During its four years of existence, the now-defunct Fashion Meets Music Festival played out like a longform Fyre Fest for Columbus residents. Despite regular boasts about “putting Columbus on the map” and such, it amounted to little more than a spectacle to be cackled at, one that probably ultimately did more damage to the city’s reputation as a live music market. The event consistently failed to draw fans and attracted no shortage of negative media attention — partially thanks to promoter Bret Adams’ contentious correspondence with local reporters. But perhaps the biggest fiasco in FMMF history was when they booked R. Kelly to headline the inaugural FMMF and, upon facing widespread blowback, subsequently dropped him.
This was in 2014, not long after journalists Jim DeRogatis and Jessica Hopper brought renewed attention to the long list of sexual misconduct allegations against Kelly — many of which were revisited in the recent Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly. At the time, we covered FMMF’s decision to cancel Kelly’s set, noting Columbus folk-rock favorites Saintseneca’s decision to drop out of the festival in protest of Kelly’s involvement. Today, a report from Columbus Alive reveals that indie mainstays Future Islands also played a big part in getting Kelly kicked off the bill.
According to the feature — largely constructed from interviews with Adams and Cory Hajde, an independent promoter who helped book the fest’s first year — when local synth-pop act Damn The Witch Siren became the first FMMF performer to protest Kelly via an open letter to the organizers, Adams responded with calls to blacklist them. Per Hajde, it wasn’t until Saintseneca pulled out that Adams realized he’d made a mistake.
The final straw was reportedly when Baltimore-based Future Islands threatened to cancel their performance due to Kelly’s presence. Here’s the relevant excerpt from Alive:
“We got an email from [Future Islands’] manager saying they were withdrawing and there was no conversation to be had,” Hajde said. “At that point, removing Kelly was already a conversation. … But that was the final straw.”
“Red Light [Management], CAA (Creative Artists Agency) — basically anyone who mattered banded together and went to Future Islands and said, ‘You do this to us and you’re going to have a problem getting booked,'” Adams said (Red Light Management did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment). “At this point, we were changing our position [on Kelly]. It was an education process for us. We originally got the feedback from the powers that be in the city that [booking Kelly] was a good decision, so we were changing our own assessment because it wasn’t just the five rude bloggers we blocked from Facebook. These were real concerns.”
Hajde also recalled Future Islands singer Samuel T. Herring standing in the alley behind Park Street Tavern the Sunday after FMMF ended, discussing the R. Kelly situation with rapper Afroman, among others.
“[Herring] straight up said, ‘We’re happy we played here, because we liked the show we played and we
liked who played with us, but we were kind of scared into doing this,'” Hajde said.
We’ve reached out for comment from Future Islands and will update if we hear back.