Music scene eyes 21-ordinance


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In 1989, Nirvana played in Iowa City. People tell stories about that night.

Some say Kurt Cobain signed his name on a bathroom wall. Others say there were only 30 attendees. Some contend that Cobain got in a fight.

Now, with the newly resurrected 21-ordinance hovering over various music venues in town, some community members are concerned the shift could have a drastic effect on the music scene and that the folklore could disappear.

City Clerk Marian Karr foresees three alternatives that would allow Iowa City venues to survive 21-only: alcohol-free venues, prohibiting anyone under 21-years-old from entering after 10 p.m., or creating a written agreement to be approved by the Iowa City police chief.

The written agreement would make shows all-ages but would keep alcoholic beverages out of sight and reach of underage patrons. The venue would be required to post that certificate at every entrance, according to the city code. This is the same method bars now use for all-ages shows, but the age would change from 19 to 21.

Friday Night Concert Series committee member Lee Burress said music has been on the rise in Iowa City since he arrived at the UI in 2004, but he is concerned a 21-ordinance might ruin that momentum.

However, Mayor Matt Hayek, a self-proclaimed “huge” live music fan, disagrees.

“I think any impact will be limited,” he said. “I believe entrepreneurs will find ways to bring live music to an audience this size.”

Andre Perry, the founder and president of Mission Creek Festival and a booking agent at the Mill, 120 E. Burlington St., strongly believes that a 21-ordinance should be implemented. Not only because of what he describes as the “idiocy” downtown, but because he thinks the drinking age should be consistent with the bar-entry age.

But Perry emphasized if the City Council passes the ordinance, there should be exceptions made for music venues. If not, he would most likely quit booking for the festival and the Mill, he said.

“If you’re into music, I feel like the bar aspect is secondary,” he said. “Usually, if you go to a show, it’s for the show, and if you’re going to party, you would do it in some different capacity, not at the venue.”

Local musician Bob Thompson, an Iowa City resident since 1977 and 21-ordinance opponent, agrees.

He argued live music is an important education tool for young music students.

“If [students] can’t see bands or have the opportunity to play, that’s going to be a serious impediment to really valuable part of music education — from the real-word perspective,” Thompson said.

Doug Roberson, who has booked shows in Iowa City since 1984 and currently works for the Blue Moose Tap House, 211 Iowa Ave., is against the ordinance. He feels drinking problem downtown stems from other sources.

“[What happens is that] they and their buddies pound a case of Keystone and head downtown drunk and find places to go,” he said.

However, Roberson said that if “democracy determines Iowa City needs 21,” the Blue Moose will adapt.

Hayek agrees.

“I think one of Iowa City’s great selling points is its arts and culture environment, and the live music is an integral part of that,” he said. “But there are a variety of ways to ensure that young people can still see live music.”

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