I didn't expect that writing about Atlas Clothing doing all-ages shows would get them shut down. Here's why: Calling them "covert" was a winking overstatement; calling them "sort of secret" was closer to the mark. Atlas advertised shows on MySpace, on posters, on a sandwich board on Broadway. They asked for coverage in The Stranger; they sent press releases for their events even while declining to be interviewed. They wanted people to know about shows at their space.
And they wanted, and still want, their shows to go legit. That's the story. Not that there's an underground all-ages space where shows are happening—there are always such spaces and shows—but that this particular space was, according to its own organizers, working to go legit despite some considerable hurdles: licensing, codes, profitability.
Did this story come too soon for Atlas? Obviously it did. But what are the real consequences? Seattle's all-ages scene has not been destroyed, despite what you may have read on some light poles. A couple shows have been canceled and moved to other all-ages venues. Atlas got a visit from the fire department that they said they had been trying to schedule. So now they know what needs to be done to go legit, and they're doing it.
"It's unfortunate that this happened right now and not in a few weeks when the construction will be finished and all of the appropriate paperwork will have been filed," says a letter from the Atlas collective. "We're continuing down the path we started with Atlas. The permits are on their way, the construction is happening. We're not ready to quit!"
Awesome! I appreciate the shows they've done at Atlas, and I'm sorry that the June 29 show had to be relocated. And I'm glad that, after making a few improvements, Atlas will be hosting shows again.
I've been going to all-ages shows since I was 15—volunteering and later working at the Old Fire House in Redmond, as well as organizing all-ages shows at various spots in Seattle. I know these shows are important. I know they face legal, economic, and bureaucratic hurdles. I know it's difficult to run a legit all-ages venue in Seattle—but it's not impossible. And it's not nearly as hard as it used to be.
And it's not nearly as depressing to be underage in Seattle as it used to be. There's the Vera, the Old Fire House, and other strictly all-ages venues; there're all-ages shows at bars—you know that used to be illegal in Seattle, right?—and there are DIY house shows all over town. Could The Stranger "destroy all-ages music" by accidentally getting one of these venues temporarily shuttered for renovations? No. Atlas isn't hosting shows this week, but plenty of other folks are. And Atlas will be hosting again soon.
It's worth noting that Atlas isn't a house party (I've organized some of those, too), it isn't an illegal DIY, and it isn't a nonprofit (even if its volunteers are working for free). It's a business—one that is open to the public. If the people at Atlas are serious about operating a legit all-ages venue, they were going to have to deal with fire codes and safety laws eventually. If they weren't serious about it, if they didn't want to go legit, then they needed to conduct themselves more carefully—no ads, no press releases, no asking for coverage, no interviews.
I've written about truly underground events/spaces before without blowing anyone's cover. But Atlas Clothing wasn't underground. They were open for business and they wanted your business. They're still open for the business of selling clothes, and they'll be open again soon for the business of throwing all-ages shows. And we'll support them and we'll write about those shows, because we want to see them succeed.