Organizers and performers involved in Ohio’s Fashion Meets Music Festival are butting heads over having R. Kelly booked as the headliner for the August festival.
Festival founder Bret Adams doesn’t see a problem with hosting Kelly, calling him a “nationally known name” and a great press opportunity. “He was not convicted of anything. He was acquitted,” said Adams in an interview with entertainment weekly Columbus Alive. “If we wanted to limit our artists to people who never had brushes with the law or were not good people, then you can eliminate quite a few across the board.”
That’s a problem. It’s unlikely—impossible—that rest of the artists on the line-up have entirely clean criminal records, but equating what’s likely a list of misdemeanours with the heinous details surrounding R. Kelly’s acquittal, which we should emphasize does not equal innocence, is comparing not apples and oranges, but bananas to lawn chairs.
Artists like Saintseneca put their money where their mouth is, pulling out of the festival after organizers refused to budge on Kelly.
“We feel his selection as a performer ignores his very serious allegations of sexual violence and assault,” they wrote on their website yesterday. “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.”
They’re among a few bands that met with festival organizers to voice their displeasure. Damn the Witch Siren’s Nathan Photos says the festival was courteous enough to meet with them, but after an hour of deliberation were “unwilling to budge on the issue.”
The Fashion Meets Music Festival has seen its host city engage in debate as well; though details remain sparse, Femme Fest has been organized in response to R. Kelly’s booking, and WCBE program director Dan Mushalko says his station, a member of NPR’s digital network, will at the very least use the controversy to put together a panel on the underlying issues of societal sexism, racism and rape attitudes stemming from the circumstances.
Writer Jim DeRogatis, who has been reporting on the sexual assault accusations against R. Kelly for 15 years, as brought to recent attention by writer Jessica Hopper late last year, sees the controversy having an effect on sales too. Tickets, he writes, are still largely unsold. “Promoters have shut off even trying to sell seats in the third tier of the Nationwide Arena.”