The Young and the Rockless

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.

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.

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Larry Boytano