Lone Star sounds: Once the smoke clears, this seems like a great idea

Posted 9:49am on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013

The life of a music critic isn't exactly riddled with occupational hazards.

Sure, being paid to attend concerts, mingle with musicians and cover festivals is long on perks and relatively short on irritants, but there is one drawback it seems no one ever really discusses: secondhand smoke.

I was reminded of this fact recently, when I reported that the Keys Lounge, one of Fort Worth's old-school blues bars with die-hard fans and longtime regulars, is going smoke-free.

As a nonsmoker, and someone who has spent many nights in hazy bars and clubs listening to live music only to come home smelling like an overflowing ashtray, I couldn't help but rejoice. All too often, I stake out a spot to watch a band play, but have to move minutes later because someone is blowing smoke more or less in my face.

It plays hell with my allergies -- which makes covering events like 35 Denton or Fun Fun Fun Fest especially challenging, since it's doubly difficult to escape smokers outside -- but mostly, it just aggravates me. I can't go and enjoy music without having to decide if I want to have trouble breathing for the next few days. What about the musicians who spend hundreds of days each year in places like this? What about the bartenders and wait staff who work in these rooms?

I know my attitude is selfish, and I'm not at all trying to quash the rights of those who want to light up at a concert. But I also know I'm not alone in my desire to see more Fort Worth and Denton venues go smoke-free (Dallas already is). In Fort Worth, there's a handful of no-smoking music venues -- Magnolia Motor Lounge, McDavid Studio, The Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge and the Billy Bob's Texas showroom -- and the Keys Lounge's decision adds to that number.

Much as I don't want to advocate restricting what others can and cannot do, I also don't want to see a business struggle to keep its doors open because of a decision to no longer allow smoking. Keys Lounge owner Danny Ross told me recently that he'd already had regulars tell him the no-smoking policy was a dealbreaker, and they would not be back. Understandable, because for some people smoking and drinking go together like peanut butter and jelly. One without the other just isn't satisfying.

But as Ross himself put it, "it's just healthier" to forgo smoking indoors.

And that's what makes arguing against the idea so difficult.

But how great would it be to stand inside, say, Lola's Saloon and know you're not shaving years off your life just so a few people around you can get a nicotine fix while the band plays?

Eight years ago, Austin banned smoking at all indoor venues, and judging from the crowds that still pile into clubs all over the city, it's hard to see how it negatively affected the live-music business. You can't smoke in your seat at Cowboys Stadium, but that place still packs 'em in.

All I'm saying is it's kind of difficult to enjoy going to a show if you're having to haul around an oxygen tank. Fort Worth, let's clear the air once and for all, and follow the example set by Keys Lounge and its smoke-free brethren.

Preston Jones is the Star-Telegram pop music critic, 817-390-7713

Twitter: @prestonjones


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