Young musicians – and young crowds – searching for a home

Young musicians – and young crowds – searching for a home

Young musicians – and young crowds – searching for a home
Ava Toton, left, appears with her band Alpha Z at the Bistro in Hayward, a venue that will occasionally feature underage acts with specific conditions. (Photo by Laura Poorman)

Dave Hughes The Beat of Diablo bannerCONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (Sept. 14, 2023) — In last month’s column, I looked at the scarcity of all-ages music venues in our region from the perspective of a local business owner and a concert promoter. Now, let’s hear from the performers on the subject.

“I like the idea of all-ages shows,” says Troy Hazleton, whose rock/reggae group Planting Seeds has been performing locally for more than 20 years. “It’s nice to expose younger people to your music. They don’t come to shows to drink, they come to listen to music.”

Planting Seeds recently performed at WiseGirl in Pleasant Hill, an Italian restaurant with live entertainment that isn’t exclusive to a 21 and over crowd.

“Great place, great food, friendly staff and, most importantly, all ages,” Hazleton notes. “I was happily surprised there were about a dozen kids, and they were listening and dancing. They were by far the loudest at the end of each song. The youth always seem to bring excitement to a show.”

Under 21

Troy Hazleton with his band Planting Seeds at WiseGirl Ristorante in Pleasant Hill, where about a dozen kids were in the audience. (Photo by Justin Szabo)

Several restaurants across Diablo Valley welcome patrons under 21 for live music – often outside and in the daytime. But most seem reluctant to have minors on their stages.

Ava Toton is a 14-year-old musician from Contra Costa County who’s grown increasingly frustrated over the lack of access to stage time for artists her age.

“With so many music schools in the East Bay, there is an abundance of under 21 talent with basically zero stage time available,” laments Toton, a former student of School of Rock San Ramon.

“There are a lot of roadblocks in the area for the under 21 music scene. Liquor laws are partially responsible, but there are ways around it … maybe it’s just too much of a hassle.”

Toton’s rock band Alpha Z has a difficult time booking local shows due to the lack of all-ages venues. They’ve had some success in the North Bay, citing HopMonk Tavern in Novato and Sweetwater Music Hall in Mill Valley as venues that will book quality underage acts. But as Toton points out, that kind of travel can be problematic for artists.

“It would be impossible to get my friends/family/fans to make the one-hour drive for an 8 p.m. start time on a weeknight,” she says. “If we had local places like this, we could promote to our local audience.”

Open Mic

Open mic nights at the Campbell Theater in Martinez and Bradley School of Music in Lafayette do welcome performers of all ages. While this is useful for some solo musicians, it offers no solution for young bands like Alpha Z who are looking to develop their sound, ability and name-recognition through live performances.

“It would be ideal to have access to venues that have a house drum kit, mics/stands, monitors, amps, mixing board … basically a place we can quickly set up, play an hour or two and get off the stage quickly for the next act,” Toton says.

School of Rock hosts live shows for young rock bands several times a year, however, as Toton explains, these quarterly showcases are mostly limited to school gymnasiums or senior/community centers – a far cry from a true rock ’n’ roll environment.

“If you google ‘School of Rock shows’ for most other cities, you will see photo after photo of actual music venues and clubs hosting these events,” Toton says.

While the Toton family has considered relocating to a more nurturing environment for a young rocker like Ava, she holds onto hope that our region will eventually come around to more all-ages opportunities with regard to live music.

“The makings of a music movement are here in the East Bay. The talent is overflowing. Our venues just need to take a chance and give my generation its moment to shine.”

Contact Dave Hughes at

Dave Hughes
Dave Hughes

Dave Hughes is a local music advocate with an extensive network of independent artists. He produces and hosts a local music program on KVHS called The Beat of Diablo, every Sunday at 7:00 PM on 90.5 FM. Dave also catalogs local music releases at