Op-Ed: Jonny Smokes Speaks up About the Stupid All-Ages Music Laws in Washington State

Live Music RIPThis op-ed  piece was sarcastically written by by Jonny Smokes, solo musical artist and professional touring guitarist for “The People Now” and “Warrel Dane.”

“Dear Government: please protect us and rid us of this horrible plague of live music, especially in places where our poor children might accidentally be exposed!” – said no sane person, ever!

Once again here in the world famous music scene of the Pacific Northwest, another good intentioned and community minded small business is being threatened by our over protective government officials. This time the family-fun loving Tech City Bowl in Kirkland was recently told by the state liquor control board that they were not allowed to have live bands performing while patrons bowled. Somehow it is fine to play the radio, show music videos, and the venue is even allowed to have a live DJ using the same sound system and space that the bands normally would occupy, but simply add a guitar and a snare drum and a public threat of epic proportions will instantly manifest. Astonishing!

I write this opinionated editorial because I am suddenly left unemployed for the evening due to our show being cancelled by this sudden policing of the bowling alleys of Kirkland. Our band, “The People Now,” a charity minded community helping rock outfit, usually donates all of our meager profits to local persons and charities in need of help. While on one hand I was not going to personally financially profit from this concert, I still feel a tremendous sense of loss due to this cancellation. I have been looking forward to connecting with the Kirkland music community, and especially an all ages audience. Our small performance fee was to be donated both to to local homeless shelters and the victims of the Oso landslide, as were any profits from merch sales. So by protecting the public from the evils of live music in the proximity of underage bowlers, the Powers That Be have inadvertently stolen food from the mouths of local people who really need help. Great work once again, Big Government…

As a professional touring musician and a life long patron of live music, I can say with utmost certainty that whatever this law intends to fix or protect, it is definitely NOT working in the interest of public safety or service. While on tour in many countries in Europe, I regularly see teenagers attending live concerts in bars and cafes, sometimes even small children with their parents are present. By being raised in a social environment of live music, social celebration and responsible use of alcohol, the results I witness are that the citizens of these countries are generally very family oriented, well behaved in public, and their children are intelligent and respectful. And their juvenile crime rates are vastly lower than here in America!

So why are we so afraid of some kids listening to a band, just because there is a guy with a beer at a nearby table? Why does this hyper puritan discrimination apply to live music, yet you can let your kids attend a Mariners or Seahawks game next to 40,000 screaming alcoholics? Why can I drink responsibly in a restaurant with children present, but if someone plays guitar, all those under 21 years of age must leave? These laws are hypocritical and culturally destructive, especially considering the tremendous positive influence music has on people’s lives. And the Police State doesn’t stop with just the liquor laws…

Recently, the popular all ages pizzeria Louie G’s in Fife was targeted by the city, threatened with huge fines and complicated special permits, all because of a terribly outdated and useless law hidden in a dusty old book. Luckily, hundreds of letters of complaint were sent, and the whole community rallied behind this fantastic and generous business owner, prompting the city to remove the fines and lift the restrictions. True, this was a small victory, but only after hundreds of hours of lost sleep and stress were suffered needlessly by Louie, his family, his loyal staff and loving patrons. Is this what we consider public service? Is this helping improve our quality of life? Why are these laws and regulations even written in the first place?

Several years ago, on the opposite side of the country, a horrible fire caused many deaths and injuries at a Great White concert. It was a tragedy that could have been easily avoided, and prompted many questions as to public safety in music venues. The reaction in Washington State Government was to demand that all live music venues have a fire sprinkler system installed, (even though there is no fire or pyrotechnics allowed in any club, nor is smoking allowed.) The restrictions caused several venues in older buildings to relocate, (putting many out of business,) and a lucky few had to spend tens of thousands of dollars to install the sprinkler systems or face closure. But if you have karaoke or a live DJ using the exact same stage and PA system, no safety issues were raised and no sprinklers were needed. Wait…WHAT!?!?!?

Why is it that our government is so concerned with regulating and protecting us from the evils of a live music concert? Is there something inherently life threatening about a piano keyboard that I am unaware of? Are drum sets somehow prone to thermal nuclear detonation? Do bass guitars cause blindness and hemorrhaging of the brain, even at low volumes? What is so incredibly flammable about an acoustic guitar and a mic stand in comparison to all the computer equipment sitting on a table next to a DJ? Logic would dictate that a pile of paper wrapped petroleum based records sitting next to a hot laptop computer would be significantly more flammable than a sweat soaked guitar in the hands of a crying musician. So why are we only imposing these restrictions on live musicians? This is the strangest case of discrimination I have seen in business…

Meanwhile no fire sprinklers were demanded of any other establishments where many fire hazards often exist. Large public places with hundreds of people, often listening to some form of background radio music: restaurants with deep fryers and ovens, casinos full of smoking patrons, gas stations, doctor’s offices, chemical supply warehouses, grocery stores, shopping centers and even large office buildings filled with piles of paperwork… All unaffected by this fire sprinkler law, yet all of these places can and sometimes do catch fire. The point of this law is to protect the public, right? So as long as nobody has a guitar, you are probably safe, right? Right…

But back to the original issue, why is our government so concerned with over regulating any place that has a musician performing? We have music in every aspect of our lives and culture, and it enriches and livens up everything it is a part of. Church services, weddings, Broadway shows, sporting events, movies, television, radio, commercials, shopping malls, end even elevator rides are all made better by having music played. We play music at our funerals, and our mothers sing to us as babies. Every human culture on Earth has music, and music can bridge any language or cultural gap and bring people together in harmony. Is THIS what the threat is?

Perhaps the real reason our government is making live music difficult to experience is that people often find a sense of community and open communication at concerts. Ideas are freely expressed, and frustrations are often voiced in public, sometimes causing crowds to cheer and voice their approval of obvious solutions that fail to be implemented by our elected officials. I can just see a concert crowd getting all worked up and encouraged to think and act… A band leader shouts to the crowd, “Get involved in your community government. Vote the offenders out of office! Vote for people who actually want to work FOR you!! Get involved and raise your voices!!! Take the power back and make this world YOURS!!!!!” And the crowd screams their approval…

Simply terrifying. You add a guitar to those sentiments and there will be bloodshed, fire and violent revolution in a matter of moments. Thank goodness we have our government officials to protect us and our children from the chaos and anarchy of live music…

 

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