I survived to be 21 for over a year now. It's quite an accomplishment considering a few friends did not. Throughout the year I've been reflecting on the cultural leap between the numeric age differences.
Reaching the legal drinking age opens all doors of social interaction in Cincinnati. Bars and music venues no longer need to fear losing their liquor licenses over my patronage. I no longer have to battle with the law or scout the city for my nightlife.
After graduating high school, I constantly drank to the ridiculousness of Cincinnati barely providing underage adults anything more engaging/entertaining to do on weekend nights than break the law. My love for music and writing became my constructive avenues as opposed to drinking heavily, which I did anyway.
My friends threw parties at their suburban and Cincinnati homes whenever their parents left for the night or weekend. The basements showcased my brother Jason and friends' ensemble No Sides Right with my trio Jon E Law and occasionally other local acts. The basement scene created an aura of sheer energy, a scene unhinged by age limits.
We dished out invitations to everyone we knew, who subsequently invited everyone they knew. The 50 to 200 of our peers would get liquored up before the shows, mingle with other partygoers and commit unruly deeds like smashing beer bottles in the streets for kicks.
When the parties hit full swing, our bands would storm the makeshift stage with everyone else herding into the basement. We would jam throughout the evenings for the drunken revelries with repeated sets and cover requests, until the neighbors called the police for disturbing the peace.
The police warned us to cool it past evening hours and that they would not be amused to return due to our noncompliance. We simply shrugged off the reprimands because our basements were the most accessible of our limited options to play for a crowd.
Most music venues naturally rejected our booking requests because of age limits. Liquor sales are the bread and butter of profits for most music venues and the owners couldn't jeopardize their liquor licenses.
The all-ages venue The Void in Northside and Sudsy Malone's on Short Vine accepted underage musicians and music lovers and they inherently became our music havens. Both venues provided opportunities for inexperienced musicians to play with locally and nationally renowned acts. Musicians simply asked the owners for the chance to play, and we seized every opportunity. We shared the stage with favorite young acts Restraint, Death in Graceland, No Sides Right and Fat Tater.
Teenaged punks swarmed the streets of Northside whenever The Void hosted a show. The venue welcomed and housed all genres of music, but Punk Rock/Hardcore fans annexed the space as their niche, a "punk house" to receive the dosage of raw, fast paced music other venues denied them. This situation turned The Void into a networking beacon for young musicians to meet and book future shows with like-minded bands.
Unfortunately The Void shut down indefinitely a year ago to relocate, but Radio Down above Tickets on Sixth Street in Covington resumed the hallowed burden of offering underage musicians the opportunity to play. The venue will regularly showcase bands for all ages while still providing adult beverages to patrons of legal age. The professional stage setup is ideal for young musicians to gain experience playing under stage lights and under pressure from the crowd of mixed age groups.
A web of connections informed us of other party options whenever my posse couldn't host them at their parents' expense. A drinking party is THE event for high school and underage adults in Cincinnati. We would scour the city and suburbs with other young adults to hang at the liveliest jamboree in this party-hop culture. Between trips to other parties, we chilled with friends and introduced ourselves to unknown faces while sipping on some "sizzurp." The threat of DUIs skyrocketed during these notorious nights as partygoers bounced around the city, and some of our friends lost their lives in the mix.
Fear of harassment from the police loomed over our heads when we drove through the suburbs at night, under scrutiny as young adults cruising around in the wee hours. Patrol cruisers tailgated us straight into our driveways while the hawk-eyed officers searched for the slightest reason to pull us over.
After pulling us over, the officers doled out classic reasons like burned out license plate lights and frequently changing turn signals. The officers intimidated and persuaded us to surrender our vehicles and ourselves to searches because they were "curious." We walked the line and blew into breathalyzers when the officers insisted they smelled alcohol on our breath, even when we insisted they did not. The fiascos killed about 30 minutes of our youth per pullover, and then we were released with warnings. My friends elected me as the police liaison because of my meager college education in constitutional law. I was only arrested twice. Luckily, the judges dropped all charges.
If the party option turned up dry, we scheduled an extra band rehearsal or we drank in the streets. During some nights of extreme boredom, we'd simply decide to say, "Fuck Cincinnati. There's nothing to do until you're 21 but get drunk. Let's go to ... ." Chicago, Gatlinburg, Myrtle Beach and New Orleans appealed to us with their tourism industries. We would pack some munchies and clothes, pile into our cars and ditch Cincinnati that night to test the entertainment other cities offer.
Now I have the right to barhop around Cincinnati, basking in a change of scenery, and chat with whomever seems willing. I don't even need a gangster's roll of cash or a night of binge drinking to enjoy myself. The nature of people provides plenty of entertainment for my posse. Whether we're appreciating the local music scene, chatting with bartenders, flirting with the ladies or just getting smashed, my friends and I are thrilled to finally reach the pinnacle of nightlife in Cincinnati. Some friends aren't 21 yet, but they will be soon. Until then, I strive to pinpoint entertainment we all can share.
LIVING OUT LOUD is a rotating blend of essays and editorials by CityBeat staff about life or something like it.