'Sick of sneaking into bars': Teens seek live music venues

For generations, teenagers have been sneaking into bars. But many teens say the live music, not booze, is the main attraction.

Many teens try their luck at 19-plus establishments — but not for the reasons parents may think

Young folks hang out beside Taco Pica, an all-ages venue, during April's instalment of Saint John indie music festival Quality Block Party. (Julia Wright / CBC)

For generations, teenagers have been sneaking into bars.  

But according to Saint John musician Dusty Bayerle, 18, older folks have the wrong idea about why many teens these days try their luck getting into 19-plus establishments.

"There are lots of kids that I know that are in it for nothing more than the music," said Baylere, 18, a 2017 graduate of Kennebecasis Valley High School.

There are plenty of places where teens can drink alcohol, Baylere said. What many really want is the opportunity to play music and watch their friends in bands.

Dusty Bayerle, 18, plays with his band Loverover at an all-ages show at the Saint John Arts Centre. (Julia Wright / CBC)

"I definitely [sneak into bars] to see my friends," said Saint Johner Chloë O'Brion, 18. "But it's hard. When you do get in, you're nervous, the people there are way older than you, and a lot of times are very intoxicated.

"And if people realize you're underage, they start screaming at you and think you're just trying to get drunk, when that's not really why you're there. You just wanted to dance and have fun. Teens really shouldn't have to do that. I'm sick of sneaking into bars."

No alcohol, no venue

New Brunswick is home to a small number of all-ages venues.

In Moncton, both Café C'est La Vie and punk venue Claude's House, named after the late Claude Leger of Acadian post-punk band Idée du Nord, host shows where teens are welcome.

In Fredericton, the arts hub on the 300-block of Queen Street, anchored by BackStreet Records, ShiftWork, and the vintage consignment shop Bellwether, have a number of all-ages shows scheduled in the coming months.

But it's hard for venues to turn a profit when they can't sell alcohol — which means there are almost no spaces dedicated solely to hosting music for the under-19 set.

Teens hang out on the sidewalk after being kicked out of a Saint John establishment, listening to their friends play music inside the licensed venue. (Submitted by Jerry-Faye Flatt)

According to Baylere, that means he and his friends in Saint John often resort to playing music in uptown drinking establishments. In order to do that, he said, they have to either be accompanied by an adult, or persuade the bar to let them play a set on the condition they don't hang around afterward.

"We get to play but they make us leave right after our set," he said. "We can't even enjoy the other bands that we're on the bill with. And our friends can't come in and listen."

In late July, Baylere said, when his band Loverover played a set at a local pub, the management got fed up with the number of kids in the audience and kicked everyone out before the music started. Instead of going home, he said, the teens stayed on the sidewalk outside the bar, listening to their friends' entire set from out on the street.

"It was one of those moments that just goes to show they weren't there to party, they were there to support their friends and hear the music," said Baylere.

"An all-ages venue would be a better way."

Teens welcome at Quality Block

This week, organizers of the Saint John indie music festival Quality Block Party plan to address the lack of venues that welcome teens.

"This whole thing is about accessibility for everybody," said Quality Block organizer Peter Rowan. "It's about opening the music scene and the arts community to as many people as possible — particularly those who might not be in the bar scene."

Although all the bar shows at Quality Block Party will remain strictly for people at least 19 years old, the lineup includes nine all-ages shows at outside-the-box venues ranging from Brick City Barbers to Elwood's Wood Lab, Backstreet Records and an all-day, all-ages "extravaganza," as Rowan calls it, at Taco Pica.

Those under legal drinking age are also welcome to attend a zine and craft fair at Port City Royal on Saturday afternoon.

Elwood's Wood Lab will clear out the woodworking gear to become one of several outside-the-box all-ages venues at the Quality Block Party. (Matthew Bingley / CBC)

On Sunday, Quality Block is inviting teens to a series of educational workshops on business and music, zine-making, and LGBTQ inclusion in local music scenes.

Given the number of teens who have expressed interest in playing and attending, Rowan said, Quality Block organizers will host another all-ages event at the Phoenix Dinner Theatre on Aug. 17.

Music and art events geared to young people, Rowan said, are part of the solution to the troubling exodus of young people from the region.

Teens volunteering at the door of an all-ages show at the Saint John Arts Centre. 'The memories and positive experiences of those shows are really important for young musicians and fans,' says Quality Block Party organizer Peter Rowan. (Julia Wright / CBC)

"It's amazing how many of them will come back after they go away to university if they've had that experience of a great community where they've been able to see bands and do interesting stuff," said Rowan.  

"The memories and positive experiences of those shows are really important for young musicians and fans. It's very powerful. They keep you connected. If we give them those experiences, young people will want to stay — or come back home and give back to the community."