photo/superstock.com
photo/superstock.com

John Lennon once said “Music is everybody’s possession.” However, at the Arctic Monkeys concert on Feb. 15 at the Pageant, it seemed that the experience belonged much more to those old enough to legally hold beer bottles than it did to the rest of us.

Cordoned off from the rest of the crowd in the back of the room, it was hard not to feel like I was being deprived of the sole reason I was there: to enjoy the music with a community of fans.

It was evident from the beginning that the institution saw anyone under 21 as a liability. Sectioned off in different lines to enter the building, those not yet old enough to drink were stamped with “under” in bold red letters on the back of their hands and told to pay the minor surcharge fee of $2.

One of the definitions of surcharge is “an additional or excessive load or burden.” I certainly felt like one when I entered the building. After I entered and took five steps, I found the enclosure in which I would spend the rest of the evening. Those of us not drinking alcohol were asked to stand two feet away from a metal gate that separated the bar area and the rest of the room. A guard stood watch to make sure no one moved over the invisible line.

The whole experience was so different from any other concert I’d been to. In the United Kingdom, I had never been tagged as underage, and was usually able to get to the front of concerts. Those who would drink would be asked to show their ID at the bar but we would always be allowed to intermingle.

When talking to a friend from the U.K. about my experience, she said, “I guess I could probably ask people to buy a drink for me if I was underage, but I don’t see the point because people are there for the music. If you’re there to get drunk, you’ll end up getting kicked out anyway.”

The emphasis placed on alcohol took precedence over the music. The Pageant management was so concerned with getting money from the anyone drinking that they segregated everyone who was too young, keeping them from potentially getting access to alcohol or taking advantage of the inebriated.

My friend from the U.K. said, “I can’t even imagine going to a concert where you’re split like that. It would ruin the atmosphere completely.” She says this is because “the whole point of [a concert] is that you’re there to enjoy the music and have a good time regardless of your age. It’s one time where age is the least of anyone’s worries.”

Interviewing junior Shamus Jarvis shed some new light on the situation. “I’ve been to the Pageant many times and I’ve never had an issue there,” Jarvis, a notorious concert-goer, said. “I’ve never had any problem with my age at concerts.”

His last trip to the Pageant was in September last year. So why the sudden strict attitude when it comes to drinking? I wrote to the Pageant requesting an answer, and they have not replied back as of press time.

However, various reviews on the Internet reflect experiences similar to mine. CitySearch.com user Payton Wilson writes, “The Pageant is a great place to see bands EXCEPT when you’re a MINOR and you have to pay more to see bands and get stuck sitting in a kiddie section.” On the same website, usher slm1998 says, “The staff there is by far the worst. They are rude and harassing.”

It’s not just under 21-year-olds that seemed to have their experience ruined by the emphasis on drinking at the venue. On Google Reviews, user Timothy Pfeiffer wrote, “they treated our group (all above 21, with multiple forms of identification) like hostages. … Overall this is a very strange/tightly regulated place.” User Dana DoStuff, also writing on Google Reviews, told how she and her friend were frisked and made to leave for no legitimate reason. She calls the service “outrageous” and says, “I love the venue itself, but they really need some new employees.”

There is also a Facebook page entitled “The Security at The Pageant STL is Horrible and have a God Complex.”

Overall, I don’t think it’s right to blame the Pageant or its staff specifically for the extremely regulated feeling of the concert experience there. I don’t think this problem is unique to the Pageant, but undue focus on money that has polluted the concert experience in America.

It ultimately comes down to the plague of alcohol and how venue owners have used it to pervert the original purpose of the venues: a space for music to be experienced and appreciated by a community of people. The venue owners exploit the belief that alcohol is an essential part of the concert experience in order to make huge amounts of money.

If you Google “alcohol at music concerts” the first hit that comes up is an article entitled “How to Smuggle Alcohol (Or Other Contraband) Into an Outdoor Concert.” It is evident that alcohol has become a huge part of music culture, which is understandable. I take no issue with those that choose to drink along with their concert experience.

However, when the person in front of you smokes weed through a vaporizer and the man beside you spends more time inspecting his bong than listening to the music – all while security is turning a blind eye to them but insists you don’t stand within two feet of the bar area, making it impossible to dance to the music – it is evident that systems like the Pageant are more concerned with getting their cut of the money rather than the ethics of underage drinking.

I believe that music, especially when performed live, is truly “everybody’s possession,” not something reserved for those most likely to empty their pockets.

Image courtesy of Julia Suber