According to Pennsylvania law, performers younger than 18, like Keim, can't legally perform in establishments with a liquor license — unless they're students receiving instruction, are uncompensated, are under proper supervision and give notice to the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement ahead of time. But as the liquor code states, "persons over the age of eighteen (18) are permitted to perform as entertainers in licensed establishments [Id.]; whether a parent or guardian or someone over twenty-five (25) years old who qualifies as a ‘proper supervisor' would need to also be present depends upon the situation."
Opus One, which books shows at Club Café, Mr. Small's and Brillobox, essentially treats the 21-and-over venues as bars first and performance spaces second. Many of the all-ages policies employed by larger clubs lose their effectiveness in smaller venues. Though many local venues have implemented a segregated wristband or marker system to designate who can and cannot be served alcohol, the smaller bars would be highly inconvenienced to create such distinctions.
"For a tiny place like [Club Café], we can't separate an above-21 and an under-21 area," Mengel says. "And most of the same reasons why we can't allow minors are the same reasons why other bars on East Carson also can't allow minors."
But age restrictions aren't just limited to the smaller bar-venues in Pittsburgh. On rare occasions, Opus mandates a restriction for typically all-ages venues. In September 2012, for example, Nick Lowe played a 21-and-over show — at Mr. Small's. And in some cases, the cutoff isn't even the drinking age — last month's Skrillex show at Stage AE was limited to concertgoers 16 and over. Given the recent negative injury and health concerns associated with big EDM festivals, the move seems like a safeguard against similar incidents occurring here, but other shows within the genre haven't been restricted. Bassnecter and The Glitch Mob, two other electronic darlings, also played Stage AE in October — yet their shows were all ages.
But according to Mengel, "it's usually the artist's decision to play an age-restricted show at a venue that is generally all-ages."
Despite the pretty cut-and-dried liquor code, one Pennsylvania father is actively lobbying to get the state law changed.
Todd Bedard, from just outside of Harrisburg in New Cumberland, used to take his 12-year-old son, Logan, to Pete's Olde Town Bar and Grille to perform. Logan played drums at Pete's for local musician Shea Quinn, but state police put an end to this, and the restaurant was fined $250.
After the fine, Bedard contacted his state representative, Sheryl Delozier — who also happened to see one of Logan's performances at Pete's — about easing the law to allow minor performers, if they're supervised by a parent or guardian and don't receive compensation. Bedard says that Delozier recognized the innocent nature of Logan's time at the establishment.
"She saw the performance and understood what we were doing — saw me drinking iced tea, and him drinking soda and doing homework between sets," Bedard says.
Delozier introduced House Bill 1943, which would relax the law, this January, but it never made it out of committee during the limited fall session. Bedard plans to meet with Delozier after the holiday break to see about reintroducing the bill in 2015.
Bedard stressed that he's simply asking for consistency in the law, since his son is legally permitted to eat in Pete's but violates the law once he gets on stage to perform. He doesn't see how Logan's situation should be any different from child actors performing in dinner theaters that serve alcohol — or even minors eating in a restaurant with their family.
"They're not supposed to serve my son whether he's playing music, or whether he's sitting with me in a restaurant," says Bedard. "That's not really going to change much."