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The Beer Tent Bluesssss - Eye Weekly

Discussion in 'TRIBE Main Forum' started by ravinjunkie, Aug 9, 2010.

  1. ravinjunkie

    ravinjunkie TRIBE Member

    The beer-tent blues
    Outdoor events in Toronto are subject to strict regulations governed by the AGCO, who segregate drinkers to licensed areas that feel more like holding cells. Why does our government insist on getting in the way of our good times?
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    MONTREAL, QC — I’ve just finished watching Sonic Youth play a couple of cuts from their 1988 classic Daydream Nation right up in front of the main stage at the Osheaga music festival, and I’m strolling across the dusty, gravel-packed field trying to spot the fellow journalists I’d previously been standing with during Snoop Dogg’s set. I head down the tree-lined trail towards one of the smaller stages, weaving through the revellers going to and from the “Piknic Electronik” dance area and contemplate a last stop at the Port-a-Pottyies before sidling into the front row to watch Syracuse indie-rock ensemble Ra Ra Riot. Oh, and I should mention that I’ve been doing all of this while carrying a cupful of beer.

    No, I didn’t have to smuggle it out of a beer tent or past the front-gate security — this sort of public drinking is totally acceptable at Osheaga. In fact, the folks I was with earlier bought their beers from a vendor who came right out into the audience to deliver the goods. You could say that this relaxed atmosphere is just a fact of my being in the laissez-faire surroundings of Montreal, but you could also argue that it just makes sense.

    I’ve been drinking alcohol legally at rock concerts for about 13 years now, and I think I’ve got a pretty good handle on the concept. Whether it was a packed night at the Horseshoe, an expansive arena show at the Air Canada Centre or a fancy soft-seater-theatre experience at Massey Hall, I’ve consumed beers in them all. I can even take notes on the band’s performance and applaud between songs and dodge crowd surfers and not spill a drop. But I never get to use these talents while attending an outdoor music festival in Ontario.

    For anyone who’s never been, the drinking experience at outdoor festivals in this province is relegated to segregated beer tents — or what the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO), who oversees and enforces the Ontario government’s liquor laws, calls the “licensed area.” And for anyone who has been, the multi-step process of lining up to get into a beer tent and then lining up to buy beer tickets and then lining up to trade those tickets for a beer seems like a perfectly normal thing to do, since it’s all we’ve ever known. And yet nothing can put a damper on a perfectly good music festival like standing in line to stand in line to stand in line, just to get something to drink — especially when you’d much rather be watching the show. And then when something really goes awry with the beer-tent situation — like it did at last June’s Broken Social Scene–curated festival on Olympic Island — the festival experience can be downright miserable.

    The BSS beer-tent debacle — wherein disgruntled patrons reported hour-plus waits for drinks — was triggered by faulty equipment; as the promoters, Collective Concerts, explained after the show, one of the beer-tap pumps wasn’t working well enough to keep pace with the thirsty audience. But it’s not the first time that lineups have been the main complaint about a Toronto music festival. The initial few Virgin Festivals in 2006 and 2007 were cited for nightmarish lineups and, between the mud and the debauchery, the beer tent at the last Wakestock on Toronto Island in 2008 ended up resembling a scene from The 120 Days of Sodom.

    Fellow writer and music-festival world traveller Scott Tavener (he left for the UK’s Glastonbury festival the night after the BSS island concert) best sums up the delicate balance of beer and music at festivals: “A good lineup makes a show, but a beer lineup kills it.” So after experiencing any of the above scenarios, one must ask the inevitable question: is there not a better way?

    While we’ve begrudgingly accepted beer gardens as a necessary part of attending festivals, the act of being corralled into a separate area via endless lineups seems contrary to the reason for being at a festival: to enjoy music in a relaxed outdoor environment. The whole idea of the rock festival began with a bunch of hippies sitting on the grass with picnic baskets and beers and listening to Hendrix and The Who (I’m talking Monterey Pop, not Woodstock). Admittedly, this is an Edenic vision of what we’ve come to know as a corporate-heavy affair with ubiquitous security and insurance policies and the potential for terminal dumbness (thanks for nothing, Woodstock ’99). But it doesn’t change the fact that a big reason why people go to an outdoor music festival is to enjoy music and beer simultaneously — the two should not be mutually exclusive. Besides, the concept of a laid-back festival where you can wander freely with beer in hand is not so far-fetched — in many parts of the world it’s the norm.

    Osheaga was my first taste of this, but pretty much every festival in Quebec is run this way. Beer is readily available, and all you have to do to get one is walk up to a stand, show ID (if necessary) and give them your money. No bouncers, no ticket exchange, no hassles and not much more of a lineup than to buy a hotdog. As Osheaga founder Nick Farkas explains: “I’ve done 16 Vans Warped Tours [in Quebec] and it’s always been like that. We’ve got so many festivals that are outdoor and family-oriented — all these huge outdoor downtown festivals where there are hundreds of thousands of people walking around and they’re drinking beer and with their kids. It’s just not an issue. I’ve never even heard it being brought up as something to address.”

    This might be why Osheaga is the Canadian festival that’s been most successful in emulating the consistent cultural draw of long-standing UK and European music festivals like Glastonbury and Pinkpop, where, naturally, you can drink wherever you like. “But getting liquor permits isn’t easy and they are stringently enforced,” Farkas continues. “It’s really tough to get liquor permits for outdoor events and the liquor board is very on top of things to make sure there are no abuses. But maybe it’s because it’s been going on here for so long that it isn’t an issue.”

    Not only can you drink anywhere at Montreal's Osheaga festival, they bring the beer right to you!

    If there’s something we know in Ontario, it’s alcohol control. Between the LCBO’s monopoly on the sale of all things boozy and the recent tightening of provincial drunk-driving laws, in one way or another, every time you take a drink our provincial government is watching. When it comes to large gatherings of excitable young people, this need to exercise control gets significantly amplified. For pretty much any event in a public place expecting more than a few hundred people, alcohol must be served and consumed in a designated area. Even if the event itself is isolated from the public — like, say, on an island or in a fenced-off field in the middle of a park — those drinkers need to be separated from the rest of the audience.

    The philosophy behind this is pretty obvious. As the AGCO’s media spokesperson, Lisa Murray, explains, there are numerous safety concerns to consider, as well as a duty to prevent minors from having access to festival beer. And while it might seem hypocritical that you can drink beer next to a 14-year old at the Rogers Centre or the Molson Amphitheatre (the latter of which holds more people than Olympic Island) but not at an outdoor festival, Murray points out that there are other logistical considerations. The Amphitheatre, even the lawn seats, is set up so that the sections are visible to security; as well, the staff who work there are regular employees and have a better sense of the facility than some hired guns patrolling a two-day party in a park. Keeping people in beer tents, then, is simply the provincial government’s way of ensuring that the venue, promoters and security will be able to control the drinking population.

    But the reality is not quite so simple. The practical application of beer tents often creates more problems than it solves. Live Nation and Virgin Festival promoter Jacob Smid describes it as “treating somewhat intelligent human beings as crack addicts who need to be given a safe injection site.” The most noticeable effect of this is that when people are spending time in a lineup or a beer tent instead of watching a concert for which they have likely paid a pretty penny, it creates a certain level of anxiety.

    Osheaga’s Farkas concurs, citing his relatively problem-free experiences in Montreal. “Honestly, I’ve seen more issues in beer tents and beer-tent lineups. I’ve seen more fights with people trying to get in and out of beer tents than I’ve ever seen at all of our shows combined.”

    But the beer tents are not the only problem. Ironically, by focusing alcohol control on one area, you give up control of the rest of the venue. For a certain portion of the festival-going audience, knowing that the beer-tent situation will be such a hassle means that bringing your own booze is imperative. And if you have people sneaking in booze, you lose the opportunity to monitor how much they drink because they are probably hiding in some corner away from any security.

    Alternatively, if the drinkers and the teetotallers are in mixed company, there is actually more opportunity to monitor behaviour. It just requires some refocused attention. “I think that between Smart-Serve certification[for alcohol vendors], liability concerns, everybody working together — the people doing security and your peers at the event — people are going to do what they have to do to make it a safe and enjoyable event,” says Smid, optimistically.

    So what are the chances of seeing any changes to this policy in our lifetimes?

    Well, the first issue is the draconian nature of Ontario’s liquor laws in general. When reached for comment during a UK sojourn, Collective Concerts’ Jeff Cohen offered this summation of the situation: “Here in London, you can drink a beer outside any pub like a human being, but I don’t ever see this happening in Ontario as long as the Conservatives-in-sheep’s-clothing Liberals are in power.”

    But if the laws can’t be changed, then, as Cohen suggests, we at the very least deserve a more reasonable regulatory body. “The current AGCO is made up of people who all have little or no experience owning, managing or working in licensed bars, so really the whole body that oversees licences is one big joke — but a joke no governmental person wants to fix.”

    However, as the AGCO’s Murray explains, you can have an open-licence event here — it’s just that it would be prohibitively expensive once you factor in the amount of security and staff that would be needed to comply with AGCO stipulations. Beyond these requirements, you have to figure into the equation the vendors who will be supplying the alcohol. More than likely, they have many other contracts beyond a two-day music festival, and most wouldn’t want to risk getting their licence suspended if something goes wrong at such a large gathering.

    “It would be very difficult to convince someone who has a liquor licence year-round to be the person to step up and say, ‘I’m going to fight hard to do it this way,’” says Smid, adding, “I think [vendors] are extremely fearful of repercussions from the AGCO.

    “The unfortunate makeup of concert promoters, historically, is that we have been very slow or lackadaisical about creating any kind of trade group or collective pressure when it comes to any government initiatives,” he continues. “I think that the government would probably listen, given the evidence available worldwide that [Ontario’s] is an extremely unique scenario. V-Fest in Vancouver has an open licence; there are other provinces and other places in the world where this is acceptable. So I think if the brewers and promoters — some kind of collective — really lobby the government for changes and explain why we see this as a benefit and how we could operate this as a safe enterprise, [it might happen].”

    And with the current concert market suffering noticeably this summer, you have to wonder if promoters might already be eager to find new ways to draw in audiences. It’s no secret that Toronto festivals have failed to emulate the European model — hell, after the downsizing of last year’s Virgin Fest, we don’t have any proper multi-day outdoor music festivals at all this summer.

    Seeing the immense success and relatively unproblematic execution of Osheaga first-hand, it’s hard not to develop a case of festival envy. And while Farkas doesn’t think the open licence contributes to the success of Osheaga per se, he does admit that it’s a huge draw for out-of-towners from Ontario. On the other hand, and possibly sharing in my envious sentiments, Smid thinks the alcohol situation is integral.

    “I think it’s part of the puzzle,” he says. “And I think this is the biggest thing to overcome for festivals to have value to the overall marketplace. Right now, festivals are more of a niche thing; mainstream people don’t go to festivals, whereas in Europe and other places they do. Even if you had a commercial artist headlining a festival in Toronto, you’d have people who would rather wait two years to see them at the ACC. That’s the biggest detriment to making them work financially. [Otherwise] I think what you’re going to get is a B-level festival in an A-level market.”

    On Aug. 14, Arcade Fire will be headlining their own mini-festival on Olympic Island in support of their new album, The Suburbs. For anyone who hasn’t seen them recently, I highly recommend making the journey, as they are in epically fine form these days. And with bizarro-world R&B diva Janelle Monáe and Toronto roots-rock veterans The Sadies opening up the show, you have one of this summer’s more intriguingly eclectic bills. I would love to go… but then I would just end up comparing the show to my experience watching Arcade Fire headlining the mainstage on the first night of Osheaga, where I stood among thousands of other festivalgoers enjoying a beer in the open air. That would just be unfair — much like this province’s liquor laws.

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  2. green_souljah

    green_souljah TRIBE Member

    Yeah its nice walking around a party like Eclipse beers in hand without feeling like a fugitive. i don't even waste my time going to anything here that has a "beer tent"

    Its much less of a hassle to do drugs in this province than it is to tie one on it seems.

    2:01=no beer for you
    Hallway=no beer for you
    Washroom=no beer for you

    I think the writer hit the nail on the head when he said that the people in power have no clue about the bar scene. Once again nerds running the show.
  3. erika

    erika TRIBE Member

    Great article (though of course it shouldn't be limited to beer...)
  4. dj SPINZ

    dj SPINZ TRIBE Promoter

    Yeah I just came back from a few weeks in Europe and feel now like we're such a backwards society. Like why the fuck can't I just buy a couple of beers at the corner store and drink them in the park if I want?

    Best is going to any of the many park festivals and just bringing your own drinks. Or going to a show and drinking past 2. What is the problem with our government and how can we fix these old school liquor laws?
  5. erika

    erika TRIBE Member

    I think that's too limited in outlook: what you have is a paternal-style government philosophy; it assumes people are children, don't know any better, and will always do the wrong thing.
    Then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: you can't DRINK until age x, so at age x, the ritual becomes getting totally shit-faced.

    When I first came to Canada I saw a billboard that told people that if their clothes caught on fire they should roll over on the ground; my reaction, coming from France was "if your clothes catch on fire and you can't figure out what to do, too bad... ".
    A bit harsh perhaps, but govern by the 80/20 rule: don't legislate for the 20% and make life miserable for the 80% all the time!
  6. Beings

    Beings TRIBE Member

    Won't someone think of the CHILDREN!!!!
  7. Phat Buddha

    Phat Buddha TRIBE Member

    <33 :)
  8. acheron

    acheron TRIBE Member

    Probably the thinking behind France's immigration policy and their treatment of minorities in general, yes?
  9. tobywan

    tobywan TRIBE Member

    Daddy McGuinty is!
  10. skin deep

    skin deep TRIBE Member

    I think one of the problems is the inability of a lot of people to not get shitfaced hammered and cause problems. The amount of puking, fighting, yelling in clubs back home leaves me dumbfounded, while the amount of cops standing around on busy club streets to ensure everything 'goes smoothly' is staggering. In order for people to be able to drink more freely, they simply need to get better at drinking overall. I look at so many places in Europe wondering "why doesn't this exist in Canada" and the simple answer is because the idiots simply make it unfeasible.
  11. acheron

    acheron TRIBE Member

    ok... so the lager lout situation in the UK/Europe is better than how it is here because... The rioting in the stands (largely alcohol-driven) at football matches is better than how it is here because...
  12. skin deep

    skin deep TRIBE Member

    Well, anybody can take the absolute worst example of European drinkers and say that they don't know how to handle their booze, but hooligans are a tiny proportion of the population who often even set the fights in advance to stir the pot even more knowing that they're going to have 15 pints in them by the time the game starts.

    Overall, in the vast majority of social drinking situations, I'd say that there are far fewer instances of shittiness in Europe, or at least in Continental Europe.
  13. basketballjones

    basketballjones TRIBE Member

    they dont treat you like a 3 year old when it comes to drinking in europe, you can go into any off license and grab what you want and open it and walk to the park, to a friends, what have you.

    Here we go into a a guv run monopoly that is taxed up the ass, to purchase booze, and are made to feel like criminals if we even think of not waiting til home to hide and consume the purchase

    The more you make something inaccessible the more ripe for abuse it is. Forcing the patrons of all of the clubs and bars out onto the street after 2 is a recipe for disaster. i would like to see if there has been a report done on violence when they have extended the hours and you didnt have to try to cram your drinking to usually a 3 hour window(most of which is spent in a line up trying to get a damn drink)
  14. moose-meat

    moose-meat TRIBE Member

    Saw the Rammstein / Apocolyptica show in Quebec City last month.
    Me and 120,000 others. It was easy to get beer.
    But long line-ups for everything else.

    I love Quebec. :)
  15. maphi

    maphi TRIBE Member

    Its because alcohol is so demonized and restricted in this country that it becomes a problem for people when they finally get their hands on it. If you've ever spent any time in Europe where alcohol is no big deal, you would rarely see people acting the way they do here. Sure people get drunk and act rowdy, but they're not puking in the streets, fighting, yelling etc... And police resources are not wasted on chasing drunk people. If you want to buy a can of beer at midnight in the corner store, no problem. If you just bought a drink at a bar and your friends want to go to the bar down the street, no need to chug it back. Just take it with you, no problem! The only reason people here act like idiots is because they're expected to based on government policy.
  16. Sal De Ban

    Sal De Ban TRIBE Member

    at least the entertainment district is crime free now that they canceled raving. :D
  17. green_souljah

    green_souljah TRIBE Member

    Didn't England have strict laws regarding pubs though? that were recently changed due to poor sales and the youf of today 'avin it in the clubs rather than the 'pubs?

    Im not challenging that fact that booze is more ingrained in the euro culture, but all one needs to do is look up the 1994 Criminal Justice Act to see that they surely are not more progressive than we are (the Brits anyways)
  18. dj SPINZ

    dj SPINZ TRIBE Promoter

    Not sure what has changed recently but every time I'm in England I think its kind of cool the way you can get a drink at a pub and just walk outside and hang out front and chat and drink. The only thing that has changed is that drinking on the tube is now Illegal although I don't think its very enforced.
  19. erika

    erika TRIBE Member

    England is NOT Europe (said the frog :D); I believe some of the Ontario laws are a direct result of British rule way back...
  20. erika

    erika TRIBE Member

    Further to that, an article last January said this:
    According to David J. Hanson, a professor emeritus at New York State University and an internationally recognized expert in the sociology of drinking, “Prohibition was what created the culture of heavy episodic drinking in the first place because it made alcohol into an illicit substance.” Today, he says, cultures that embrace a philosophy of “continuous moderate daily alcohol consumption” tend to have both lower levels of heart disease and alcohol-related fatalities. “This we know: It's a U-shaped grid. The moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with better health and greater longevity than either abstaining or abusing.”

    Hanson points out that, in the United States, many dry counties actually have higher alcohol-related fatalities than neighbouring wet ones.

    Similarly, countries with looser drinking laws (such as age limits, licensing restrictions, etc.) seem to have fewer problems with the demon liquor as well. In these cultures, he says, there tend to be certain commonalities, which are:

    1. They tend to see alcohol as a neutral substance, neither inherently good nor bad.

    2. They tend to view the abuse of alcohol as unacceptable, and the choice to either abstain or drink moderately as equally acceptable.

    3. People in these cultures learn to drink in the safe confines of their home from their parents, rather than with peers in the fraternity house

    (full article here: This month, I'm abstaining from abstinence - The Globe and Mail )
  21. Sal De Ban

    Sal De Ban TRIBE Member

    from the torontoislandconcert.com webiste:

  22. Nesta

    Nesta TRIBE Member

    Me too! Quebec is the shiznit.

    After the disaster that was the BSS island show, I have vowed to never go to an island show again.
  23. The Truth

    The Truth TRIBE Member

  24. acheron

    acheron TRIBE Member

    what explains Russia's obsession with vodka then? I mean, look at them. The whole country's ugly and generally fucked and the place pretty much runs on vodka... something like 23 litres of pure alcohol (effectively) are consumed by Russians annually. I would hardly consider Russia to be an example of ubiquitous alcohol leading to more responsible behaviour.
  25. Sal De Ban

    Sal De Ban TRIBE Member

    in soviet russia, behaviour make excuses for YOU

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