Here in Columbus, people are always trying (and failing) to put together a major music festival. The latest attempt is the self-explanatory Fashion Meets Music Festival, which is set to go down Labor Day weekend at various Downtown venues, SXSW-style. The fest lineup trickled out little by little, and at first, it mostly caused a lot of shrugs. The thing basically read like Local Natives plus a bunch of actual local natives — and, OK, a few other mid-level acts like Michelle Williams, Future Islands, Rusko, Cold War Kids, and New Found Glory. But when FMMF announced R. Kelly as its headliner, the fest instantly went from being an object of amusement and vague gotta-start-somewhere optimism to a hot-button controversy. Kelly’s history of sexual predation, long trumpeted by Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis, seems to finally be turning public opinion against Kelly after Jessica Hopper’s interview with DeRogatis last December in the Village Voice went viral. Thus, a lot of bands that had signed up to be a part of this new event suddenly feel deeply conflicted about it, especially the Columbus bands who were hoping to help something special in their hometown.
Last night Saintseneca, a unique and powerful Columbus folk-rock act that we’ve covered quite a bit here at Stereogum, became the second band to drop out of the festival, following local synthpop duo Damn The Witch Siren. In a post on their website, Saintseneca explained their reasoning for cutting ties with 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.
Furthermore, the band announced plans to curate an alternate event that weekend with proceeds benefitting sexual assault survivors:
We would like to offer the opportunity to channel this energy into something positive, so we plan to host an alternative concert. It will be a benefit that we hope will help in some way to support victims of sexual assault, as well as keep our minds on the issues at hand. Final details on that will be forthcoming.
We are aware that this action does not erase sexual assault or perpetrators of sexual violence from the world, nor does it keep R. Kelly from selling out venues and getting a check. We are simply hoping that this will encourage dialogue, as well as challenge our society’s norm of ignoring upsetting things because it is easier than facing them head-on. We believe that if there is anywhere that we can make a positive change, it is here: in our own relationships, communities, and cities.