I started performing music in bars before I was old enough to drink in them. Oddly enough, it inspired very little interest in drinking.
At least I was old enough to buy cigarettes. Although this hardly mattered in my former career as a full-time musician, because smoking became the bane of my existence.
I hated the effects of smoke for all the usual reasons: burning eyes, drippy nose, mild cough, the lingering stench on my clothes -- even worse, on my guitars. I'd open a Fender case that hadn't been touched since a road trip a week earlier and be greeted by the stale smell of tobacco. Blechhhh.
Flash forward a decade.
I attended a packed show at The Bottleneck last week and stayed the whole night. That in itself isn't a big deal, but until recently (specifically July 1) I probably would have lasted seven or eight songs, then felt the suffocating need to head home and shower.
So on to the point of this Note Worthy column: I love the smoking ban.
It's the best thing to happen to Lawrence since Liberty Hall started running movies, Free State Brewery began serving food and interminable Tar Heel Roy Williams left town.
Ironic, considering I was the guy who wrote the bulky article last May weighing how the policy might hurt the concert scene. Virtually every source I talked to railed against the ban. A diverse cross-section of the local music industry -- evenly divided among smokers and nonsmokers -- predicted doom and gloom. There were economic concerns, social consequences, rights issues.
Personally, I was torn. I loved the smoke-free concept but feared a music-weakened environment.
That fear has now been replaced by delight.
Yes, the smoking ban is going to impact the business of certain bars and restaurants. It's inevitable (though often overemphasized). But I don't think it's going to do anything long term to the venues whose main draw is live music. The argument has been made that it's the out-of-town crowd that poses the most threat. Some claim residents of Topeka and Kansas City won't drive to Lawrence for an evening out if they know smoking is verboten. Well, that argument starts to dissipate now that K.C. is already in the process of enacting a permanent smokeout, courtesy of a limited ban passed Nov. 23.
As for Topeka, I can't imagine anything more gratifying than having fewer Topekans loitering about Lawrence.
Opponents of the ban have stated that people will simply drink at home so they can continue to smoke, or eat at home so they can also smoke. But they're not going to stage a concert at home so they can smoke.
Those who support the music scene will still venture out, and if they're like me, they'll go to more shows and stay longer. And now that I've learned through the years to appreciate a cold pilsner or porter, I might even order two drinks instead of one.
So bravo to Boog Highberger and the rest of the Lawrence City Commission for sticking to their convictions. The ruling has made Lawrence a better place.
Now, please don't ban drinking or live music.