Some of my fondest memories of my college-age years was going to small clubs to hear live music. This was in Dallas, Texas in the 70’s. I remember being blown away by David Bromberg’s guitar playing, and laughing my ass off at Ray Wylie Hubbard’s between song banter. I saw Jimmy Buffett and his lead guitar player in a small club, and laughing til it hurt when he debuted songs that would be released a year later on his legendary album “A1A.”
But if I was going to college now, I wouldn’t be able to do that. That’s because I wasn’t 21 years old. Back then, the legal drinking age was 18.
Soon after that, the religious right, neo-prohibitionist lobby succeeded in getting the US Congress to raise the legal drinking age to 21. That created a new industry– the fake ID industry. College students in the 80’s all had fake IDs. So nothing really changed.
The holy rollers, seeing their plan foiled, then focused on pressuring police to enforce the Age-21 law. Clubs were threatened with being put out of business if they didn’t check IDs closely. So now we have the absurdity of everyone being carded at a live music venue, even if you’re 60 years old.
This has hurt live music. Not the big venues, where the bands who have made it big play. The big venues play the wrist band game, so that under-21 adults can still see the show. It’s the small venues, where up-and-coming acts and local bands play, that are hurt, where under-21 adults are simply not admitted.
What age group is most likely to go out and see new music? What age group is most likely to go see a new local band on a weeknight in a small club? We all know, don’t we? It’s that age between high school graduation and the time people get married and start having kids. By removing age 18-21, we cut that time period roughly in half– and we cut the first 3 years of it– in some ways, the most important years; the years where young people are most keen on discovering new music.
Age 18 is the legal age to be considered an adult in the United States. At age 18, you can vote. You can serve on a jury. You can get married. You can buy guns. You’ve already been driving a car for 2 years. If you are accused of a crime, you’ll be tried as an adult. You can join the military, kill and be killed. You can buy cigarettes, which are far more harmful than alcohol.
But you can’t go to a nightclub, have a beer, and listen to music. You’re not “mature” enough. Think about the adsurdity of that: if someone is so immature that they can’t be trusted with a beer or a glass of wine, do we really want such immature people driving cars, buying guns, joining the military, serving on juries, and voting?
We should be consistent about the age that defines an adult. Make it the same for everything– voting, drinking, serving on juries and the military. Make it 18, 21, whatever– but be consistent.
I think 18 is the right age. It’s basically correlates with graduation from high school. Now you’re either going to college, joining the military, or entering the work force. Those seem like adult occupations to me.
And let’s not pretend that 18-to-21-year-olds don’t drink anyway. But the fact that it’s illegal causes problems, such as binge drinking. Please read these two articles:
The drinking age in most countries is 18. In many countries, you can drink beer and wine at 16. The United States stands virtually alone in having such a high drinking age. (See Wikipedia Legal Drinking Age) And the United States has the worst problems with youth binge drinking.
That correlates with my personal experience when I was 18-20. I would sip on a beer or drink while listening to music. There was none of the crazy, “let’s do shots and get wasted!” that is prevalent in American youth culture today. (The fanatics of MADD and other neo-prohibitionist groups don’t mention this.)
Lower the drinking age to 18. It should never have been changed in the first place. Fix the problem. Do it now.
I look forward to the day when I will be able to play my songs in a small venue filled with 18-to-20-year-olds, sipping on beers.
-Rob Roper August 1, 2016