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It's 8:30 on a sultry Thursday evening and Rose's Bar & Music Lounge looks, well, strange. Usually at this hour there are just a few hard-core sots sucking down two-for-one happy hour drinks. But tonight there are plenty of people -- and hardly any of them are drinking. A liberally pierced girl draped in baggy clothing sits at the nearly empty bar, but the bartender politely shoos her away. "Sorry, hon, you have to be 21 to sit at the bar."
Such dismissals have become a familiar refrain to those South Floridians who have not reached drinking age but who long to attend live music shows. Most bars, after all, want no part of underage patrons. And with Dade's teen curfew in effect, most teenagers would be breaking the law anyway if they tried to catch one Rose's normally late-starting lineups.
That hasn't deterred the crowd on hand tonight, which includes fans as young as fourteen. These kids are part of the nascent all-ages scene struggling to take root in Dade. Composed of some fifteen bands, two steady promoters, and eager fans, all the scene lacks is a consistent venue. And that, as it turns out, is quite a handicap.
Cheers, the only local all-ages club to feature live music consistently, shut down in June. Apart from occasional warehouse dates, private parties, or bashes by local record labels, the only gigs to be found are at Rose's, which hosts at least one all-ages show a month.
A couple of young entrepreneurs, Kal Robles, age seventeen, and Carl Hensley, age eighteen, have organized and promoted most of these shows. Hensley started booking his friend's band at Cheers three years ago and currently brings local bands and small national acts to Dade and Broward. Robles, bassist for the band Chalk, books many of the all-ages shows at Rose's. He remembers the first show in Miami Beach, back in 1994: "Four hundred kids showed up at the Phoenix [a now-defunct South Beach club]. I approached Rose's and they let me put a show on. We had about 300 kids attend that one, and after that Rose's called and hired me to book all-ages shows." Before then, underage bands had been restricted to playing parties or school functions.
"We first did these shows because the kids needed somewhere to go," says Charlotte Barron, owner of Rose's. "The bands were young and we couldn't let them in at night, so we did the early shows. We mainly do it so the kids can have fun and see music. And the music is great; we've had some really good bands."
The bands display a wide variety of influences. Chalk, Robles's quartet, hops from upbeat reggae riffs to Korn-inspired metal venting. Smite, one of the more experimental bands, has shifted from alternative rock to a jazzier mix. Garland's Room plays loud, fast, and furious, with frontman Rodrigo Lopresti acting as the ringleader of a dependable legion of slam dancers.
Indeed, regardless of their proficiency, the bands at all-ages shows can be counted on to produce the sonic licks that fuel a mosh pit. The release of energy is central to the endeavor; the fans -- many of whom perform in bands themselves -- come for the music, not the drinks on the other side of the bar. Chalk drummer Ivan Gehrig says he prefers to play all-ages shows: "Everyone is there to see the music. They go off. And the bands feed off that. But at the over-21 clubs, it's just like some clapping when you're done."
The all-ages scene took root at Cheers, the former watering hole in Coconut Grove. Originally the bar featured live music just once a week. "But the response [to live music] was so great that we booked another night and then another night, and it finally grew to five nights a week," says ex-owner Gaye Levine.
A strange thing then happened: Bands started popping up faster than pimples the week of the prom. Levine says she was inundated with 40 to 50 tapes a week from young local bands. "They knew we would book them," she says, "and they had no other place to play."
David "Freak" Delafe, age 21, has been in bands since he was 13 and is now the lead singer of Chalk. He says the demise of Cheers, which closed in part owing to complaints from neighbors, has stemmed the tide of young bands. "When you're in high school, it's really fresh to go watch people you know kick ass on-stage. And as a band it makes you feel like you're actually doing something and not just eating shit."
Edwin Gutierrez, age twenty, goes to great lengths to arrange his work schedule to make sure he can attend every all-ages show. Away from them, he says, there isn't a lot to do: "If there isn't a show, we'll have a party on the beach, a small get-together at someone's house, or a party where a band has a mini jam session." Gutierrez says there are raves and dance clubs that allow minors, but he is quick to note that the prospect of shaking your booty to techno music holds little allure for fans of live music who adhere to the do-it-yourself punk spirit. The young partiers who pack an all-ages foam party, Gutierrez notes, are simply not the sort who are going to brave the pit at the next all-ages live show. And vice versa.