Nonprofit Keeps Seattle's All-Ages Scene Alive

Vera Project receives city funding, works around nightclub restrictions.

SEATTLE — On the union shield that hangs above the stage at the new rock hall called Local 46, there's a fist surrounded by lightning bolts. The symbol stands for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, but on a recent February night, it looked like it was there to catch the sparks flying off local spazzoids the Briefs.

Their singer was blasting a tune called "Silver Bullet," apparently a directive to ice one of Detroit's most famous sons, though it sounded like he was shouting, "Throw Bob Seger a bone!" Decked out in skinny ties, bleached-blond 'dos and an array of big plastic sunglasses, the band looked straight out of 1978.

Of course, a good number in the audience wouldn't remember the new-wave get-ups — that's because Local 46 is an all-ages venue, and many of the kids there that night weren't born until after 1980.

In a city known for its pioneering rock and grunge roots, where no less a name than Nirvana's Krist Novoselic has turned out to city council meetings on behalf of teens who wanna rock out — but where all-ages halls are few and far between — Local 46 is represents a potential victory.

Shows there by the Murder City Devils, the Makers, 764-HERO, the Tight Bro's From Way Back When and other bands are part of a new volunteer initiative called the Vera Project. Its aim: to give underage kids a chance not just to go to shows, but to take part in all facets of the live rock music business.

"A lot of my friends who didn't get into the whole music thing started doing drugs, and I lost them," said Amy Bower, 17. Bower volunteered at the door during the Briefs gig and has been involved in putting on shows in the Seattle suburb of Redmond since she was 12. "I wish that they could just be involved in something like this."

A safe and creative program like the Vera Project seems like just the sort of activity civic leaders would want for kids with time on their hands. But local ordinances have long kept young folks and shows apart in Seattle by imposing expensive insurance and security requirements on club owners.

Last summer, the city council passed a new law to ease restrictions on all-ages events, but Democratic Mayor Paul Schell vetoed the measure, in part over concerns of young people entering nightclubs without parents. As a nonprofit, the Vera Project can work around the restrictions.

"[For] the tremendous attention that Seattle has gotten as a music center, it's very ironic that we're also not having that accessible to young people," said council member Richard Conlin, a Democrat who sponsored last year's All Ages Dance Ordinance. "For the young people, you lose not only their opportunity to participate in the artistic experience and the opportunity to participate in the social experience, but also the opportunity of some of their future careers."

The city council granted the Vera Project $25,000 to fund the first of three three-month pilot runs, each of which is followed by a month of review. Conlin and other supporters would ultimately like to see the city own, wholly or in part, a permanent venue for Vera, so the project won't get priced out of its neighborhood. Last year a volunteer club called the Velvet Elvis shut its doors when rent got too high.

The Vera Project takes its name from a club in Groningen, Holland, where the local government has supported arts events for a century. In recent times, it's become a requisite stop for punk bands touring Europe.

While Seattle's Vera Project has three paid staff members, its shows are run by volunteers. Members gather biweekly to pick bands, sign up for flyering duty, request a chance to help with the Local 46's professional sound system or work on the project's 'zine.

"It's a creative alternative to the status quo extracurricular activities that are out there in Seattle," said Josh Ayala, chair of the project's board of directors and director of new media for Sub Pop Records. "The major focuses currently are sporting activities. There are a few mentorship programs out there and different counseling. But there isn't an organization providing solely music and arts."

Back on Local 46's stage the raw rock of Droo Church seemed to be drawing just as many over-21 fans as underage kids. That's healthy for the music community, according to Travis Nakamura, 21-year-old drummer for hardcore band Teen Cthulu and a security assistant volunteer with the Vera Project.

"There's a lot of stuff to do in this town," he said. "People don't feel the need to support a scene. This is helping to educate, letting people know if you don't go out to shows and support, there's not gonna be any venues."

For now, 18-year-old Scott Brauer is happy to do his part for Vera by shelling out the $6 admission. The University of Washington sophomore came to see the Briefs and other bands with a half-dozen friends.

"It's just a way to create something that teenagers can do," he said. "There aren't really a whole lot of things I can find that are very cheap."