [formal] message at any of our concerts,” Oliver said. “At the same time, there are Christian bands that are in our region, and a lot of venues won’t book them. Our goal is to give them as much a platform as anyone else.”

Oliver likes to book young local bands, Christian or otherwise. “We want to help the local scene,” he said. “We like to bring in no-name bands that have never played a venue before. We’re not so concerned about the [audience] draw. Our goal is that we want to make every band—including the ones that are 13 years old and playing at their first venue—feel like a superstar. And we do a lot of promotion as a club. We don’t put that on the bands.”

The club is not a money maker. Many nights, there’s a $5 cover charge. “Our goal is not to drain the pockets of the kids that are coming. Anything we make goes back into the club,” often for additional gear.

There are a few rules. There’s no alcohol, of course. “The number-one thing for us is security,” Oliver said. “We want parents to know their kids will be safe when they drop them off here.”

“Bands aren’t allowed to cuss from the stage, or use any [language] that’s derogatory or offensive,” Oliver added. “And they must keep their clothes on.” Drummers are sometimes given a bit of leeway to loosen their shirts.

Many bands that play at Club Retro wear plenty of gothic black (as well as makeup) and play at high volume. “We give away earplugs for free,” Oliver said, adding that “the louder it is, the larger the audience, sometimes. We’ve just bought brand-new speakers, because the old ones wore out.”

“The crowd that really comes out,” Oliver said, “tend to go for hardcore, scream core, and alternative.” But he’s also booked acoustic bands, R&B and a rap group (which drew a surprisingly small audience).

At first, some members of Family Christian Center did not approve of the club. A few ultimately left the church; others changed their minds, or at least accepted the club’s presence.

Club Retro typically operates on Fridays and Saturdays, but may vary its offerings a bit as it expands, according to Oliver. “We’re thinking of adding an 18-plus night, playing jazz and blues… more of a lounge atmosphere.”

Another all-ages venue is The Underground Café in Roseville. It was launched about a year and a half ago, and it operates through Valley Springs Church.

“The Café itself can hold up to 70 people,” said manager Ken Winkler. “In the main part of the venue, you can have 400 people, standing.”

Winkler said that most of the kids who come to the club “listen to most of their music off the Internet. We’ve had bands that aren’t on the radio at all, and we’ll have 300 to 500 kids turn out, because the bands are known in a different type of scene.”

Winkler does Internet research to keep tabs on which bands are having their music downloaded most frequently. “It’s just listening to where teenagers and college kids are at,” he said. He added that “right now, there are a lot of bands moving back to a sort of Beatles-type style, or even a Beach Boys-type of ‘60s sound. But they always add something else to it—a little harder, edgier rock sound.”

The Underground operates at least three nights a week, sometimes as many as five. Cover charges range from $5 to $15. “We book more local acts than touring national acts,” Winkler said, and when he does book a touring band, he’ll often put a local band on the bill.

Winkler sees The Underground as different from 21-and-over venues. “From a business standpoint, [those clubs] make most of their money on alcohol.” It’s not easy to make ends meet as an all-ages, no-alcohol club,” Winkler said. “We have a church that supports us. We don’t have a huge rental cost, and we have a lot of volunteers, in addition to some paid staff.”

Bands that play The Underground must agree not to swear, keep their clothes on, etc. “It’s sort of a PG feel,” Winkler said. The club books a variety of bands, including some loud Christian groups. “We’re not going to pressure Jesus onto [the kids]. But we hope kids will return and see that through our love and acceptance, they’ll wonder ‘Why are these people this way?’ and ask questions about spirituality, and why we believe in what we believe.”

An all-ages venue to the south of Sacramento is the Elk Grove Teen Center, which has been operating since 1991 through the Youth for Christ program. The center has hosted concerts in the past, but the program was revamped and re-energized about 18 months ago.

“The concerts have become such a popular event that we’re trying to figure the most effective way to staff them,” said Jareb Collins, assistant director with the center. “In January, we had two concerts—one drew 250 people, the other drew 300. I’ve got bands coming out of the woodwork, saying ‘We want to work here.’”

Elk Grove, which has many brand-new suburban neighborhoods, doesn’t offer a whole lot of choices for teens in the evenings. “And if there’s one thing I know,” said Collins, “it’s that youth are always looking for something bigger, or more exciting… So we provide things for them. But we’re not babysitting kids.”

The concerts are only the tip of the iceberg. “It’s great for kids to come and hear bands and have a good time,” Collins said. “But we’ve also got tutoring and mentoring. It’s not just pool tables and video games.”

Fremont Presbyterian Church, on the other hand, is located in a well-established, mature neighborhood in Sacramento. Fremont is launching an under-21 program with a fairly specific focus—and a new facility. “Our Community Life Center has got a multipurpose room with stage lighting, plus a bookstore and a kitchen. We can feed up to 600 people,” said Mark Eshoff, executive minister.

The new building recently was initiated as a concert venue by a Christian band on tour. “We plan to do more of that in the future,” Eshoff said. Some sort of coffeehouse program on Sunday evenings also is under consideration.

Fremont Presbyterian is close to the CSUS campus—and that campus, which already serves more than 25,000 students, is expected to grow to more than 40,000 students in the years ahead. “We don’t disguise the fact that our intent is to encourage college students to come,” Eshoff said. “A lot of them are under 21. But we also get people in their mid- to late-20s. And it’s attractive to many high-school students. We don’t limit the ages. We haven’t had to.”

On the other hand, many of the programs at the Third and B Teen Center in Davis are very specifically targeted with a high-school audience in mind.

That’s because Third and B serves a very different community. Unlike Orangevale, Roseville or Elk Grove, Davis is home to a University of California campus, which has more than 25,000 students—as well as several nearby fraternities and many off-campus parties on weekends. Davis High School, on the other hand, has just under 2,000 students. High-school teens mixing with university students at parties where alcohol is served has long been an issue in the community.

Consequently, Third and B programs a lot of events for ages 16 to 18, and even asks participants to show a current high-school ID. Other events are aimed at junior-high students. “We want to screen out the UC Davis kids,” said Ann Marquez, community-services supervisor with the city’s Parks and Community Services Department. (Unlike Club Retro, The Underground Café or the Elk Grove Teen Center, Third and B is a city-sponsored program.)

“Teens often feel they don’t have enough opportunities for things to do,” Marquez said. “Every town is the boringest town in the world.”

Third and B’s offerings include concerts and dances, which draw as many as 200 teens, and sometimes feature high-school bands. “We also do ski trips, for kids whose parents don’t ski and don’t want to sit in the lodge for eight hours. And for kids who don’t want to go with Mom and Dad, maybe. We have adult supervision, but not Mom and Dad,” said Marquez.

Other activities include movie nights (some of which are overnighters, including karaoke and games) and “grub nights, or free food for kids,” Marquez said. There are also drop-in sessions with pool, board games and ping-pong. There also are tutoring sessions and homework programs to help students keep up with school assignments.

Being a public, government-sponsored program, Third and B does involve some paperwork: a medical form, which can be downloaded on the Internet.

Some other cities offer teen programs as well. West Sacramento has a daily program called Club West that serves seventh- and eighth-graders, in addition to sponsoring dances and weekend trips to amusement parks as far away as Disneyland. Participating kids pay $25 per week.

Check out these all-age venues …

Club Retro

The Underground Café

Elk Grove Teen Center

Fremont Presbyterian Church

Third and B in Davis

Club West in West Sacramento