Young, restless

Until kids are encouraged to play and see music, Sacramento will remain a cultural backwater

Not long after the Beatles made their debut on The Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964, pretty much every young lad who heard the girls screaming went out and got a guitar. I was still too young for a real guitar, so I had to settle for miming to Meet the Beatles in a garage with some neighbor kids whose grandmother had given them a plastic field-hockey set for Christmas. But some of the guys in my neighborhood of postwar flat-top houses in Stockton got guitars, took lessons and formed bands.

This girl named Trudy up the street, who must have been about six, invited a few of us to see her brother’s band play in their front room. I can remember a few things: a cover of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” another song called “Jellybeans,” and their cool-looking amps, which were made by Vox.

It was my first all-ages gig, and it ignited a lifelong obsession.

Then as now, the worst part of growing up was finding out there were events you couldn’t attend. If you really dug a band and then found out its only appearance was at some 21-and-over bar, you felt personally betrayed. But you can’t really blame a touring band for choosing to play a bar, especially when the venue owner promises all the cash from the door to the bands, because the owner makes so much money selling booze. Most all-ages venues don’t have liquor sales to cover the overhead, so that money comes out of whatever gets taken in at the door.

Before I moved to Sacramento in 1984, I used to come up here to see punk shows and play an occasional gig, when you could see bands like Black Flag, Flipper, the Circle Jerks or the Meat Puppets for a few bucks, and catch local acts like the Squarecools, along with such bands as Straw Dogs or the Fall of Christianity, both of which contained future members of Pavement. Club Minimal, was precisely the kind of toilet that was so appealing. Booked by Stewart Katz, now a prominent local civil-rights attorney, the venue was a barren sheet-rock cave with a stage in the back. I doubt few people over 21 ventured into the place, but the kids showed up in droves on their skateboards.

Over the years of living here, I’ve seen modest all-ages venues pop up, from the Loft at the back of the old Time Tested Books on 21st Street to whatever that hole in the wall is called over on 16th Street near Ernesto’s—which is a place where cops hang out, and we all know how much cops love clandestine punk venues. There have been promoters dedicated to live all-ages shows: Jerry Perry and Brian McKenna at the old Cattle Club, Charles Twilling at the old Capitol Garage and the ill-fated Junta. There have been numerous coffee joints that featured all-ages shows—Luna’s, the True Love, the Drago’s/Café Montreal/Café Paris progression on K Street where the Golden Bear is now. And recently there have been art gallery-venue combinations like Fools Foundation, which the city shuttered.

If one consistent theme has emerged, it is this: The powers that be in Sacramento do not value all-ages venues, and they consistently find ways to harass or shut them down. Kids should not be enjoying live music; they should be hitting the books, right? The only entertainment that should be encouraged are ones that draw upscale adults to the downtown grid to spend money.

The irony of all this is when Sacramento’s movers and shakers blather about creating a “world-class city.” Then they send their Kafkaesque little army of building-inspector types to hector anyone—i.e., visionaries and entrepreneurs trying to create conditions that will nurture emerging culture—into silence and oblivion. Why can’t the city find a way to help artists and musicians make this a more livable place?

We older people can enjoy a good tune, but kids have the real passion for music, and they should be able—nay, encouraged—to see and play music. Until that happens, Sacramento will remain a cultural backwater.