During my late teens I impatiently counted down the days until I'd be turning 21. Being of legal age meant I could see live music, I could go to bar shows at the Crocodile and the Breakroom, and I wouldn't have to rely on in-store appearances or arena shows to hear some of my favorite music. This was right around the time when RKCNDY and the Velvet Elvis closed, and back when the Teen Dance Ordinance still existed. When being underage meant you were a nuisance.

Sure there has always been an all-ages music community in Seattle, but then it existed in basements, old theaters with shoddy sound, and temporary venues around the city. As a whole, the music scene felt old, like an exclusive club for those 21 and over. Us underage babies couldn't see Juno at the Crocodile, but instead had to drive to Kirkland to see them play in a senior center's cafeteria. Being young sucked.

But today there's no denying things have changed. In fact, it feels almost silly to differentiate Seattle's all-ages music community from the music scene as a whole because young bands and all-ages-friendly venues are starting to feel less like the annoying little sister as they move up to the same level as the big boys.

"There's been a real movement to put the power back in the hands of young musicians and organizers," says Shannon Stewart, programming director for the Vera Project. "Kids are being allowed to do their own stuff; they have access to resources that help them make their own ideas happen... it seems like [the all-ages scene] is prolific rather than just a couple venues."

With the increase of all-ages-friendly spaces is the increase of all-ages-friendly acts and kids being inspired to start their own bands. Back in the day, quite a few of Seattle's current heavy hitters were just beginning to get their feet wet at Eastside venues like the Old Fire House and Ground Zero. Pretty Girls Make Graves, the Blood Brothers, and the Catheters all got their starts at the teen centers, and now we're seeing their faces on MTV and in the pages of Rolling Stone.

They haven't forgotten what got them there, though. The Blood Brothers (who just inked a major-label deal with V2) recently played two benefit shows at the Vera Project to raise money for the organization, and for the past two years, the Catheters opted to play Vera's stage at the Capitol Hill Block Party despite playing the Mainstage in years past.

"It was the all-ages venues like Ground Zero and the Velvet Elvis that got us into music in the first place," said Brian Standeford, singer for the Catheters. "It's important to remain a part of [the all-ages scene] because that's what helped us start in the first place."

There are more stars emerging from the all-ages scene, too. This year's Mainstage acts Cobra High and United State of Electronica both appeared as new bands on Vera's stage last year. And young bands like Smoosh and Schoolyard Heroes (who both play the Vera Stage this year) are gaining more momentum in the music scene by opening for bands in front of sold-out shows at the Showbox and getting mainstream-radio airplay.

"I don't really know what's causing the resurgence, I couldn't really say," said Standeford of the wealth of underage talent (and over-age talent that still appreciates a young crowd). "I think that just having a club like Vera helps out a lot. And Vera has a lot of other activities besides shows which help strengthen the all-ages community by giving kids more resources to get things going for themselves."

Stewart also attributes the increasing strength to the city's willingness to finally recognize the young music community as a viable outlet, and to bands appreciating kids' undeniable enthusiasm.

"In competitive markets like Seattle where there are a lot of options, instead of just making decisions based on money, people can make decisions based on value and atmosphere," explains Stewart. "So bands will make decisions to play places where they aren't serving alcohol--or where if they are, they're having a mixed-use show. They're setting their own boundaries. Bands have a lot of influence in shaping that."

megan@thestranger.com