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A plea for more all ages shows: ‘Why is such a beautiful and valuable experience so rare for those under 18?’

If you’re under 18 and a music fan then your choice for attending gigs legally is remarkably scant. Seventeen year old Grace Stratton makes an appeal for promoters not to forget the younger crowd.

One of the first gigs I went to was on my 14th birthday. Thinking back to that gig invokes some of my happiest memories. I spent the night headbanging like I was an honorary member of Slipknot and as much as I probably made a fool out of myself I find it endearing that during that space and time I didn’t care. Now, every time ‘Seven Nation Army’ plays, I think of 14-year-old Grace and her ‘expressionist’ dance moves.

That’s what music does. It either works to remove you from the ‘now’ and transport you to a better place, or it enhances the moment you’re currently in. Recorded music does this – there is no better release from a difficult day than listening to Mothers Milk or Drink Bleach – but live music is the ultimate. While recorded music allows you to experience your desired artist at any time, it is unable to fully move you out of the moment, because usually as you listen to recorded music you’re doing other things: driving, studying, making dinner, cleaning.

Recorded music is an accompaniment to everyday life, but live music is an entire experience. It’s not just about the artists on stage and their music, it’s also about the friends you go with, the sights, the guy you’re sitting behind who smells really good when you lean in to ask him how he is and what he thinks of the music. Live music is an all-encompassing experience, it detaches you from the realities of life – and as I have got older I have realised how valuable and beautiful an experience like that is.

MAALA PLAYING SEAMLESS, A SERIES OF ALL AGES SHOWS AT THE TUNING FORK, AUCKLAND (PHOTO: POPPY TOHILL)

So why is such a beautiful and valuable experience so rare for those under 18? Is it a question of legality? I am a year off the ever-lusted age of 18, which brings with it the prospect of being allowed independently into the Kings Arms and other established music venues. 

Venues like the Kings Arms do allow under 18s into shows, if they are accompanied by their legal guardian. Under 18s have to be accompanied for many reasons, but the consumption of alcohol is the biggest one. Of all the hoops all-age gigs have to jump through, the biggest ‘hoop’ is the potential presence of alcohol among minors.

Hip hop artist Haz Hauvi, who is both a friend and a member of Homebrew and Team Dynamite, told me: “I feel it could be just the organisers, promoters, and event managers that don’t wanna really deal with the underage crowd as much, because it’s too hard to manage [some] kids, especially the ones that are already drinking outside the shows.

“I feel sorry for the underage ones who can’t get into our shows or most shows in general. You see a whole different side of music when you go to a live show”.

Artists and promoters do recognise the need to have a vibrant and present all-age scene in New Zealand, but the response is lacking. Young musicians and organisations like Zeal have had to pick up the slack for those under 18, providing them with shows to see and opportunities to be showcased, but even these efforts do not meet the demand that is there. I believe the absence of an all-ages gig scene is out of fear about ‘what could happen’ where alcohol and/or drugs are concerned. But my response to that is this: how do you expect New Zealand’s drinking culture to change if you don’t set up more safe spaces for youth to have experiences like listening to live music?

Instead of being afraid of drinking culture, we should make efforts to change the way young people see alcohol. The way for that to happen is to provide alternatives to sitting around drinking – like going to see live music – which is why we need to amp up the all-ages gig scene.

Fourteen year old me is almost eighteen, but she’ll remember that gig with her expressionist dance moves forever. We need to give other young people the opportunity to develop similar memories. Our drinking culture has coloured how we go about creating spaces for young people and that is just not good enough anymore.


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