We are the grassroots movement ensuring access to music and culture in Des Moines, Iowa. 


Currently, the Des Moines city code (Sec. 10-8, Article E, 6) prohibits the presence of young people after 9pm in music venues holding an active liquor license unless the venue can prove 50% of sales are non-alcohol. This restrictive and unrealistic ordinance negatively affects the safety and retention of area youth, hinders development of the local music scene, stunts Des Moines’ cultural and economic growth, and hurts the venues. The Des Moines Music Coalition has taken on the grassroots movement "Music For All Ages" and intends to amend the ordinance through conversations with Des Moines City Council and the support of the community.

We can't do this without the help of the community. You've come to the right place. Find out more about how you can significantly contribute to the grassroots movement by simply contacting your City Council representative, spreading the word, and joining our growing list of supporters.

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What You Need to Know:

The Ordinance

Currently, those under age 21 are prohibited from entering liquor-licensed music venues after 9 p.m. unless venues apply for an exception certificate with the City of Des Moines. The primary hurdle for venues to obtain these exceptions is proving that 50% of the venues’ gross receipts are derived from items other than alcohol sales (e.g. merchandise, soda, tickets). The ordinance is unrealistic for musicians, venues, and the youth and needs to change to reflect the needs of the citizens of Des Moines. The Des Moines Music Coalition has taken on the grassroots movement "Music For All Ages" and intends to amend the ordinance through conversations with Des Moines City Council and the support of the community.

The 50% Rule. Explained.

Essentially, the portion of this code causing problems for venues is the 50% clause (Section 1e6), stating that, in order for venues to qualify for the exception certificate, it must demonstrate to the police department vice unit that at least 50 percent of its gross receipts are derived from items other than alcohol sales (e.g. merchandise, soda, tickets). This restriction is arbitrary and unrealistic for smaller music venues. While these smaller venues are restricted, larger venues with much the same atmosphere, audience, and primary purpose are able to host all-ages shows after 9 p.m. It is unfair and unreasonable for venues to maintain. Wooly’s and the Des Moines Social Club’s Basement are able to have minors after 9pm due to their sales from tickets and other merchandise.

Primary Purpose. Explained.

In the case of music venues, the primary focus of the business is the performance of cultural arts, music, and theatre to an audience.  This differentiates the primary function, focus, and purpose from bars or taverns whose primary purpose is the sale and consumption of alcohol.  For clarity, the primary purpose of a business is the core function or activity which establishes the clientele, fundamentally, the reason for which the business exists.

The Venues Affected

Currently, only four venues in Des Moines suffer from this ordinance. All are small, locally-focused venues which host over 100 shows per year each, with genres ranging from jazz to heavy metal. Many venues are very close to attaining this 50% sales requirement, but are still unable to do so. These four venues include Lefty's Live Music, Noce, Vaudeville Mews, and the Gas Lamp.

Economic Impact

Music venues are a substantial portion of the overall music economy and can drive the direction of a music scene as well as offering intangible assets of sense of place and cultural vibrancy. In cutting off a large segment of the population to this niche culture and intimate musical experience, venues cannot survive on older populations and alcohol alone. Something needs to change to reflect the growing music economy in Des Moines.


When you cut off a portion of the population, venues will suffer. When youth are the driving force of music, there needs to be greater access so that young people will become repeat consumers of the music industry. Venues suffer from the 50% sales restriction and are forced to schedule music at awkward times.

Musicians & Creatives

For many musicians, live performances are a main source of revenue. As the music scene here in Des Moines grows, there is a need for a wide range of performance spaces that are able to cater towards young and beginning musicians as well as experienced touring artists.


Des Moines has positioned itself as a city focused on increased tourism for residents and visitors alike and has ranked top in nationally recognized areas, including professional development, wealth, and vibrancy of the downtown area. In order for this growth to continue, we must attract young people to the city and give them ample entertainment options.

Youth Retention

Des Moines has a critical need for more cultural activities for young people, particularly those in college and high school that are making decisions on where to live. A vibrant music economy is an important component for retaining this age group. If young people under 21 don’t have access to a variety of quality entertainment offerings, they are going to leave our city to find it elsewhere.

Music Economy

It can be hard to see the potential right now, but with a change in this ordinance, venues can grow, thus providing more opportunities for musicians, businesses, and audiences. More venues will pop up overtime, continually adding value to the music economy. The music economy, contributes to the overall economy as well.

Overall Economy

In examining economic research done on the surrounding music economy, one can see that the music industry plays a significant role in the overall economy of a city, in and of itself. Additionally, a strong music economy can contribute to other areas of the economy (tourism, quality of life, restaurant industry, visual arts, etc.).

Cultural Impact

This issue greatly affects the cultural landscape of the Des Moines area, especially with regard to the city’s sense of place and identity, it’s current strategic plans and documented goals, and with regard to inclusivity and diversity. The cultural and artistic identity of a city flourishes with the support of public policy and city leaders.


This ordinance excludes a large segment of the population, primarily with the 16-20 year-old range. Young people cannot often afford the all-ages alternatives (e.g. DM Performing Arts, Hoyt Sherman, Wooly’s) and are thus left out of affordable and safe options for entertainment.


The Des Moines music scene is constantly growing more diverse. The population of Des Moines is growing more diverse, with a huge increase in minorities between ages 15-24 since 2004. The need for access to affordable, diverse, and youth-driven music is stronger now than ever before. The ordinance is causing a hurdle in allowing for this growth of vibrant diversity.

Sense of place & Identity

This often overlooked idea of “sense of place” can make a huge difference in the overall vibrancy and attractiveness of a city. The identity of Des Moines is shaped by cultural and artistic growth, especially in its ability to cater to the youth.

Existing City Plans

Currently, the city of Des Moines seeks to support the efforts of artists, musicians, creatives, and other placemaking objectives through several city planning policies, such as Capital Crossroads, Tomorrow Plan, and PlanDSM. Capital Crossroads 2.0 emphasizes the need for growth of the music industry and the need for inclusivity and diversity.

Our Plan

Educate the public throughout coming months.

Work closely with the music venues, the Des Moines Police Dept. and Des Moines City Council to find a realistic, safe, and implementable solution.

Grow a grassroots lobby network of Des Moines constituents who will communicate with their city council representatives and attend City Council meetings to voice their concerns and contribute to the conversation.

Amend the ordinance by the end of 2017 or early 2018.