Truth be told, I don’t know much about beer. However, I do know that beer and music go hand in hand. I’m not writing about the issue at hand from a consumer standpoint. I’m writing about this as a citizen-artist from New Jersey (as many UArts students are or were formerly) who depends on a thriving and engaging independent music culture for further artistic development and income. New Jersey’s Division of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) recently issued new regulations regarding the activities of microbreweries in the state. To paraphrase, the main regulations are:
- No more than 25 special events per year and the brewery must notify the ABC at least ten days prior
- No menus from local restaurants allowed (customers were previously allowed to view menus from surrounding restaurants and order in) and only pre-packaged snacks shall be available.
- Ability to host 12 off-site events with special permits
I want to focus on the first regulation, as I believe it directly impacts the independent music scene of New Jersey, and by extension the tri-state area. A microbrewery is an independent brewery that operates on a much smaller scale than corporate breweries and tends to focus more innovative flavors and brewing techniques. To be considered “micro”, the brewery can produce no more than 15,000 barrels of beer per year. Microbreweries often hold several events per week to engage the community and get customers in the door. These can include trivia nights, yoga classes, painting parties and live music. If a brewery holds four events a week for an entire year, that’s roughly two hundred events for the year. Let’s say one or two of those weekly events include live music. In this case, independent shows would then make up 25-50% of the brewery’s events. New Jersey’s new ABC rulings will put a significant dent in the revenues of breweries, which in turn could prompt these venues to close. On top of admission revenue, most people buy a drink or two at a show, maybe even some venue merchandise. Having to cancel scores of shows will force breweries to limit the amount of opportunities they can give to independent acts.
The shore town of Asbury Park is host to number of historic venues including the Stone Pony, The Saint, The Wonder Bar and the Paramount Theatre. Over the last decade, the town has seen a shift of focus from independent art to art that is sure to bring a crowd, but more importantly, large wallets. The NYC-based real estate investment company iStar is currently carrying out a ten year development plan for the town. As part of this plan, iStar has bought out one of the most beloved venues in Asbury Park called Asbury Lanes. The venue was a decrepit, but functional bowling alley where they would also hold movie screenings, run drag shows and put on independent shows. Now, they are mainly involved with music and have been absorbed by AEG to host large acts such as Kurt Vile and Portugal. The Man. Thankfully, the Asbury Park Brewery has filled in the hole that the former Asbury Lanes and other venues left. This microbrewery holds independent shows multiple nights a week. Currently, nineteen shows are scheduled from the time this article was written through the beginning of November. Under the new rulings handed down by the New Jersey ABC, in the span of 5 weeks, they’ve booked 75% of their yearly allotted events. Also, having to let the ABC about every show ten days prior is petty and serves no real purpose. This will undoubtedly negatively affect the state of independent shows in the area in a number of ways.
- Loss of income to local bands
- Decreased revenues for small businesses that support independent art
- Less exposure opportunities for new artists
As LiveNation and AEG continue to buy out more venues and promotion companies, independent venues that sponsor truly independent music are dwindling rapidly. The local music community doesn’t need to see another venue turn into another missed opportunity to express their art, meet new people and share the symbiotic experience of a live show. Losing independent venues dedicated to a local community has a real impact on people in the community. Asbury Lanes, while not a microbrewery, used to be the go-to for up and coming local acts. My sister would attend shows there regularly to see local bands when I was in elementary school around the same time I was beginning to learn how to play guitar. I remember being so interested in hearing about what was going on there even though I really had no grasp on the concept of indie music or a local music community. My sister took me there for the first time while I was in middle school and even though I wasn’t a fan of the music, I was a fan of the experience. It felt like an honest place; it was really established, it was really gritty and it was really a place for artists and observers alike to experiment, be weird, have fun and enjoy one another. Ever since then, I’ve always been attracted to playing similar venues. While aesthetically different, Asbury Park Brewery is currently carrying the torch once held by Asbury Lanes regarding the championing of truly independent live shows. However, that is all under siege now thanks to the new regulations announced by New Jersey’s ABC.
For more information and a link to sign a petition in protest, visit https://brewedindependent.org/petition/.