Teen Zone

With slim pickings for the under 21 crowd, Skrappy's fills the void.

A memory: It's a Friday night in crisp August, and The Gossip is playing at Club Congress. Beth Ditto, the band's whirlwind of a lead singer, says, "This one goes out to the kids outside. What the fuck were we thinking?"

She is, of course, talking about the seven teenagers listening to the show from outside, who were denied admission into the club because of their age. All of them laughed and danced as if they were in the thick of the crowd inside, oblivious to the cars driving by and the curious stares of passers-by.

Fast forward: It's a Saturday afternoon in warm December. Rusty Sprocket, one of The Gossip booty shakers, is sitting inside a quiet café. At 18, Sprocket is already jaded with the Tucson scene.

"There's nothing to do in Tucson," she says, taking a sip from her iced coffee. "I work a majority of the nights, but it would be nice if I could go to a good show once in a while. I usually just end up hanging out a friend's house, because there is nothing exciting going on."

In a town like ours, where a majority of events tend to be geared toward those age 21 and up, the quest for fun seems to be slim pickins if you've not yet reached the drinking age.

"It's kind of a take-what-you-can-get environment," said Jeremy Peters, 18. Many are inclined to agree, as there are only so many coffee shops to hang around and only so many movies to see. Sometimes, a good band rolls through, but they often play at Club Congress, a venue notorious for its strict 21 and over policy at many shows. To be fair, Club Congress is one of the few clubs that also features some shows for the under-21 set; most other clubs never do.

"It's unfair that we have to stand outside, or that, in the rare occasion where they have an all-ages show, we have to pay more, because we're not drinking alcohol," Sprocket said. "There are so many kids out there who want to see their favorite bands, but can't. I think (the venue) would make so much more money if they just let them in and put big black X's on their hands instead of making them sit outside."

Amy Etheridge, 17, loves Club Congress because they have so many shows, but hates the fact that they're almost always 21 and over. "I have been to good shows there, and there is drinking, but the bar is closed off to (those that are underage)," she said.

Etheridge is referring to shows from popular bands such as Sleater-Kinney, Cursive and Mates of State, who have all performed for an all-ages crowd at Club Congress in the past year. While Sleater-Kinney was held in the parking lot with a drinking area fenced off, at other all-ages shows, big black Xs on both hands and a small extra charge--usually no more than two dollars--is enough to allow those who are underage in to see their favorite bands.

"I don't see why they do that only for some shows, I guess there is no method to their madness," Etheridge says with a shrug.

Peters says that there are certain bands he would like to see, but he admits that "clubs and venues serving alcohol have a lot more responsibility."

"Sometimes it's necessary for a show to be like that," he says. He wisely notes, however, that teenagers are not the only ones missing out. "These bands are not able to get exposure from a full crowd, and the law ends up putting a limitation on the bands as well."

Curtis McCrary, who books shows for Club Congress and occasionally contributes to the Tucson Weekly, explains that Club Congress' status as a nightclub and the logistics of the venue make it hard to hold all-ages shows.

"The only way we can let anyone under the age of 21 on to our premises is if they're physically kept separate from the sale and consumption of alcohol," McCrary says. This is difficult to do considering the relatively small size of Club Congress' main floor. Because liquor laws require the absolute separation of alcohol from those that are underage, the main floor then becomes off-limits for those who are drinking, thereby taking enjoyment from the people who keep the nightclub alive.

About a year and a half ago, Club Congress began having all ages shows. Liquor laws, however, make these shows much more expensive for the club. As a result of the significant costs--"the additional security, the loss of liquor sales, and the potential of a mishap leading to a liquor violation," according to McCrary--Club Congress decides whether or not to make a show all-ages on a case-by-case basis.

ANOTHER PLACE TO GO if you're itching to see some live music can also be found downtown--this is the place to be, if you're under the age of 21. Oddly, this "place to be" is a nondescript, somewhat rundown building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Broadway Boulevard: the popular all-ages hang out, Skrappy's.

The venue was started by Bill and Kathy Woolridge, who recognized a need for a place where Tucson youth--including their own teenage sons--could listen to music and be with their friends in a safe environment. It has survived several closures and location changes, from the original location on Oracle Road to its current home in the heart of downtown Tucson.

Skrappy's is extremely important to teenagers like Peters, who has been involved with the venue--both as a concert-goer as and as a performing musician--for years.

"It's where my friends, are and it's where bands I love play," he said, echoing the sentiments of other teenagers, including Etheridge who says, "You can go there if you have nothing to do on a Friday night, and you will most likely see someone that you know."

Not everyone is quick to sing the praises of Skrappy's, though.

"A lot of the bands that play there are hardcore or pop/punk types," said Sprocket. "It's cool that Skrappy's supports local music and Tucson youth, but it seems to mainly cater to those specific genres."

It is apparently impossible to get a hold of anything other than a machine at the phone number listed for Skrappy's; repeated messages went unanswered.

Nevertheless, it is apparent that Skrappy's plays a large part in the teenage social scene. Many of the same people can be seen there on any given night, and there is a very noticeable sense of community.

Sprocket says that this feeling is essential for any city or subculture. "I've been to places like Olympia, Wash., and almost everything there is accessible to people of all ages," she says. "There is this amazing sense of community there, and I think the fact that everything is available to everyone plays a huge part in that."

Skrappy's has since become a program of Tucson's Our Town Family Center, a nonprofit organization aiming to provide prevention and intervention services to the youth and families of Pima County. It has evolved from a mere concert venue into a place where people of all ages can socialize in a comfortable atmosphere and participate in community events, as well as take advantage of the classes, shelter and clothing bank provided on weekdays.

"It's important for kids to have a place to go," Peters said. "Anytime you have something special like (Skrappy's), it should be supported by the city."