By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
A skateboarder with long hair clacks down the sidewalk and veers into the street, losing his balance at the curb. He leaves the board behind him, meeting the pavement running, then turns to pick up his ball cap before retrieving the board from the empty lane of traffic. He's in no hurry: It's a warm, dead Saturday afternoon in downtown Minneapolis, and there aren't any cars coming. The only witnesses to his spill are the shaggy high school kids across the street, lining up to get into the 7th St. Entry.
When the door of the club opens at 5:00 p.m., hours before most nearby venues come to life, a line already stretches down the side of the building. One by one, ticket buyers get their hands stamped, then dash into the empty darkness of the room to claim a spot right in front of the stage. They talk and laugh as they form a front row, then a second row, in anticipation of the opening band scheduled to go on in 15 minutes.
Sing It Loud have never played a show before. Appearing on this July 14 bill under three other local rock groups, and one from Illinois, they have little more claim to fame than a song on their MySpace page. But right now, they might as well be the Beatles.
"The singer is popular with the girls," says Jaci Howart, 21, a regular at these rock matinees, seated in back. "He used to be in the Semester."
Time moves faster at "all-ages" shows. If lanky, bushy-haired Sing It Loud lead vocalist Pat Brown, age 20, is a rock star, then the other groups at this alcohol-free gig, however new, are old-school constellations. Headliners Small Towns Burn a Little Slower, who have played the local all-ages circuit for five years, might as well be classic rock. "I'm always the oldest person at our shows," says 29-year-old guitarist Tommy Rehbein, who put together today's concert and is mentor to many of the bands, his mop of dark hair betraying hints of Mr. Fantastic white around the ears.
One thing is no exaggeration: This scene is new. Teen rock has been around since the skateboard, with local kids joining in since the garage-band explosion of the early '60s. But the Trashmen never had this much buzz before debuting. The mood for Sing It Loud is giddy, as if the crowd were about to break into a giant game of tag. And when the two-guitars-plus-keyboard five-piece finally takes the stage and eventually kicks into the MySpace hit (swinging a bit like an emo Joe Jackson), three Pat Brown fans shout along, identifiable by their matching brown T-shirts decorated with the word "Pat."
"A lot of shows these days are going 18-plus, so kids like her get left out," says one of the "Pat" fans, Ryan Trudeau, 20, nodding at his 14-year-old sister, Emily, after the band's set is over. "But all-ages shows have a lot more energy."
No kidding. Since Small Towns Burn a Little Slower made their debut at the late Fireball Espresso Cafe in Falcon Heights half a decade ago, the number of youthful bands, fans, and clubs catering to them has mushroomed. Some of these venues have closed in the past couple of years, including the Twin Cities Underground, the Quest and its Ascot Room, and the Java Joint in St. Cloud. But many more have opened during that time—spots such as the Toybox and the Beat Coffeehouse in the metro area, plus a dozen others in suburbs and small towns such as Buffalo, Stillwater, and Hudson. All-ages punk roars out of Minneapolis's Bedlam Theatre and Belfry Center, while promoters Homocore Minneapolis and Twin Cities Skins & Punks book almost exclusively all-ages gigs. That doesn't even include half a dozen "unofficial" venues such as the Alamo and the Pocketknife, with a wave of new groups rocking the cramped basements of private homes.
"There's insanely more bands," says James DeCoursey, owner of Mr. Chan Presents, who specializes in booking all-ages and 18+ shows at clubs such as the Varsity and Station 4. "If you go back to the mid-'90s, there were 30 or 40 bands that regularly play those kinds of shows, and my guess is that there's probably close to 200 of them now."
Even traditionally 21-plus-only venues are welcoming kids. "I can remember when I couldn't imagine an all-ages show at the Fine Line," DeCoursey says. "Now I do maybe one a month [there]. It's definitely gotten bigger."
Small Towns, say DeCoursey and others, are the face of this scene. They're one of a growing number of local bands going national by captivating the under-21 set. Funk-metal Screaming Mechanical Brain (a.k.a. SMB) and pop-punk Motion City Soundtrack (with a forthcoming album on Epitaph) similarly cut their teeth in local teen clubs, namely the still-going Garage in Burnsville and the late Foxfire Coffee Lounge in downtown Minneapolis (respectively). Today both groups play all-ages dates across the country, with MySpace their effective radio station. "As much as we've sold out, we come from loving bands like Fugazi," says Josh Cain of Motion City Soundtrack. "When I was in high school I could really devote my life to a band. Music's for kids, man."