Rock n’ roll high school-ers
“Tony Silva rides the bus to see the punk rock bands
He rides out from BFN and no one understands
He doesn’t have a car and he’s not old enough to drive
But seeing punk rock concerts is what keeps Tony alive.”
–“Tony Silva Rides the Bus”, by The Secretions
Despite a bad economy and multiple venue closures this year, punk rock is alive and well among the under-18 crowd.
“There will be times when things get closed down, and it’ll affect the scene negatively, but in the long run, there’s a resilience in Sacramento,” said Craig Usher, who has been going to punk shows since his freshman year of high school.
Usher, now 42 with children, runs a Facebook page cataloguing shows. He said he still prefers all-ages shows to those held in bars, and smaller, sparser shows to massive ones.
“I was drawn to punk rock, in part, because it wasn’t like mass culture rock n’ roll,” he said. “So if I go to a show where I feel like … the focus is on selling stuff rather than expressing yourself, it just doesn’t feel as rewarding to me.”
The tendency of all-ages punk shows to be smaller and more underground also has practical applications.
Alcohol is an essentially a guaranteed moneymaker for 21-and-up shows, but all-ages venues can only sell food and soft drinks. That tends to raise ticket prices, which makes it harder for teen audiences to afford. The smaller the turnout, the less both venue and band earn.
Amber Rose, a booking agent for Citrus Heights bar the Fire Escape, explained that the key to survival is keeping prices low, and planning all-ages shows on nights when school-attending teens can realistically attend.
The Fire Escape also allows patrons to participate in organized moshing, or “circle pits,” which most all-ages venues have forbidden.
“You have to take care of the people that take care of you,” Rose said.
Though the Fire Escape has a full bar, Rose said the underage shows have been profitable. Openings for all-ages shows have been fully booked through April.
“It’s pretty difficult for kids to (play) all-ages (gigs),” Rose said, adding that there are only a handful of dedicated teenage clubs left.
Mickie ‘Rat’ (a psuedonym), bassist for the Sacramento punk band The Secretions, agreed.
“As a legal, profitable business, all-ages venues will always be struggling in Sacramento until they either lower the legal drinking age or the cost of permits for live music venues,” he said in an e-mail interview.
Rat was much more optimistic about private, underground shows, held in improvised venues like garages and basements and funded partially through donations. Although these shows are held in secret, they aren’t hard to find, he said.
“The people who take an active part in the music scene and go to shows always manage to find out where they are,” Rat said. “Bands will always find places to play, whether it’s in a club or someone’s living room.”
The Secretions are a testament to the punk scene’s vitality, as the band recently celebrated its 20th anniversary together. They still practice and hold the occasional private show at Casa de Chaos, a house in Midtown.
“That old house has seen me through a lot of good times and bad times,” Rat said. “It’s a rundown old shack, but I love it.”
The scene is kept alive by people frequently attending shows of all types and paying to get in, he explained.
“Every person who comes to see a show is just as important as the people on stage,” Rat said. “Without an audience, a show is just a lonely rehearsal in a big empty room.”
But the venue, it seems, is secondary to fans, who go primarily for the music and the friendships they make.
“I go to have fun,” said Gavin Mercer, 16-year-old drummer for the fledgling punk band The Carbonites. “It takes out a lot of aggression, too. You can sweat some of your anger out, or your stress or whatever.”
Rose, the Citrus Heights booking agent, would rather have her teenage daughter attend an all-ages punk show, with lots of people around, than a house party.
“These kids go to all these shows, and they all end up becoming friends. It’s kind of like an underground family,” she said.
Nicole Holbein, 17, said she is sentimental about the “family” the punk scene has introduced her to.
“Everyone has the utmost respect and love for what they're doing, and it's such a positive place to be,” she said. “Everyone looks out for each other.”