by Eric Sandy
Update: After a strong backlash (see details below), the R. Kelly concert has been canceled by promoters. Via the Columbus Dispatch:
An R. Kelly concert scheduled to open the inaugural Fashion Meets Music Festival next month at Nationwide Arena has been canceled because of backlash over the R&B singer’s past.
“We wanted to make sure we heard the Columbus listeners ... to make a statement and support the city we live in,” said festival spokeswoman Melissa Dickson, who added that a public-relations firm is helping the event repair its image.
R. Kelly has been picked to headline the Fashion Meets Music Festival in Columbus on Labor Day weekend, and his dubious past is pushing music fans across Ohio into a broader debate about artists' role in society.
At issue are Kelly's 2008 child pornography charges (he was acquitted) and the ongoing barrage of sexual assault allegations against him, the latter being most thoroughly documented by the Village Voice and, more specifically, Jim DeRogatis via the many outlets with which he works.
Local band Damn the Witch Siren took their frustration to their blog, where they denounced the booking and pleaded for organizers to reconsider:
We are asking Columbus, and society as a whole, to WAKE UP AND STOP IGNORING THE SERIOUS PROBLEM OUR CULTURE HAS WITH GLAMORIZING PREDATORY MEN AND IGNORING THE VICTIMIZATION OF WOMEN. Seriously, it needs to stop, and the only way it's going to stop is if people like you and us stand up and say we're not okay with the idea of shelling out thousands of dollars to bring in an entertainer who is contributing to the problem, when that money could be given to any number of rape prevention or womens' services across Franklin County, or perhaps to other big-name artists who haven't been accused of multiple statutory rapes.
They're not alone in their concerns. Columbus band Saintseneca, who've garnered a tidy following up here in Cleveland, announced this week that they're bailing from the festival entirely. They're even organizing an alternative event that will run the same weekend as FMMF.
Fashion Meets Music Festival happening in Columbus was a very exciting prospect to us; a way to represent our city and help form its identity, as well as a symbol of new things to come. We were very honored and excited to be asked to be a part of it.
That being said, we were disappointed that the artist selected to headline the festival was R. Kelly. We feel his selection as a performer ignores his very serious allegations of sexual violence and assault. We feel it is an affront to all survivors, who are already often overlooked and forgotten in our society.
As a result, we’ve decided to withdraw from the festival. This is in no way meant to be a direct attack on the festival or its organizers; in fact, we genuinely appreciate their hard work and their commitment to bringing something new and exciting to our hometown. It is just that being so closely associated with this artist, especially here in our own hometown, is something we are not comfortable with.
DeRogatis, blogging over at WBEZ, points out that the promoters and bands involved with Pitchfork Festival in 2013, an event headlined by Kelly, never got into these sorts of discussions and, in fact, at times barred reporters from opening these lines of inquiry.
Columbus Alive has been on top of the FMMF controversy from the beginning. Do check out Andy Downing's June 30 story for more details.