Wednesday, August 24, 2005
I had only eaten half of my French fries at Fenian's one night when they asked me to leave. I was in the back watching Fatman Squeeze with some friends. I was drinking water.
"Can we see your ID?"
I snickered to myself. I was 19 and definitely old enough to sit in a bar and listen to bluegrass. I handed over my driver's license, proving I was "of age."
The waitress looked at me sympathetically and asked me to leave. "You have to be 21 to be in here," she said in an I'm-really-sorry tone. I didn't get the money back for my fries from Fenian's, but on my way out, some drunk guy asked me where I was going. I told him I'd been kicked out, even though I was only drinking water. He jumped up on his chair and screamed, "WATER! They just carded her for water!" He handed me $20 and told me to get something "real" to drink somewhere else.
But I wasn't interested in alcohol. I wanted to hang out with my friends and hear music. I wanted to eat my French fries and get away from campus.
Before that night, I didn't know that bars had such strict admissions. I spent the end of my teenage years in Louisiana, where alcohol isn't only sold in liquor stores, it's sold in gas stations, drug stores and Wal-Mart, too. Bars certainly have no problem there with letting 18-year-olds in to party (not drink).
The night at Fenian's was just the first in a series of turn-aways, though. At Martin's, the doorman wouldn't let me in for '80s night, even though I was wearing blue eye shadow and a "Flashdance"-inspired shirt. At Jack & Jill's, I couldn't get in to dance my best techno dance.
There were moments, though, when bars changed their rules for the night. I saw The Strokes at Hal & Mal's and moseyed in for a few open shows at Musiquarium. Both W.C. Don's and Hal & Mal's opened their doors to The Collective—a community arts group that three friends of mine and I started—after we insisted that all of our events allow 18- to 20-year-olds to come.
Still, these sporadic nights didn't come often. Usually, I was stuck at Millsaps, sludging through the dirty floors of the fraternity houses just to get to dance on the weekend.
I'm 22 now, but I haven't given up my frustration at the 21-plus rules that many area bars hold. I understand the concerns—Hal & Mal's Manager Charly Abraham says in our cover story (page 14) that 18-year-olds are a liability he just can't risk—because I know 18-year-olds are not all holy. Minors may try to get friends to buy them a drink, possibly resulting in our favorite clubs closing down. But there has to be another way that bars can operate safely while still allowing students to hang out in their bars.
The Joint's owner, Chip Matthews, told JFP intern Sophia Halkias that his bar checks IDs twice to make sure alcohol doesn't fall in to the hands of minors. Because of his club's close attention to who's drinking, 18-year-olds get to see bands there every week.
Thankfully, Jackson's minors have been making their voices heard in the past few years. Whereas when I was 18, I just left when asked, today's 18-year-olds are hosting their own concerts. When then-18-year-old Palmer Houchins couldn't get into the shows he wanted to see, he started the all-ages movement. Sympathetic bands and bar owners have kept the trend going. College freshman Clay Hardwick has done his part to offer indie-film showings for minors. Hardwick also works to make sure kids under 21 know when Jackson does have an event open to minors.
Amidst this movement, we have to keep coming up with ideas to allow college students of all ages to get into local bars. Bars could offer sliding rates—$5 for those who are "of age" and $7 for minors just looking to see a good show. When I was 18, the now-gone Musiquarium had a concert featuring The Symptoms (now King Elementary) and Alexander's Dark Heart.
My 22-year-old friend Tim took me, and when we got to the door, the doorman only made Tim pay $3. I had to cough up $7 because there was no way I'd be buying a mixed drink that night, but it was worth it to see the two local bands performing in such a chic setting. I felt old; I felt cool leaning against a wall in a real bar. I had dressed up in my hippest-looking blazer, my newest pair of Converse and my best-fitting jeans. Parties at school were fun, but there's nothing about a fraternity bash that makes you feel as sophisticated as seeing a band in a bar.
And actually, it's more than just feeling cool. Some of the bands that have played in Jackson are really good. When bands like Rogue Wave, Of Montreal and Songs: Ohia played at Martin's, only people of legal drinking age got to see the show. Though Martin's is a small enough bar to pack, bands would feel a lot better if people were cramming in to hear their songs.
Maybe they'd go back and tell their labelmates on SubPop (which hosts bands like The Postal Service and Sleater-Kinney) that Jackson, Miss., loves indie-rock music, that people here fill bars to see them. As bigger acts come to Jackson, young adults from surrounding cities will start traveling just to hear the shows. They may not buy an Amaretto sour, but they'll buy French fries and cokes, and they'll probably pay more just to get in.
Allowing 18-year-olds in isn't the only solution, though. Shows need to start a little earlier. I tried to see Rogue Wave again at W.C. Don's this summer, and when I left after midnight, the opening band hadn't even started. If bars in town want to fill their clubs, they need to start thinking like students. A Monday night show that begins at midnight is not going to attract people who have biology exams at 8 a.m. the next morning.
By getting more students participating in concerts their freshman year, you'll have more devout customers. Bands will see more support and continue pushing Jackson to its creative best. Jackson's Creative Class has proven it over and over again in recent years—a city that creates together, progresses together.
Assistant Editor Casey Parks edited and planned the Annual Manual.
Great points Casey. Back in 1995 my wife and I got tickets to see Marilyn Manson at a club in Nashville. We were 20, married and had a 2 year old son, but we couldn't get in b/c it was a 21+ show. The funny thing is the tickets said nothing about it being 21+ and the ticket broker didn't mention it or ask my age either. We found out at the door when we were denied entrance. Worse than that, the same year, we reserved a hotel in Chicago and literally drove all night to see Jimmy Buffett. At 6:30 we arrive at the hotel and are told we cannot rent the room because we are under 21. Again, married, children, reservations, denied. The only way we got a room was a guy working there rented it in his name and let us stay in it, out of the goodness of his heart. It still frustrates me to think that if I had chosen to do so, I could have been walking around some third world country carrying an M-16 and dodging bullets and bombs, but I couldn't take my wife to a concert or check into a hotel room?!?! Sometimes our laws make no sense.
jimmy buffett and marilyn manson? what electic taste the two of you have!