Seattle has a pretty cool mayor. In February at the EMP, Mayor Nickels, a proclaimed supporter of Seattle's music scene, hyped a study showing that the local music industry contributes $650 million annually to the local economy. "We're going to make Austin take second place as the live-music capital of the world," Nickels told the crowd of rock stars, promoters, and other bigwigs. To that end, city hall even has a woman named Donna James on its payroll to advocate for the Seattle music scene. This was Nickels groovy follow-up act. In 2002, Nickels sent the All Ages Dance Ordinance (AADO) to the city council, killing the ill-conceived Teen Dance Ordinance and expanding the all-ages music scene. With the AADO and liquor board rules that relaxed in 2000, Seattle venues were able to host all-ages shows, with a separate bar area for people over 21. Under Nickels, it seemed, Seattle's music scene was flourishing.

Until two weeks ago, that is, when music fans found out the Washington State Liquor Control Board was considering a new rule that could choke the all-ages scene by requiring venues to wall off their bar and nix entertainment from the alcohol-free area for minors, or simply keep kids out of venues entirely after 10:00 p.m. ["The Last Dance," Amy Jenniges and Megan Seling, Nov 25]. The proposed rule would virtually eliminate mixed-ages shows that allow both minors and drinking, in separate areas--a smart arrangement that has been helping the number of all-ages shows explode, since it makes all-ages shows financially feasible for venues.

Everyone from music community activists to people at city hall were surprised that the liquor board was even considering such a harsh reform, since mixed-ages shows haven't raised a red flag in Seattle, where they're concentrated. "From our perspective, we are not getting any complaints about the all-ages scene here at all," says James, city hall's music advocate.

And people were even more surprised to hear that the liquor board was getting its marching orders from music-friendly Mayor Nickels' Seattle. The liquor board got a March 2004 letter in support of the rule--the note that extolled the virtues of keeping kids as far away from booze as physically possible, even if that means keeping them out of shows--on city letterhead. But the letter wasn't signed by Mayor Nickels; Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske penned it. The police chief's lobbying is especially head scratching given Mayor Nickels' otherwise rah-rah stance on all-ages entertainment, a position you'd expect would be status quo in all of Nickels' city departments, including the SPD. After all, could another department leader write a letter contradicting Nickels' position on other pet projects? Imagine Transportation Department Head Grace Crunican sending South Lake Union streetcar godfather Paul Allen a note calling for an end to the trolley project. There's no way Nickels would let that fly. But Kerlikowske and the police department have been getting away with anti-all-ages stances since the AADO passed in August 2002 (a move the cops strongly opposed in the first place). According to city hall sources, the chief had sent an earlier letter just a month after the AADO passed, similar to this year's note to the liquor board. (The Stranger requested this letter through the police department, but had not received it by press time.)

After Team Nickels realized the liquor board was poised to undo years of work building the local all-ages scene--and their chief was one of the rule change's biggest supporters--they scrambled to repair the damage. "We've been meeting and talking--the mayor's office, the police chief, and me--and we're going to come up with a revision on our position," says City Attorney Tom Carr. Carr himself is drafting a letter, advocating a "reasonable approach" to keeping kids and alcohol separate at shows, instead of barring minors from venues. Carr, James, and someone from the mayor's office even intend to check out the mixed-ages Presidents of the United States of America show this weekend at the Showbox, to see that club's "reasonable approach" in action. Officially, Carr says the city is simply revising the police chief's earlier position because the city figured out that the proposed rules would have a huge negative impact on Seattle clubs--not because Kerlikowske was off message.

While it's great that the city is sending a new letter to the liquor board, it seems Kerlikowske's strategy still worked. Because of the chief's loud and clear defiant position on all-ages shows, Team Nickels is forced to save face by conceding on an issue they had the upper hand on just a few weeks ago--an issue that's purportedly a city priority. Now music fans are left hoping that the mixed-ages shows they've grown to love will still be a reality under the city's revised stance--a de facto compromise between savvy Kerlikowske and an unvigilant Nickels.

amy@thestranger.com

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