All these issues are important to kids, but that last item is the subject of a lot of non-kid hand-wringing as well. If our children just have a place to go, wisdom says, they won't do drugs or have sex. They'll do their homework. They'll make something of themselves.
That might be true. Problem is, places require money to stay open, and kids never have much money to give. For that reason, all-ages venues don't often stay open long. The solutions to this problem are exactly two: nonprofit enterprises that do nothing but give kids clean, safe, (relatively) drug-free environments to see shows and for-profit businesses who squeeze all-ages shows in whenever they can, usually early in the day, usually as far from the bar as possible.
Spokane has exactly one of the first kind-- the faith-based RAWK, currently homeless since authorities shuttered the Big Dipper -- and four or five of the second. A precarious situation by all accounts.
So when Empyrean -- the most all-ages-friendly of the for-profits in Spokane -- fired its booker unexpectedly last week, word spread fast and people started to worry.
Since late 2006. Rhea Beumer, had, along with owner Chrisy Riddle, Riddle's sister Michelle and a coterie of like-minds, overseen Empyrean's two stages. When people with concerts came in need of a performance space, Beumer was in charge of finding dates for them in a bent-to-hell logbook kept under Empyrean's counter. People in the hardcore and metal scenes liked her unique passion for booking the kinds of shows teens want to watch. Empyrean quickly became the most highly-regarded all-ages venue in town (runners-up being the Blvd. and assorted basements in various neighborhoods).
Beumer told The Inlander that she left the Empyrean booked through April, half full through May and with weekends booked into June. Riddle pledges to honor all those dates and work with her staff to fill in the gaps. Going forward down the road, though, don't be surprised to find teen-friendly shows happening only on selected nights.
Long before last week, Riddle says, she awoke to the fact that shows which draw a ton of under-aged kids -- hardcore and metal shows mostly -- just weren't selling enough of the beer the coffee shop needed to stay open. She began to push for more booze-friendly acts in those booze-friendly weekend slots.
The problem isn't unique to Empyrean. Patrick Kendrick, now manager of Caterina Winery, says he lived and died by beer sales when he managed Rock Coffee, a show space similar to Empyrean. Among beer, coffee and his cut of the door, revenue was 'probably like 80 percent, 10 percent, 10 percent," he says, adding that "the entertainment business thrives on beer sales."
Riddle says she wants to put on as many all-ages shows as possible, but 'it has to make good business sense." Pragmatism doesn't make turning away a hardcore show she knows won't make money any easier, though. 'I love kids. I'm a teacher," she says, 'I know how important it is." She's careful to reiterate that she doesn't want to turn any away if possible. She wants Empyrean to continue doing as many teen-friendly shows as possible. She's also leaving the door open for Beumer to return in some capacity.
Beumer might be busy, though. RAWK's Dale Strom told The Inlander that the concert promotion nonprofit has signed a lease on the Big Dipper and is working with the Spokane Police to get the venue unshuttered. He said he's asked Beumer to help manage shows. Strom's best-case scenario puts reopening the Dipper at mid-April, but he admits that hinges on the police accepting RAWK's management plan. In order to see a return on their lease arrangement, RAWK will have to put on at three shows a month. Strom hopes for more.
Other for-profit venues have been stepping up as well. In addition to the Service Station on North Nevada Street -- which took most of RAWK's big gigs during the No-Big-Dipper diaspora -- there's Emmaus Road Collective, a local promotion company that puts on mostly hardcore and metal shows and which has been placing some of its bigger gigs, three or four a month, at the Blvd. Bill Powers, the venue's booker, puts on another three or four all-ages shows, but says he definitely feels the money crunch too: 'The Blvd. wouldn't let me do all-ages shows if I wasn't making them money during the 21 plus," he says. The all-ages shows at the Blvd. are generally relegated to afternoons and early evenings, starting around 5pm and ending before many 21 plus shows even start.
It's hardly ideal, but the kids don't seem to mind getting curfewed, says Powers. "We did the Fall of Troy show and there were, like, 300 kids here." At some point, they become pragmatists too.