Downtown Boys performed at both weekends of Coachella this year, and the Providence punk band issued an open letter via their own Spark Mag publication addressing their participation in light of the attention drawn to AEG owner Philip Anschutz, the billionaire financier who has donated to conservative and anti-LGBT organizations in the past.
“There was no call for an organized boycott of the festival, which is why as workers we still played it. Still, after other people who work for Coachella have stood up, bands have called him out prior to the festival, and there has been an ask for headliners to donate money to LGBTQ organizations, we want to state Downtown Boys explicit support for these protests,” they write in part. “Music does not exist in a vacuum and that includes the giant musical platform like Coachella.”
Read their full letter below.
To Our Community,
Coachella holds enormous power in the music industry and beyond. With numerous barriers and inaccessibility because of ticket pricing, a huge toll on the local community, and the festival’s very geographic location, there is no denial that it is not a festival for everyone nor by everyone. Nevertheless, it is a marker of some type of clout in a specific type of music industry. When Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar both say yes to headlining the same festival, there is something there. There is no denying that many of our friends and family who are unaware of the DIY punk scene were very supportive of our appearance at Coachella, probably because there is normally little legitimacy from capitalism for bands like Downtown Boys. And who cares right? If we wanted that legitimacy we would be seeking other routes, maybe working restaurant jobs to pay for grad schools or would be in a 9-5 or 9-9, not spending so much of our lives in a small van driving from city to town to play ten songs about power to a group of 50-200 people 90% of the time.
It is important to realize that we are workers for Coachella. We are getting paid to do a job and we have a problem with one of the bosses. Coachella is operated by the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), started by Denver businessman Philip Anschutz, a 77-year-old billionaire who also oversees the Anschutz Family Foundation, which donated nearly $200,000 to anti-LGBT groups in the past five years. That includes $30,000 to the Family Research Council and $110,000 to the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which fights LGBT equality in the courts.
Coachella is literally its own economy. There are so many people who work for Coachella, almost all of whom are great people who do great work. We spoke with one worker picking up trash who said that she used to get paid $14/hr but a few years ago, but her wages were since cut to $10/hr. She was picking up trash in the artist compound. This is an unacceptable wage for a festival that grossed over $85 million in 2015 according to Billboard.
There was no call for an organized boycott of the festival, which is why as workers we still played it. Still, after other people who work for Coachella have stood up, bands have called him out prior to the festival, and there has been an ask for headliners to donate money to LGBTQ organizations, we want to state Downtown Boys explicit support for these protests. Music does not exist in a vacuum and that includes the giant musical platform like Coachella. Of course, to participate in this festival at all means playing a capitalist and mainstream music venture, but we can make demands within that framework, and it is totally unacceptable that money from its owners or anyone for that matter ever goes to anti-LGBTQ organizations or any efforts that endorse hate. We need to call this all out, though it can’t end there. We need to work to redistribute the cultural and economic resources so that Coahcella no longer holds so much power. We need to increase public funding for the arts so that musicians are not dependent on people like Anschutz to pay our checks. Individualistic boycotts and beliefs can only get so far, and we’ve got to get organized to make real change in the industry. We got organized and won concessions from SXSW, and we can do it again with other sources of power in the industry.
There is not one gatekeeper at this point. So if more of us that have a hand in this all can speak out against this, we can shift the power dynamic, we just know it. In addition to this public statement, we will be donating a portion of the money paid to us by Coachella to organizations that fight for LGBTQ rights and freedoms, which means the freedom and justice for all people. We encourage other artists to do the same.
Downtown Boys have a new album out later this year via Sub Pop.