OP-ED: Teens Need a New Beat (Part One)

Marin needs to put the spotlight back on creative outlets for its youth.

For those of us who have already survived them, it’s easy to forget how challenging the teenage years can be.

Not only do you have to maintain good grades, participate in extracurricular activities, deal with continuous peer pressure and begin to learn important life lessons the hard way; you have the added stress of trying to figure out your individual niche at an age where seeking acceptance into a particular group is the norm. Although it isn’t difficult for Marin teens to explore interests such as sports, JROTC and the arts in high school, finding outlets outside of school is easily as important — if not more so — for a teenager’s development. And this is an area in which many teens feel that Marin is lacking.

“It's sad to think that sports and partying are the only option for most Marin kids in high school right now. Not everyone fits that mold. It would be great to have another option,” declared Alex Fabian, former guitarist of the defunct local rock band Mouth to Mouth.

It’s hard to imagine now, but not too long ago, teenagers here did have another alternative: a vibrant, local music scene at a small teen center in the middle of downtown San Rafael. On any given Friday or Saturday night, 50 to 100-plus teens would eagerly flock to San Rafael to escape from daily stresses, enjoy socializing with old and new friends, and rock out to their favorite local bands, all in a sober environment. Security would be on hand to provide a safe experience for everybody and a teenage staff would work to ensure that the show would run as smoothly as possible.

“They would do jobs like live sound, merchandise sales, lighting, booking, promotion, etc.” continued Fabian. “It wasn’t just a place for bands to play to young fans, it also provided intern style job opportunities for all the kids that worked at the venue.”

Originally, the teen center/all-ages music venue operated as The Oasis before becoming The MYC (Marin Youth Center) under the direction of Mario Capitelli after rigorous reconstruction of the original venue between 2004-2006. The reconstruction was backed in part by a $3.6 million investment from the Marin Community Foundation. During this time, a collective called Verge formed and started putting on local concerts primarily at the community center on B Street in San Rafael and also what would become The MYC, with occasional shows at such places as the Novato Teen Center and College of Marin. At the height of the local music scene, there were even two such venues, as The Oasis broke away from The MYC, relocating to a large space a block away. By 2006, The MYC opened its doors, and Verge began having concerts at the reborn teen center.

Unfortunately, the dream of a safe, united, growing music scene was short lived. The Oasis closed its doors for unknown reasons in 2006, with Verge following suit in 2007. The MYC was tight lipped regarding the reasoning behind the decision to cut the concert program. On Aug. 12 2011, The MYC shut down entirely and made way for The Marin Regional Occupational Program Media Center under the guidance of The Marin Community Foundation and the Marin County Office of Education.

The sentiment of young people in Marin like Fabian who supported the local music scene was somber, even mournful.

“I think it really bummed a lot of young music fans and musicians out. Everyone got really used to seeing new (and mostly) good bands at least once a week,” he said.

While the passion for the music was still there, with no all ages venues left, the young music scene that Verge and The Oasis had spawned quickly crumbled.

“I would liken it to a high school getting rid of their basketball team due to lack of funding. It’s not like the kids are going to suddenly stop wanting to play ball, they just no longer have an outlet for something they’re really into,” Fabian said.

Nearly five years after both of the venue closures, with increases in teen drug and alcohol use, misdemeanors and felonies, and even gang activity, Marin teens need an heir to the Oasis/Verge legacy more than ever.

Pat Ravasio March 03, 2012 at 08:08 PM
I loved reading this! So glad good things are happening for teens in Marin County. Teens get ignored because they turn into such little rebellious beasts during those years, but what we really need to do instead of ignoring them is to grab em by the throat and show them lots of ways to have a great time without alcohol or drugs. Great work MYC and San Rafael Parks and Rec!
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