Guilty Feet

The idea that dancing should be outlawed may seem more out of date than Kevin Bacon’s haircut in Footloose, but for teenagers in Seattle, it’s a reality every dreary Saturday night. Since 1985, youngsters in the city that launched the grunge craze have been locked out of Seattle’s local music scene by the so-called Teen Dance Ordinance, which effectively prohibits most clubs from hosting all-ages shows. But now a coalition of Seattle scenesters is out to change all that.

“The Teen Dance Ordinance and draconian liquor laws have done their part to choke the all-ages scene,” says Angel Combs, executive director of JAMPAC, a political action committee founded by former Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. Combs is a member of the Music and Youth Task Force, established by the City Council in November in response to pressure from music promoters and young concertgoers.

Seattle currently requires youth-show venues to hire expensive off-duty police officers for security, purchase pricey insurance, and exclude people age 21 and over. State law also prohibits clubs that serve alcohol from admitting underage patrons — even if the bar is closed during an all-ages show. The restrictions have all but snuffed out the teen music scene and earned Seattle a dim reputation among promoters.

“Seattle is one of the worst cities to book all-ages shows in,” says Kio Novina, an agent for Artist Direct, which represents many national acts. “Some of the bigger bands we have, like the Beastie Boys and Beck, got where they are because of kids. We get bands that [avoid Seattle because] they can’t do an all-ages show.”

The task force, composed in part of youth and music group representatives, is due to submit recommendations to Seattle’s City Council in May. JAMPAC hopes the city will allow all-ages promoters to hire cheaper security, buy cheaper insurance, and admit fans of, well, all ages. And it hopes to change state laws so that booze-selling clubs can host matinee shows for the under-21 set. “Music is for everybody,” says Combs, “but it’s kids who really make the scene.”