WELP, it's a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll...but, hopefully, we're almost there.
In a workshop last Thursday, City Council was presented the proposed revised alcohol ordinance for the first time.
The draft has undergone dozens of previous revisions, based off of feedback from the public and meetings with individuals and bar owners.
Potential changes carve out a space for businesses like growler and wine shops to offer free tastings and samples. In this latest workshop, the proposal to extend Savannah’s famous go-cup zone to include Forsyth Park was struck down, in addition to that bogus bit that proposed underage patrons be required to leave restaurants that happen to serve alcohol at 10 p.m.
Thank God that measure to further alienate under-21ers (described, by the way, as “minors”—ya know, the term legally applied to persons under the age of 18) is gone.
So let’s talk about allowing those folks in the 18-20 age bracket (a huge chunk of Savannah’s college and military-heavy population) into the shows they currently can’t attend ‘cause they’re under 21.
By obtaining an “Underage Permit,” venues would be able to grant entry to people aged 18-20 while live entertainment is happening.
“Live entertainment” is defined as vocal or instrumental performances with a performer who’s physically present. It doesn’t apply to DJs or karaoke.
Enforcement options will be expanded—venues will need to get general and liquor liability insurance. That means more money that some businesses may not be ready, or feel the need, to spend; others, however, may see the chance to bring a new demographic into their space as a way to sell out shows and, in turn, bring more touring acts to Savannah.
The revision also creates a category for “Special Event Venues,” establishments that are only open for “artistic presentations” and don’t have a permanent bar (alcohol may only be served an hour before and after a performance).
In the current ordinance, folks under 21 may only go to venues that sell or serve alcohol as long as those businesses are full-service restaurants, hotels, auditoriums, athletic facilities, or stadiums. This new category can certainly pave the way for new businesses that don’t fall in the above categories, to host true all-ages shows (people under 18 can get in, too).
The 21+ rule has been in place since 2005. While it was originally designed as a measure to keep kids out of trouble by limiting their access to alcohol, it also alienated a huge demographic of folks ready to participate in their local arts community.
When I moved here in 2006, not being allowed to attend bar shows came as a slap in the face. Sure, my hometown didn’t have the most “bustling” music scene (I’ve seen a lot of Hootie & the Blowfish shows)—but when I wanted to go to a show at a venue that happened to have a bar, the door guy would draw some ‘X’s on my hands or slap a wristband on my arm and send me on in.
Even before I was “legal,” I had options: under-18ers were allowed entrance if accompanied by a responsible adult aged 21 or older (eternal thanks to my parental chaperones for patiently enduring my “bagpipe-rock” phase).
In college, my friends and I would pile in a car and trek to satellite cities—Atlanta, Athens, Jacksonville—for shows we could actually attend, often tearing back up the road that same night, crumbling out of the car at 5 A.M., and fitting in a power-nap before class.
After turning 21, I started taking notice of the small, quiet packs of kids watching shows through downtown venue windows. Some held CDs and posters, hoping for an autograph they’d only get if the artist stepped outside.
I’ve heard a lot of Savannahians complain of college kids uprooting after they’ve finished their studies, claiming they never get active within their community and stay cloistered up on campus.
How can we expect them to if, for only a few months into their senior year after turning 21, they get their first taste of Savannah’s musical offerings?
City Public Information Officer Bret Bell advises that Thursday’s workshop was a productive one.
“We got feedback, the staff is summarizing that feedback, and we will work with Council over the coming weeks to ensure that we understand what their consensus is,” he says. “Some issues weren’t unanimous, but it was, by and large, supportive of major concepts. It’s just the devil in the details.”
So how long until we potentially see a change?
“Our goal is to have everything in place so that when [businesses] renew their licenses in January, they’d be going under the new alcohol ordinance,” Bell says.
“The hope is certainly before the end of the year—really before then, so everyone knows what rules we’re playing with and what kind of license they’d want to request. I would assume this summer.”
What can we do until then? Pack out the few all-ages and 18+ shows we do have. If you just can’t be at a show and not drink, don’t go—do not be the jackass who smuggles some beers in their backpack, potentially risking getting the whole shebang shut down for everyone.
And, of course, you can contact your Alderman (their information is easy to find at savannahga.gov).
Savannah’s relationship with alcohol is a complicated one. This revision shows that we’re striving to be a city that associates music with the arts, not just bar culture—a city that values musicians, not just the fact that we can head out of the bar and down the street with drink in hand.
Here’s hoping for rooms brimming with kids, townies, grannies and more in 2016—it’s coming up sooner than you think.