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Aitken says that's not the intent: "There's a lot of misconception that the law imposes criminal liability on business owners. This is not about incidental drug use."
But many of the club owners and promoters the Voice spoke with were wary about being interviewed. Third Floor Media, the PR agency for SummerStage, declined to participate in this story, as did Radio City Entertainment, the firm that organizes concerts at Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall. After a week of legal vetting, Clear Channelthe entertainment conglomerate responsible for blockbuster tours like the annual Ozzfestfinally released a statement packed with legalese in support of the law, saying it's "positive legislation," written "in a manner that will prevent the facility managers and owners from being prosecuted if a patron breaks the law on their premises without management awareness."
A major concern, however, is whether the law is going to be abused. "The bottom line is if the federal government wants to get you, they will," says longtime NYC promoter Matt E. Silver. "This is just another tool to use against you." This sentiment is echoed by John Feinblatt, the city's criminal justice coordinator, who also says the law's one-night-only provision gives police a new "tool" to go after unscrupulous operators. "The state has certainly had laws that enabled us to go against irresponsible club owners," says Feinblatt. "But promoters have been able to hide in the shadows."
One prominent dance-music promoter, Chris Kausch of Stuck on Earth Productions, has thrown raves featuring big-name DJs like Carl Cox and Richie Hawtin at city landmarks like Randalls Island and South Street Seaport. Events like his are probably what Biden had in mind when he first drafted this legislation. But Kausch is a legitimate promoter who works closely with city agencies: The parks department has even offered him letters of recommendation. Kausch, who was hesitant to talk to the Voice, says he's unsure about his business's future. "We're thinking about shutting down the company," says Kausch, who also runs a music label and marketing firm. "It's a headache."
In New York, where anti-dancing cabaret laws are enforced and cigarette smoking has been banned, the new federal law is proving to be just one more bureaucratic nightmare. "First tobacco is our fault. Now drug addiction is our fault?" questions Centro-Fly co-owner Tom Sisk. David Rabin, the outspoken president of the New York Nightlife Association, agrees: "It is very dangerous when legislation is passed by people who are clueless about nightlife and go to bed before midnight."
Witness the feds' evidence of acknowledged drug use: expensive bottled water and on-site ambulances. The high price for H20 is meant to be prohibitive: "The reason water is expensive is because we don't want to sell water," says Sisk.
Some wonder whether the feds' policy will do more harm for clubgoers, particularly in summer months: "People's safety should come first," says Kenny Smith, co-owner of Crobar, a Chicago- and Miami-based megaclub chain that's opening a location in Chelsea this fall.
Perhaps New York could take a cue from Miami, where nightlife is a big tourist draw. In South Beach clubs, it isn't uncommon to see fire marshals roaming dancefloors. Smith employs several emergency-trained staff members, and his club plans on taking tough security measures to combat drug use. "We just hope you have a great experience after we've searched your every purse and cavity," he cracks.
Civil-liberty advocates are concerned that invasive searches at concert venues may be just the beginning and that certain kinds of music events will be singled out. They believe alternative subculturesrepetitive-beat freaks, jam-band junkies, hip-hop heads, gay circuit boysare most vulnerable. "The government can essentially shut down any genre of music they don't like," says the ACLU's Marv Johnson.
Or shut down any event whose patrons they don't like. "Say the city feels a hip-hop concert is in the wrong place; [they] could use it heavy-handedly," says Crobar's Smith. "That's the scary part."
Research assistance: Daniel King