is Savannah on the verge of allowing 18+ shows at key music venues?

Don’t get excited. Don’t get overconfident. Don’t assume anything is a done deal until it’s actually done.

And don’t assume that any elected official who raises questions is your enemy. Savannah’s new mayor and council members will likely do their due diligence before adopting the alcohol ordinance rewrite that city staffers have been working on for three years.

For those of you who don’t know, I am a longtime freelance columnist with the Savannah Morning News. I wrote extensively about the mistaken assumptions behind banning 18- to 20-year-olds from many live music venues close to a decade ago, and I’ve written off and on ever since about all the negative fallout from that ordinance change, including the ways that young adults were cut off from the cultural life of the city, the problem created for entrepreneurs who might want to open larger venues but need college-age patrons to make the numbers work, and the bands that bypass the city completely because we don’t have the right venues.

In my City Talk column on Tuesday in the SMN — New draft of Savannah alcohol ordinance ‘a good read’ — I discuss the draft ordinance that city officials released last week (or perhaps the week before). Click here if you want to read the ordinance for yourself.

If that proposed ordinance were to become law — and again nothing is a done deal here — Savannah live music venues that serve alcohol but don’t serve food (i.e., bars) would be allowed to apply for special “underage licenses” so that they could allow 18- to 20-year-olds to attend live entertainment performances. Karaoke would not count as live entertainment, by the way, but presumably DJs, drag shows, dancers, and many other artists would fall within the proposed guidelines.

Also, the draft would allow for “event venues” that have alcohol licenses, do not serve food, are not open regularly to the public as bars, and occasionally host performances. By my reading of the proposed ordinance, those venues could be all ages.

These concepts are largely unchanged from a draft released by city officials in summer of 2015, but the mayor and aldermen at that time raised significant questions about the proposal (but not about any of the age restrictions).

By the way, if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that just about every city that could be deemed a Savannah competitor already gives far more rights to music lovers under 21 than Savannah does. There’s nothing radical in the proposed draft, not at all. If you’ve lived in Athens, Atlanta, Charleston, Statesboro, or Jacksonville, rules like these seem pretty obvious.

So here are some things to keep in mind:

  • I will try to keep the Savannah music community updated about the status of the draft. At some critical point, it might be really important to get in touch with individual members of city council.
  • Given the fact that Savannah officials released a draft in 2014 that would have banned most people aged 20 and under after 10 p.m. even from restaurants that serve alcohol — yes, really, that happened — we have to assume that there are some powerful people within the city administration who will fight against the saner ordinance now being put forth.
  • With state alcohol licenses already having been purchased for 2016 (they are renewed for each calendar year), we might not see this ordinance be adopted or go into effect until Jan. 1, 2017 — and that’s assuming everything goes well.
  • Even if live music venues can apply for the underage permits, there is no guarantee that they will. If a club is expecting a sold out show of legal drinkers, why would they open that show to anyone under 21?
  • The ordinance has many moving parts, so even if council members agree with the age restriction portions of the draft, they might get bogged down on other issues.
  • All that said, I feel relatively confident that at least a couple of returning members of city council will vote for the new ordinance, and I think that the new mayor and council members would support it for a variety of reasons.
  • Of course, if Chief Lumpkin opposes key provisions, council members might change their minds. But Lumpkin came to Savannah from Athens, where he worked for many years, and the new ordinance would have age restrictions very similar to those in Athens. And one would hope that Lumpkin’s opinion would have been sought long before now.

I’ll keep everyone posted.