One of the most memorable events I ever attended was an all-ages concert my son played at. There was an adult band and a band formed of kids in grades eight and nine. The leader of the adult band was the uncle of one of my son’s friends. The friends and extended families of both bands came to hear the show. My sister-in-law, a teacher, came off the dance floor shaking her head. “I just danced with my husband, my nephew, my student and my colleague at the same time,” she marvelled. “How often does that happen?”
So that’s one face of a relatively newish phenomenon, the all-ages concert, often held in a bar or other licensed facility but with underage kids allowed to attend. At its best, it’s an opportunity for young musicians to play a venue a little more challenging than the school talent show, and for kids to see professional live music at a reasonable cost (and usually starting at a more reasonable time of night).
Of course, not every all-ages event is so wholesome. Parents understandably worry about young teens mixing with an older drinking crowd. We worry about our daughters being sexually harassed, about our sons being beaten up by a belligerent drunk. We worry about access to booze and drugs. Debra deWaal, president of Safe and Sound Safety Training and Consulting in Calgary, paints the worst-case scenario: “I can’t think of any place that would be better to go to, from a predator’s point of view.” Her own 14-year-old is allowed to attend community dances specifically for kids, but not all-ages concerts.
At The Rainbow Bistro in Ottawa, all-ages shows are usually concerts with younger bands that are just starting out, explains president and general manager Danny Sivyer. “Usually there are three or four bands that do one set each.” At the door, concertgoers with underage ID get a mark on the back of their hand so the bartenders know not to serve them alcohol. And although deWaal points out that it’s impossible to guarantee an older person won’t supply drinks to a kid, Sivyer says his staff check to make sure no one is buying for someone else. And how has that succeeded? “So far it’s worked out fine with no problems.”
Do your research
Philip Groff is director of research and evaluation for Smartrisk, a national non-profit organization dedicated to injury prevention, which offers a number of programs focused on youth. He says that with a sensible amount of upfront parent research, this can be a good experience for young teenagers. As parents, he says, we need to balance safety with allowing young people to test themselves with appropriate risks and responsibilities “so they learn how to make good decisions and become fully functional adults.”
Before an event, Groff suggests that parents make their expectations clear to their kids: “Yes, we’ll allow you to go to the all-ages concert, but here’s the deal: You’re not to drink.” Staying with their friends, not leaving the venue without first calling home and not getting in a car with a driver who has been drinking might be other obvious rules.
Parents can go too!
Talking about potential problems, says Groff, can help young teens anticipate the challenges they might encounter: “If a drunk guy starts bothering you or your friends, how will you handle that?” “If you lose track of your friends, what’s your plan to find them?”
It also makes sense, says Groff, to check with the facility holding the event to ask what kind of precautions are being taken to prevent the serving of alcohol to minors.
If you’re feeling comfortable with the event and are inclined to let your child go but still have lingering doubts, remember that all-ages means just that: Parents can go too!
“You can say, ‘Maybe for subsequent concerts I’ll drop you off and pick you up, but for this first time I want to check it out for myself,’” says Groff. And then, he says, stay in the back of the venue and out of your child’s way.
Chances are that you’ll have some company back there. Not many parents attend the all-ages concerts at The Rainbow, but there’s usually at least a “parents of the band” table, says Sivyer.
As mom to three budding musicians myself, I’ve spent quite a number of evenings sitting at that table. And you know what? I’ve usually had a pretty good time.