By Mike Isaacson
This Thursday, The Loft will host its first 18-and-older college night since switching to a strictly 21+ format last spring. The venue has further agreed to hold college nights once a month.
The decision came after various musicians convinced booking agent and sound technician Michael Richards to talk to bar owner Fritz Heller about the possibility of one show a month.
Matt Bradshaw, a UMW senior and harmonica player for the band Junk Science, was among the musicians pushing for the return of college nights.
“I owe a lot to Adam Bray,” he said, referring to the bassist of campus band Tereu Tereu, “He came up with the idea and spoke directly to Fritz to get this confirmed.”
According to Heller, “Adam and Matt went up to Mike, and Mike approached me with Adam and Matt in the background, so I knew exactly where it was coming from.”
Reflecting on that night, Richards recalled the exchange with Bray: “I thought it was a great idea and said, ‘Yeah let’s do it.’”
At the end of the 2007 spring semester, Heller and his former business partners decided to move to 21-and-up shows following three incidents of underage drinking. Heller admitted that he regretted having to make the decision.
“[It was] just these bad apples that spoiled the bunch,” Heller said. However, underage drinking is a legitimate concern in an industry in which bartenders convicted of selling to minors face a $1,000 fine and possible 10-year jail term.
“As an owner, I can OK anything I want to,” Heller said, “But if my people are not happy working at the venue, they’re not going to work it again.”
The repercussions of the age requirement presented themselves dramatically.
Before the change, bands could expect to see a turnout of anywhere from 60 people to the bar’s full capacity. Afterwards, however, the numbers never reached over 100, according to Bradshaw.
According to Heller, there was a loss of participation from all college students, whether of age or not.
Although he did not anticipate such a monumental loss, he easily understood it. “If you’re going to hang out, you’re going to hang out with all of your friends,” he said.
The diminished crowd size also had a significant impact on the enthusiasm within the crowd.
“It’s much easier to get up and shake it when 100 other people are doing it also,” Bradshaw said.
Richards, who had worked other venues before his six months at The Loft said that comparatively, attendance was lacking. “We’re going through a transitional phase, and hopefully, with help from the college we can get that support back.”
UMW sophomore Lauren Birney, who used to attend concerts at The Loft on a regular basis, looks forward to the upcoming college nights.
“I liked the atmosphere,” she said of the venue. “Even though it’s a bar, there were enough underage people around that it didn’t feel weird.”
Despite the risks involved with underage drinking, there appears to be unanimous support for the return of college night.
Heller confirmed his decision when he reflected on his initial goals for The Loft.
“It really was to create a place where everybody could enjoy themselves with great music, great food and a great atmosphere and a great time whether you’re 21 years old or not,” he said, speaking not only of the bar upstairs, but the connected restaurant below called Frederick’s.
“Yes, the bottom line is I need money to survive and stay open,” he said, matter-of-factly, “[But] music’s supposed to come first in my book.”