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For musicians, age can be an obstacle

Bands like The Nox Boys have to fight to establish themselves in a world where being under 21 is a liability

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Zack Keim would seem to have a head start on the garage-rock competition. His band, The Nox Boys, has already released its debut LP on Get Hip Records, toured the East Coast and has sold out Pittsburgh venues — and he's only 17. But that last part can sometimes be more of an obstacle than an advantage.

Many of Pittsburgh's premier small venues for ragged-edged garage punks — and any up-and-coming bands for that matter — strictly enforce an age-restriction policy. And one all-ages venue, Garfield Artworks, will reportedly be closing its doors this weekend, limiting young musicians even more.

Keim has played a few shows at Garfield Artworks, and he noticed that it became a common outlet for some of his younger musician friends.

"A lot of my friends, after we started playing, they started to have shows at Garfield Artworks ... that was the only place they could play," Keim says.

Most think of 21 as the magic number for legal alcohol consumption and admittance to Rivers Casino, but to youth entrenched in local music scenes, the number may be a barrier to seeing or performing with some of their favorite artists.

For Keim and The Nox Boys, whose other members are recent Fox Chapel High School graduates (aside from Bob Powers, a 1970 Fox Chapel grad), age can significantly limit their gig opportunities.

Small stages often aren't all ages
  • Illustration by Nathan Mazur
  • Small stages often aren't all ages

"I get a lot of emails from the promoters and club owners — I'm signed up for their mailing lists," Keim says. "[Take] Jeff, the Brotherhood: I would really love to open for them, but they're at Club Café. We can't open for them, 'cause we're underage."

Among the city's most prominent small to mid-size venues, some (such as Club Café and Brillobox) enforce a blanket 21-and-over restriction, while others (Mr. Small's, Altar Bar) offer designated areas for patrons under and over 21. There's a smattering of small venues like the DIY Mr. Roboto Project and the upstairs concert room at the Smiling Moose that regularly offer all-ages shows.

Garfield Artworks, an art gallery in Garfield that's been open since the early 1990s, hosted shows regularly for the past decade, but has no events scheduled after Rachael Sage's show on Sun., Dec. 7. It's been reported (including by PittPunk.com and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) that this will be the final show at Garfield Artworks. (Promoter Manny Theiner declined to comment for this story, and gallery owner Smith Hutchings could not be reached as of press time.)

Pittsburgh's age-restricted performance spaces tend to thoroughly enforce their age policies, but Keim says that his experience from touring in other states has been a bit more flexible.

"We had two shows in New York City which were 21-plus, and we still played," Keim says. "They had an underage band play, but we couldn't bring anyone underage to the show."

New York, known for some of the most lenient liquor laws on the East Coast, legally permits minor performers in an establishment that would otherwise prohibit the sale of alcohol to them, along with permitting the consumption of alcohol on private premises with parental consent — a policy adopted by 29 states. Keim's home state finds itself on the complete other end of the spectrum.

"Pennsylvania has some of the strictest liquor laws of any state — which include super-strict policies on anything involving minors," says Michele Mengel, promotions coordinator at Opus One Productions.

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