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In 1995, when Cheers was in its prime, Kevin Brady, Smite's frontman, was in the eleventh grade at Miami Beach High School. "Back then," he says, "almost every friend I had was in a band. There were a lot of shows, but too many people saw too many bad shows and they stopped going. The market got oversaturated and went to hell." Though he still plays all-ages shows, Brady says the start times -- often as early seven o'clock -- are hardly ideal. "They want you out by eleven," Brady says. "And I wouldn't be too happy if I paid five dollars to get in a place and could only stay a couple of hours." Brady, who graduated from Miami Beach High last spring, is on his way to Gainesville, where he says live music is more appreciated.
Promoter Hensley agrees. "There is no place for the kids to go," he says, shaking his head. "The Rose's shows are only about once a month, and a lot of kids don't want to come out that early. Plus, on the Beach they're strict with the teen curfew." He believes that the dearth of venues has kept a firm fan base from establishing itself. "In other cities, like Boston or New York, a ton of kids go to shows even if they don't know the bands," he notes.
Jonathan Simas, a sophomore at Miami Beach High, is lead guitarist for Biotribe, better know by its former name, Hydrogen Abba. His outlook is a little more optimistic. "If you can get a demo produced and if you're good, you can play out." His band has played gigs at Rose's and at Weird Beards, a now-closed nightspot in the Design District. He says about 50 people he knows at Beach High are trying to get bands together.
Attendance at the shows fluctuates wildly, between 20 and 400 fans. Both Robles and Hensley are trying to increase attendance by booking shows with national headlining acts, a strategy that has worked in the past. A big draw is crucial, given the reluctance of club owners to book all-ages shows.
For club owners like Levine and Barron, offering a place for kids to come and play may bring in patrons but not necessarily profits. After all, bars survive primarily by selling alcohol. And underage fans not only can't order alcohol, they tend to be cash-poor. What's more, neighbors and city officials tend to frown on any venue that draws large numbers of teenagers. Club owners themselves complain that the all-ages shows can mean an increase in graffiti and vandalized bathrooms.
Even Barron, the holdout at Rose's, says she is having doubts about whether to continue the shows. "I always tell the kids, don't bite the hand that feeds you," she says in a motherly tone. Barron notes that the shows are not big moneymakers. In fact, the profits rarely cover the costs of security and sound personnel. But, she adds, "just from the musical standpoint it's worth it."
Levine acknowledges that there are problems associated with the younger shows. "They were respectful and caring for Cheers, because they knew if we closed they would have nowhere else to go. But the disrespect and irresponsibility of some kids did contribute to our closing." Specifically, she says, teenage fans would park on neighbors' lawns, mill around, make noise, and leave trash or graffiti in their wake. Emulating the adult rock and roll lifestyle, a number of the teens indulged in alcohol, pot, hallucinogens, and even cocaine or heroin.
The benefits and drawbacks of all-ages shows may become moot in Miami Beach. In an effort directed at curtailing nighttime loitering, gang activity, and underage drinking, city officials and members of the Miami Beach Entertainment Association have discussed the possibility of banning people under 21 from establishments whose primary business is selling alcohol.
"There is a problem with underage drinking, there is a problem with gangs, and we need to find solutions to these problems," says Woody Graber, vice chairman of the association. Graber, himself a prominent South Florida promoter, says he doesn't have any objection to establishments catering to underage people as long as they don't serve alcohol.
Even though clubgoers are generally marked with a stamp or a wristband to indicate that they can drink, Graber thinks that the bar environment inevitably encourages drinking by underage patrons. It's unlikely that any action will be taken regarding the politically sensitive ban -- which Graber stresses is still in the discussion stages -- until after elections in November.
If a ban is imposed, Beach clubs could no longer admit eighteen- to twenty-year-olds. This would leave mighty slim pickings for young clubgoers. A few live-music clubs -- most notably Squeeze in Fort Lauderdale and Churchill's in Little Haiti -- do allow those eighteen and older to attend their live shows, but most other music venues don't.
"I don't know where they expect these kids to go," says Levine. "In Cheers, at least they were contained and supervised."
Though promoter Hensley says he'll continue to promote all-ages shows, he believes that without regular venues the club scene may be doomed: "If it gets any worse than it is now, younger bands are just going to play parties and warehouses. I'd almost go so far as to say there will be no scene. I think kids are doing more stuff like going to movies.