So playing shows when you’re a young band sucks, like a lot, especially when you are pretty much the only serious band around. This is a problem a lot of bands face when they get to the age of 16-17, old enough to know how to play their instruments well and write a damn good song but too young to get seriously considered for cool shows by big promoters or invited to anything hip because y’know – they can’t drink. All ages shows fucking suck to book because they are frequently more expensive and the payoff is rarely there. America as a whole has had a huge dropoff in all ages shows recently and that’s not good for burgeoning scenes. So you need to be able to figure out, as a young person trying to play shows, what you want to do in order to properly grow your brand in a way that is constructive and fun, rather than just playing to no one in your parents basement because everything is terrible and the world is ending.
This can get especially hard if you’re not playing music that is traditionally viewed as ‘cool’. That is to say, if you’re playing indie rock or something it’s pretty easy to find a coffee shop or something to play in, and that’s awesome. In fact if you’re in a strong high school band that plays conventional music I would hit up as many coffee shops and the like as possible. Those venues love having teenage artists come through because it gets them to bring their friends in. Teenagers are a gold mine for restaurants and cafes that don’t serve booze, they need somewhere to hang out too. You can help coffee shops become the hip spot and also provide a healthy dose of anarchism as well as meet some cool people. I still think back fondly to the coffee shop where I used to book my all ages shows when I was 18 years old. It was great! Those are the sorts of places you need to be connecting with, even if you do play distinctly uncool music, because they can help you develop.
Of course there are so many layers beyond that. If you’re playing in, for example, a metal band, or even a hard rock group, odds are most of your potential audience is going to be more interested in attending shows at bars than at coffee shops. Most of your audience isn’t going to want to be surrounded by a bunch of kids while they see you too – even if YOU are kids. There’s a few ways forward with this. One thing that I have found most effective is trying to find an older band who are willing to mentor you. Maybe they can introduce you to a venue that lets all ages band members play even if its normally 21+. Hell, some massive venues like having young bands play because they’ll do it for free and also they will bring out the younger crowd, creating a group of fans who will stick around and keep coming back to the venue for years to come. Now more than ever being able to capture the youth market is extremely challenging.
Now of course, as someone who was a little bit infamous for sneaking into 21+ shows and even booking 21+ shows as a youngster we need to address this angle. You CAN sneak into most venues as an underage individual, and in most states it doesn’t hurt to ask ANONYMOUSLY if performers under 21 are allowed as long as they don’t drink. In most cases if you’re 18 they will let you into the venue to perform but might kick you out right after. Which is all well and good, you’re just trying to play right? I know it sucks to get kicked out but that’s just how things are sometimes. This is a hard fucking scene to be a part of and venues don’t want to run that risk. And I also know that fewer and fewer kids are doing this because they obsessed with their phones, so building up your own scene can be tricky. You need to balance these things if you want to build towards a brighter future.
The best way forward and the way that is probably going to get you the most long term respect is to follow the route of Code Orange Kids, now Code Orange, who fully fessed up to their youth but were so goddamn good people couldn’t ignore them. Their whole strategy seemed to be playing endless how shows all aroudn their region as much as possible wherever p[ossible for however much money possible. In fact Full Of Hell did the same thing. It not only gives you all ages places to play but also builds up punk cred. Having that punk cred is going to pay off in a big way down the line because it is going to show you are not just someone who is tied into the scene, but also will teach you things about life and developing your band you can’t learn anywhere else. It’s an intense thing to go through and requires a lot of dedication and a willingness to put up with a ton of sketchiness, but it WILL work in your favor over the long term.
Long story short – life gets a whole hell of a lot easier once you turn 21. All the forbidden pleasures are now accessible and while that can certainly be a struggle in and of its own merit this is neither the time nor the place. If you work hard to develop your brand as a younger person in the scene by engaging in punk and taking advantage of the remaining vestiges of the all ages scene then you are going to set yourself up for success at a younger age than anyone else. Not only that but you will have cool opportunities with people who don’t even care about your age well before then – and that’s going to be a huge get. Nose to the grindstone and do it, we’ve been at it for decades now, the only person who will help you is yourself.