There’s a TripAdvisor thread called “Over 18 but under 21,” asking for advice about what that demographic can and can’t do in Las Vegas. The responses get into casino rules, the nuances of restaurant-bars and the classic gripe about being old enough to die for your country but not to be debaucherous. No one mentions the fact that Downtown, catching a live music show is a hell of a lot easier if you can buy a beer.
Container Park is an exception, as are festivals like Life Is Beautiful and specialized venues like the Smith Center. But the scene is pretty solidly 21+, from mainstays like Beauty Bar and LVCS to smaller spots with smaller calendars like the Griffin and Velveteen Rabbit. Selling alcohol usually means you can’t open shows to underage fans, at least not with standard licensing. And according to Big Daddy Carlos Adley, not having those fans means you can't book certain bands.
“The majority of large touring acts will not compromise in alienating the 18-and-over record-buying demographic,” says Adley, the most visible partner in the 601 Fremont complex, which includes Backstage Bar & Billiards and the adjoining Fremont Country Club. That slice of the audience doesn’t just buy records; it also buys merch and concert tickets and is full of passionate tastemakers, so it’s valuable to the agencies that book for artists. And Adley says some bands would rather pass up gigs than exclude that fanbase, a roadblock to the vision he has of Fremont Country Club as a place to see Strip-caliber talent on a more intimate level. That's why he spent the past year working with the Las Vegas City Council to get the venue out from under the "tavern-limited umbrella."
“This is Downtown’s version of House of Blues. This is a music venue solely predicated for live, large-scale entertainment,” he says, insisting such a venue shouldn’t be subject to the same constraints as a seven-day-a-week bar. “When you have an existing law or existing ordinances that are kinda cookie-cutter, once you have any kind of large renaissance you’re gonna get concepts that are outside of the box, and they’re not gonna fit into that format. ... So it was a matter of just taking it to the city and making them understand that we were never gonna be a bar, we never wanted to be a bar, and we would never be a venue opened up under the guise of something else that would be a bar.”
The tavern-limited format he's talking about governs "themed establishments" that mix alcohol and live entertainment in the Fremont East Entertainment District. But the city granted special terms to Fremont Country Club in mid-April, allowing it to host 18+ events. During an initial 90-day trial period, the city council has oversight on all bookings, and it can yank the privilege at any time. July 10 is the first test, when Texas psychobilly trio Reverend Horton Heat takes the stage.
“We are the only tavern-limited that now will facilitate 18-and-over shows. It’s a very big deal, and with it comes great responsibility," Adley says, "and we’re aware of that and I welcome it.”
Adley, who started out in the industry 25 years ago working doors at Hollywood clubs, hashed out the 18+ format with Capt. Shawn Andersen of Metro’s Downtown unit. The space will be split between age groups, with security watching the border for hand-offs and ensuring that no drinks enter the bathrooms. The ratio will be two per 100 patrons (city code requires only one per 200). Signs, surveillance cameras, separate wristbands and an 18+ exit feeding straight to the parking lot will hammer the message. “If you break the rules you’ll not only be thrown out, you’ll be prosecuted. There’s no gray area here. This is the law and we take it seriously,” Adley says. “More than anything, it’s letting them know: ‘This is what we’ve created for you. So enjoy it, don’t f*ck it up. Cause if you get 86ed, your picture’s gonna be in the office and you’re never coming back. Ever.’”
He and his partners want to do this right—to honor the city’s trust and to lay groundwork for more appropriate entertainment venues to join the 18+ party Downtown. If they succeed, shows that are already booked, like art pop outfit Of Montreal on October 18, will be open to a wider audience at Fremont Country Club. As the venue evolves, Adley promises firepower booked by partner Michael Chugg, who’s currently promoting Bob Dylan, Keith Urban and Wild Beasts, among others across that spectrum. But he says 601 Fremont is also about supporting mid-range and rising local bands like The Astaires, Sex in Latex, The Lucky Cheats, Crazy Chiefs, Rusty Maples, The Dirty Hooks and others fueling Downtown’s momentum as “a scene to play.”
“Because Downtown, in the past, has been such a 21-and-over scene, it’s never been an issue. So if you want to go see the big acts you go to Hard Rock, you go to House of Blues,” Adley says, adding that expanded licensing would allow Downtown to really compete and develop a vibe like Sixth Street in Austin, Texas. “With the renaissance happening Downtown, it’s so important that music is an anchor foundation of that.”
It will be either way. But opening things up for more music and more music lovers would change the scene. If you ask Adley about the money aspect, he smirks. Alcohol sales are what pay bands (and bills), he says, so from a business perspective “it makes no sense at all” to do 18+ shows. From a cultural perspective, the payoff is obvious. Let’s hope the teenagers grasp what they stand to lose just to sneak a beer.