Sonic Youth

Nonprofit teen centers fill the club void for minors

"My friend's allergic to Axe," says Danelle Hendrickson, 17. She's standing on a picnic table wearing a sleeveless top and black pants with no coat, shivering and breathing steam into the suburban night air. "I sprayed some on me, and now I'm running around trying to dissipate the smell."

Hendrickson is out in the cold, alone behind the building that houses the Garage, an all-ages club in Burnsville, Minnesota. Axe, she says, is a body spray. "Do not misspell Axe as 'ass,'" she adds.

This is Hendrickson's fourth Garage concert, so she's no expert on all-ages clubs. Her first show was Screaming Monkey Boner, she says, where a couple of female fans stripped to their bras and rubbed their breasts together. Tonight, the rumble inside is coming from ABEC, a less rambunctiously named young alt-rock band playing for about 50 kids.

Jayme Halbritter

"I believe there's a lot of people nowadays walking around feeling empty," says the band's singer between songs, his D.A.R.E. T-shirt looking less ironic by the second. "They need something to fill the void they feel in their life. I believe that's Jesus Christ."

There's a smattering of polite whoops. The room has the look and feel of a Halloween cafeteria--black walls, black lights, but with the reassuring presence of an ice cream vending machine. It's still before 11:00 p.m. on a Saturday, but the space is empty enough that one goth-looking girl can cartwheel across the floor unhindered. Headliners play early at the Garage, leaving mostly regulars to stick around and encourage the last band. The venue isn't Christian, per se--godless punks the Soviettes played here not long ago. But the audience is tolerant and attentive. That is, when they're not running around giggling.

Hendrickson, for one, isn't here for the music. "This is the only place I go," she says, joining a group that has spilled into the game room. "All my friends are here."

Her loyalty to the Garage isn't unusual. Of the two dozen young people interviewed for this article at various all-ages clubs, few had heard of the other venues available to them (see "Rock of All-Ages," below). Most music fans know about the 21+ bars in Minneapolis that host all-ages matinees (the Dinkytowner, the Triple Rock Social Club, the Quest, First Avenue). They attend arena shows or go to the occasional basement party. But before hip-hoppers Slug and the Heiruspecs performed at the Bryant-Lake Bowl, many fans didn't know it was an all-ages club, even though it sells beer and wine to those 21 and over. Other cafés and shops are similarly available to all ages: the Acadia Cafe and the Cedar in Minneapolis; Ginkgo Coffee House and the Speedboat Gallery in St. Paul.

Venues catering specifically to under-21-year-olds, meanwhile, are news to most kids. Most of the places are new, or in a new location: the high school-age-only Depot Coffee House (Hopkins); the all-ages Enigma Teen Center (Shakopee); the under-22-only Twin Cities Underground (Minneapolis); the hip-hop café the Java Joint (St. Cloud); the queer-friendly District 202 (Minneapolis); the Christian-oriented Club 3 Degrees (Minneapolis); and the art-and-music space Fallout Urban Art Center (Minneapolis). Taken together, they add up to a scene whose boom echoes the giddy ascendance of Generation Y--the most fertile creative community since "rock 'n' roll" gave a name to the booze 'n' drugs music that teenagers loved.

"Boom" isn't a word normally associated with the all-ages music scene. In recent years, the kids have been dealt discouraging blows: The Babylon Gallery burned down, the Fireball Espresso Cafe met the wrecking ball, and Eclipse Records closed with plans to relocate. All were vital venues for all-ages music. Meanwhile, the rave scene has retreated into clubs amid the prohibitive war on ecstasy. Young people don't need to look to a golden age of teen ballrooms of the '60s, or park parties in the '70s: They remember hip-hop shows at Bon Appetit just a few years ago, and the nightly calendar booked at the late Foxfire Coffee Lounge around the turn of this century.

The Foxfire was the last privately owned all-ages club to compete with the 21+ bars for national bands--and it's easy to imagine why nobody has tried since.

"Venues are there for the money from liquor," says local rapper Orikal, who is 15. "That's how they get most of their money, so that's why it's all 21+ shows."

A junior at St. Paul Open School, Orikal is speaking to me after a freestyle performance at the Minneapolis teen center Twin Cities Underground, on the same night as the Garage show. But when I ask him if he's heard of the Burnsville club, he says no. Neither has Ariel, 19, the spoken-word artist and rapper who performed earlier at the same event.

Even in your own city, just getting the word out is a daunting task for nonprofit clubs. "When I was growing up, we didn't even know this place existed," says Mike "Zeus" Achterling, 21, sound engineer for the Garage, who attended Eastview High School and the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley. Zeus discovered the Garage after it was opened as a rec center in 1999 at the Burnsville Youth Center Foundation--located cozily across the street from a police station.

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