« Terry Stevens' Point

An Open Letter to Wausau - All Ages Shows

by Terry Stevens

PHOTO CREDIT:  By Bobak Ha'Eri (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 
Dear Wausau Powers That Be:

I love this city.  I moved here back in 2001 and haven't regretted it for a second.  The charm of Downtown Wausau, the rolling hills and fields of the surrounding countryside, the great school system, Wausau has it all. I'm glad I moved here.

I'm just as glad that I didn't grow up here.

Allow me to explain.  

I've had a life-long love affair with music.  My teenage years were spent going to concerts and even making a bit of (terrible sounding) music with friends.  I got to see my favorite bands in their prime, kicking ass and taking names on stage.

Here's the kicker.  These shows were ALL AGES.

The 21 and up set mixed with the 20 and under set at nearly every show I attended.  And yes, alcohol was served at these events.

So, did these shows end up becoming a bacchanalia of underage drinking?

Like this, but with more stupid teenagers, and less nudity and satyrs.
PHOTO CREDIT:  Peter Paul Rubens [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
No.  Not at all.

When you went to the show, you were carded at the door.  If you were found to be over 21, you got a wristband.  If you were found to be under 21, you didn't get a wristband, and you probably ended up with an "X" on your hand in permanent marker to boot.

Thanks to vigilant security staff, any underage patron caught grabbing a drink was swiftly escorted from the venue and left to miss the show.

While there were surely a couple knuckleheads who sneaked in a quick sip, the threat of losing out on the dollars spent to get into the show was enough to keep my fellow teenage idiots and I in line.

So what does this have to do with Wausau?

If I had grown up in Wausau, I would have missed out on some incredible concert experiences.  I honestly feel bad for kids who are passionate about music and have to miss out on seeing their favorite bands because of a ordinance/law that's doing more harm than good.

Under current Wausau law, All-Ages shows aren't allowed if alcohol is being served on-site.

Now you might counter, "Why not just lose the alcohol?"

Simple.  Alcohol is a big money maker.  Once you factor in paying venue staff, and the artists, there isn’t a whole lot of ticket money left over.  Alcohol sales help an event that may be in the red, hit the black.

However, there is a certain tier of artist who have a tough time making a 21 and up only show work.  When your demographic is teenagers to 30, it’s not really practical to book a show where nearly half your audience is barred from attending.

I hear city leaders fret all the time about keeping our youth out of trouble.  I also hear them fret about attracting young professionals to the city, and retaining the young professionals that we have, preventing “brain drain”.  If you want to attract and keep young citizens, you need to create a “scene” that welcomes them.  That scene happens to include their favorite bands coming to town to play gigs.

Wausau is very fortunate to have several of the best live venues in Central Wisconsin for live music.  It’s a unique position that other Central Wisconsin cities can’t claim.

We see the bump in tourism dollars during Wausau’s summer events and shows at the Grand Theatre.  People come to town and spend money with local businesses.  That’s good for Wausau.  We can also enjoy that tourism bump from a steady diet of shows that are open to all ages.

Here’s the kicker.  Wausau already hosts All Ages shows, with alcohol, WITH the city’s blessing!

Of course I’m talking about the Concerts on the Square.

Like this, but with more alcohol AND minors!
PHOTO CREDIT:  By Bobak Ha'Eri (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons  
Every Wednesday night in the summer, youth and adults gather on Downtown Wausau's 400 Block.  Alcohol is being consumed out in the open without bartending staff carding a single soul.  Security is relatively light considering the size of the venue.  Children and booze are mixing in a VERY unregulated atmosphere. And it's fine.  Drunken urchins aren't being hauled off to juvenile detention every Wednesday night.  Everybody is pretty well behaved. If we can do that every single Wednesday night in the summer, why can't we have all ages show in a completely regulated venue, with security and bar staff actively working to prevent underage consumption? It's time to change the law, and give our city's youth access to the music they love.

We can use wristbands, "X" marks on the hands, and vigilance to keep the kids dry.

And I guarantee you, if I spot a single kid trying to drink at a show, I'll be the first one to make sure they get kicked out.

One more quick note before I wrap this up.

Police Chief Jeff Hardel is going to be opposed to this.  His reasoning is that minors and booze should be as far away from each other as humanly possible.  I get why he takes that angle.  Every time his department gets a call where teens and alcohol are involved, it's a bad scene.  That's the nature of police work.  Nobody ever calls Jeff to say, "Hey, there's a thing happening here with booze and not a single teen is drinking!"

Here's the thing, Jeff.  If the kids are at a show where bar and security staff are watching them like hawks, that means they're NOT out drinking in a cornfield or friend's house.  We're trying to make your job easier here, man.  Help us help you.

All ages shows.  Let's make 'em happen, Wausau.

Be Cool,

~TS

______________________________________________________________________________

***FOLLOW UP!!!!***

Seconds after posting this, I received a message from local music journalist/man about town, Dino Corvino, who brought up a very good point.  Namely, that my blog post needs a lot more homework.

He's right.

So, I did a bit of digging.

Wausau's Municipal Code can be found RIGHT HERE .

It's the epitome of TL;DR, but I read it anyway.  Specifically, the part about Business Licenses and Regulation .

There are separate rules and regulations for "Public Exhibition and Tavern Entertainment" (5.24) Vs. "Private Teen Dance Clubs" (5.25).

Things get really interesting when we scroll down a bit more and hit the "Alcoholic Beverages" (5.64) portion of the Code.

Remember those "Beer Fences" that pop up at every single outdoor event?

5.64.150 Enclosure requiredCPicnic license. 
(a) The license holder of a special Class AB@ fermented malt beverage license (picnic license) shall cause to be installed around the main point of sale a fence or fences at least seven feet in height measured from ground level, or two fences at least four feet high and eight feet apart, in order to control ingress and egress of persons and consumption of fermented malt beverages; and shall station an adult at the entrance to the area for the purpose of checking age identification. The herein described fence regulations shall not apply to a licensed area within an enclosed building. 

That last line is important.  We'll come back to it.

(b) No fermented malt beverage shall be served to or consumed by anyone outside of the fenced-in area. 
Duh.
(c) All license holders issued a special Class AB@ fermented malt beverage license (picnic license) shall post in a conspicuous location at the main point of sale and at all entrances to the facility a sufficient number of signs disclosing that no fermented malt beverage shall be served to any underage person. 
Post signs saying "No serving minors, dumbass."  Got it.
(d) A licensed operator shall be stationed at all points of sale at all times. 
Qualified booze pourers only, please.

Here's where things get REALLY interesting.

(e) Except as noted in paragraph (a), licensed events may apply for a waiver of the 
enclosure requirement by submitting an alcohol control plan to the public health and safety committee. The committee shall seek a recommendation from the police chief prior to taking action on the plan.
In addition, the committee may place additional restrictions or conditions on the plan before granting a waiver. Each event requires a separate application for a waiver of the enclosure requirement. 
You mean, the beer fences can be defeated (with approval from the Public Health and Safety Committee and the Police Chief)?!?!?!?!?!?

Let's read on, shall we?

(f) When the enclosure requirement is waived in accordance with (e) above, operators 
shall not sell alcohol beverage servings or containers larger than 20 ounces, 
Keep the drinks small.  Got it.
...nor shall multiple servings be sold to an individual on behalf of others without the operator ascertaining that those receiving the beverages are of legal age. 
One drink per customer.  Got it.
A visible device or wristband that is tamper-resistant and nontransferable may be applied after the operator has ascertained that a purchaser and/or anyone receiving alcohol beverages are of legal age. 
Wristbands?  It's like we're all on the same page here already!  So what's the problem?

Oh yeah...this:

The herein described fence regulations shall not apply to a licensed area within an enclosed building.  
Okay, so the regs outside don't apply to regs inside.  So what regs do apply to the great indoors?  I've scoured the Code and I'm just not seeing them.  Then again, I'm not very bright.  Give it a click and tell me if you see regs for all-ages venues that also serve alcohol .

There already seems to be a system in place for carding and wristbanding at outdoor events in Wausau.  Big Bull Falls Blues Fest could be an all-ages gig, but it isn't.  Is that due to the event organizer, the Wausau Public Health and Safety Commitee or the Wausau Police Chief?

Perhaps what's keeping all-ages shows from happening isn't a law preventing them, but the lack of a law that expressly allows them.

I have a call in to Wausau's Public Health and Safety Committee Chairperson, Lisa Rasmussen.  I'll let you know what results from that call.

***UPDATE!  THERE'S A PART II TO THIS SERIES!  CLICK HERE TO READ IT!*** 

*In addition to having a great alcohol-free time at shows when he was a kid"Scary" Terry Stevens is a radio host for Midwest CommunicationsYou can Book Face with him here.