Leaning on the scene 

Dropping hip-hop like a hot rock

Though hip-hop may be holding steady on the charts, it seems to be losing ground in Missoula. An announcement last week that the Wilma Theatre won’t book any more hip-hop shows, coupled with the recent closing of Club Cabo after an alleged rape, indicate that hip-hop-friendly venues are evaporating even as demand for the music grows.

Wilma Manager Bill Emerson insists that his decision to not host hip-hop shows was made months ago for financial reasons, and that the March 19 Bone Thugs-n-Harmony concert, at which a lobby window was broken, had nothing to do with it.

“It’s not a story,” he says. “We had discussed this last year—financially those underage shows aren’t as viable.”

The Wilma relies heavily on alcohol sales to support the booking of touring acts, Emerson says, and since hip-hop draws mainly an underage crowd, the Wilma loses out even when tickets sell out—as was the case at the recent Bone Thugs-n-Harmony show.

The Other Side is a 350-capacity venue that has hosted several hip-hop shows in recent months, many of which were open to those 18-and-up. Promotions Manager Andrea Behunin says that in the wake of the Club Cabo closure she’s become more alert to the underage drinking and vandalism problems that come with the younger crowds that hip-hop draws. Although Club Cabo drew a large underage clientele, the alleged rape that prompted its closure involved of-age patrons: Wilbert Fish, who has been charged with sexual intercourse without consent, is 23, and the alleged victim is 21. However, the underage crowd did bring its own problems: Police issued frequent citations for underage drinking and related problems both inside the club and outside in the parking lot. The Other Side, Behunin says, tries to thwart underage drinking by doubling security for its 18-and-up shows.

“We definitely staff [hip-hop shows] more than other shows,” she said. “It seems like when we have problems it’s with the kind of music they had at the Wilma the other night. I don’t want to pin it on the music because it’s not the music—it’s the people. But that kind of music seems to bring those people out, and that’s young, inconsiderate punks.”

Behunin adds that she distinguishes between two different kinds of hip-hop, and says they draw different crowds. The hip-hop that seems to generate problems is the sort with a tough, gangsta’ image—think 50 Cent and most of what’s on MTV. Most of what The Other Side offers is “underground” hip-hop by the likes of Blackalicious, Lyrics Born and Atmosphere, who rap about political and social issues and generally have a more positive message and demeanor.

Paul Thornton, owner of Bravo Entertainment, the Boise-based promoter that brought Bone Thugs-n-Harmony to town, recalls that after the same group came to the Wilma a couple of years ago, Emerson said then that he wouldn’t book any more hip-hop. Thornton says a lot of venue managers may not like hip-hop, which accounts for about 15 percent of his shows, but they find it necessary to host a broad spectrum of acts to pay the bills. If Emerson sticks to his guns, shows that would have played at the Wilma will now bypass Missoula for Bozeman and Billings instead, he says.

“It might not be your cup of tea, but what it boils down to is there are people who want to see the show and buy the tickets and you’re a venue,” Thornton says. “You’re supposed to open your doors to everybody.”

Emerson says the Wilma—with 1,100 seats, considerably larger than The Other Side—treated hip-hop shows the same as any other genre when it came to security.

Frank Glascow, the events manager at the Shrine Auditorium in Billings, which also hosted Bone Thugs-n-Harmony in March, joked that, “They’re smarter than we are,” when told the Wilma won’t book more hip-hop. With about 2,500 seats, the Shrine is much larger than the Wilma, and Glascow says he treats hip-hop shows differently—uniformed sheriff’s deputies stand watch rather than security guards in T-shirts. And though he echoes Emerson’s concern that alcohol sales suffer at hip-hop shows due to the crowd’s age, he says that hasn’t kept him from turning a profit.

Meanwhile, the Adams Center, which has hosted crowds of around 4,000 for concerts by the likes of Jurassic 5 and Nelly, is gearing up for the Spring Bling tour, an April 18 concert featuring Trick Daddy, Too Short, Lil’ Flip and Outlawz. UM Productions Adviser Marlene Hendrickson says about 35 security guards and four to six uniformed officers will be on hand—a higher number than would be scheduled for, say, Cats, due in part to pat-downs at the entrance. She says UM Productions doesn’t shy away from hip-hop, and the Wilma’s decision not to book the genre won’t impact who UM Productions does or does not bring in. Their recent Scarface and E-40 concert was cancelled at the last minute because the promoter couldn’t get the $1 million liability insurance required for the Adams Center, Hendrickson says, adding that hip-hop concerts seem to be struggling with the insurance issue as costs continue to rise. Insurance for the Spring Bling show is already secured, she adds.

Aside from the various issues that seem to accompany underage patrons, there’s little doubt that hip-hop holds the same contentious spot that rock ’n’ roll music did in the ’50s and ’60s, and that punk and heavy metal music later took over. In the age-old pattern of intergenerational clashing, parents and elders cite music—this time around it’s hip-hop—as the root of everything from youth violence to baggy jeans to hearing damage. That the battle should occasionally spill into the shifting world of music venues should come as no surprise, and a decrease in the number of venues hasn’t stunted Missoula’s thirst for hip-hop: The April 15 Atmosphere show at The Other Side sold out just nine hours after tickets went on sale.

“Hip-hop is our generation’s rock and roll. It’s everywhere,” says Jimi Nasset, a partner in Hungis Productions, which has brought nearly 75 hip-hop shows to various venues in Missoula over the last four years. “I think it’s wrong to blame the music, and when it comes down to it, it’s not the guy with the mic and the DJ who are the problem.”

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