Youth In Music: How Teenage-Friendly Spaces Benefit The Columbus Music Scene

Youth In Music is a mini-series born from a desire to get my friends interested in local music. I was frustrated by the lack of access for teenagers to Columbus shows and musicians; when high schoolers did want to learn about local bands, they didn’t know where to go, and when they found a show, it was often 21+ or otherwise inaccessible. Stephanie, Austin, and Jordan at Tiny House Music Collective encouraged me to write about it, and thus, this two-part mini-series was created. 

Among the diverse crowd at local and DIY shows in Columbus, there’s one age group that the music scene is missing an opportunity to engage: teenagers.

According to Nielsen’s 2013 report on entertainment consumers, 18-24-year-olds are “driving music consumption” in the United States – yet we ignore that demographic at a local level.

Local shows tend to be exclusive towards minors. Whether it’s because concerts are often held in bars or because shows run late, there’s no doubt that the Columbus music industry could increase attendance by making shows more accessible to the younger crowd.

Potentially the largest factor of this is that all-ages shows are rare in Columbus’s local music scene. Generally, this is because venues make a significant portion of their revenue from alcohol sales. It’s not a hard rule, but rather a far-too-common phenomenon, and the result is that younger fans and bands are often left out of the music community in Columbus.

My friends at Double Happiness, an all-ages venue, before it closed.

For this reason and others, house shows have become increasingly popular in both the suburbs and on Ohio State’s campus. As Mike Heslop, owner of Kafe Kerouac, says, these intimate house shows are “passion shows” – meaning that fans are hosting these musicians purely because they love the music. These shows have an upper hand to larger venues because they’re able to catch entry-level, underage fans and provide a starting point for beginner musicians. They’re simply more accessible.

Besides often being hosted in convenient locations, house shows tend to be less expensive, less regulated, and more welcoming to younger fans. However, these semi-secret venues sometimes don’t want to be identified online, and there’s potential for a paranoia to build if suburban awareness grows. House venues are often difficult to maintain because of the paranoia as well as the high demand for work and financial support from those living in the house. And since there’s less regulation on substance usage and safety, parents are far less likely to allow their teenager to attend a house show. Ryan Getz, owner of music publication TUNED UP, believes that there’s a lag in high school attendance to these shows because they need to gain parental trust first.

On the other hand, several local venues frequently host all-ages shows. Kafe Kerouac, for example, is a bar-coffeeshop hybrid and is usually open to all, even if there’s a mature content warning. Kitamu Coffee, another coffeehouse that, unfortunately, no longer has a building, is well-known for the owner’s passion for local music and is another venue frequented by younger bands – with the added benefit of being located in Hilliard, closer to the suburban teenage demographic.

Even when shows aren’t age-restricted, they often start too late for teenagers to make it. When there’s a legal midnight curfew for anyone under the age of 17 in Columbus, it’s difficult to get to a show that has doors at 9 pm, especially on a weeknight. This is because the venue is catering towards a drinking crowd or because of a regular crowd that would be there at the setup time. At Kerouac, for example, owner Mike Heslop doesn’t want to have to kick out customers to start a show at 7, so their shows generally start at 9 pm or later.

Occasionally, Rumba Cafe will host an “early” all-ages show before a later event, and a few of the coffeehouses and PromoWest venues like The Basement tend to start earlier, but typically, teenage showgoers can expect to be out past their legal – and parental – curfew if they want to stay for the whole concert.

A show at the LC, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This is especially true for shows that aren’t in the suburbs, which is the vast majority. With the exception of Thirty-One West in Newark, there really isn’t anywhere to catch live music outside of downtown Columbus. Sports bars tend to book cover bands because their demographic is typically less interested in hearing independent artists and would rather hear songs that they grew up with.

Between house shows and a select few venues, options for teenagers who want to see or play local shows are slim. After all, opportunities like festivals and InstaBand showcases only come around a few times a year, and between location, age restrictions and timing, criteria for an ideal teenager-friendly space are difficult to meet.

According to Noah Demland, music teacher at Arts & College Prep Academy and drummer for Corbezzolo, there’s a need for venues that not only allow underage fans but are receptive to hosting less-than-perfect bands and nurturing young musicians. On the other hand, teenagers should embrace and support the spaces that are open to them and advocate for themselves with venues that aren’t.

Despite the bad reputation that teenagers typically get when it comes to making music and being a fan, it’s an integral part of many kids’ lives and has the ability to permanently change them. As Demland said, “The power of kids being in their own bands is so very important.”

This isn’t new information to anybody, though, and certainly not those already involved in the music industry. However, there is still a lack of spaces for teenagers to nurture that love of music locally, so the next logical step is to advocate for them.

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