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FMMF Removes R. Kelly From Lineup after Month of Controversy

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea FMMF Removes R. Kelly From Lineup after Month of Controversy
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After the loss of two bands and a radio station sponsorship, the Fashion Meets Music Festival will no longer feature R&B singer R. Kelly. Controversy over the festival began a little more than a month ago when FMMF organizers announced that Kelly would perform at Nationwide Arena on Aug. 29. The move was immediately questioned due to the extensive accusations of sexual assault against Kelly, which were recently compiled and shared virally in a 2013 Village Voice article.

Among the first and most vocal opponents of the decision was local electric rock duo Damn the Witch Siren, composed of members Z Wolf and Bobbi Kitten, who first learned that R. Kelly would be performing at FMMF the morning it was announced.

“Within the hour we both agreed we felt pretty strongly about it and decided to say something,” said Z Wolf in an email.

On June 16, Z Wolf wrote a blog post on the band’s official website titled “An Open Letter to Columbus, R. Kelly, Fashion Meets Music Festival and All Women,” in which he outlined the band’s disapproval of the headliner choice and asked the FMMF organizers to reconsider. He concluded in part by writing, “If we really have such a burning desire to “put Columbus on the map”, maybe we should do it by being the only city in the free world that stands up and says we’re not okay with victimizing women.”

Damn the Witch Siren eventually met with festival organizers, who “were very cool to us considering the circumstances, and very respectful of our stance on the issue.” Even so, festival organizers were unwilling to remove Kelly from the festival lineup, and Damn the Witch Siren decided to end their involvement with the event.

“A lot of Bobbi’s songwriting is about female empowerment and about not being pushed around in a male-dominated society,” said Z Wolf. “This particular situation was something we didn’t feel comfortable with because of who we are and what we believe, so we spoke up. And, clearly, we’re not alone in feeling this way, otherwise this wouldn’t be getting so much attention.”

Not long after the departure of Damn the Witch Siren, another local band, the folk rock group Saintseneca, announced they would no longer be performing at FMMF. On July 22, the band wrote a lengthy blog post on their website called “Some Thoughts on Why We Won’t Be Playing Fashion Meets Music Festival in Columbus.”

Likening the headliner of a music festival to the figurehead of a ship, the band explained why they chose not to participate in an event represented so prominently by Kelly.

“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,” wrote the band. “It is just that being so closely associated with this artist, especially here in our own hometown, is something we are not comfortable with.”

Saintseneca declined to comment further on their decision, asking that their post speak for itself.

Having lost both Damn the Witch Siren and Saintseneca, festival organizers addressed the controversy on the official FMMF Facebook page.

“While we regret they will not be joining us this year,” posted FMMF, “We whole-heartedly respect their decision. We value art as a platform for open dialog on important issues and we respect all opinions, regardless of whether they reflect our own.”

Despite the departure of the two bands, FMMF wrote, “We remain confident in the line-up we’ve presented, and we hope to see you in August!’

The controversy was not beaten back, however, and earlier this week, WCBE 90.5 FM withdrew its sponsorship of FMMF. WCBE general manager Dan Mushalko told Columbus Alive that part of the decision came from the fact that the station is part of Columbus City Schools and, “Obviously, since they represent children and they represent teenagers, they didn’t want us associated with the event if R. Kelly was a part of it.”

On Monday afternoon, festival organizers posted on Facebook “FMMF and R. Kelly have decided to part ways” along with a link to a USA Today article outlining the controversy and announcing the festival’s decision to drop Kelly. FMMF did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.

One group was already celebrating Monday night. FeMMe Fest, an alternative music festival established as a response to the booking of R. Kelly and which will feature Damn the Witch Siren in its lineup, posted on Facebook, “The Goliath is vanquished.”

“We are incredibly proud of how the Columbus community banded together to show that we have no interest in supporting the business of an individual who has not been held accountable for sexualizing and exploiting the lives of young African American girls,” read the FeMMe Fest post.

Sarah Moglia, a FeMMe Fest organizer, said that the organization is very happy with FMMF’s decision to remove R. Kelly, but that the alternative festival will continue as planned.

“The charity we’re supporting, the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, is a great non-profit that we’re thrilled to continue supporting through these events,” said Moglia.

For ongoing discussion about FMMF, CLICK HERE to visit our Messageboard.

More information on FeMMe Fest can be found at www.femmefest.org and more information on the Fashion Meets Music Festival can be found at www.fmmf.us.

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  • Jason Powell

    I think it was a good move to remove him. Honestly, I don’t think this first year festival needs him anyway to be successful. It’s a FIRST YEAR FESTIVAL and the organizers will have plenty of opportunities to expand it in the coming years as word gets out. What I do think needs to happen is for the organizers to start pushing the fashion side of the event a bit more. It has been all about the music so far – fashion taking the back seat. I’m really dissappointed that the big hitters – Limited, A&F, Victorias Secret – have not got on board. Seriously, what do they have to lose. It would bring some “national acts” to the fashion side. I’m rooting for the independent designers here, but i think there is plenty of room for the heavy hitters as well. If Columbus is supposed to be the second biggest (or was it third?) fashion city in the union, then they sure as hell better announce it with this festival.

  • Glad that R. Kelly has been dropped. But this quote from the festival comm director does not sound like they make the decision for moral/ethical reasons. It sounds vaguely threatening/vengeful toward anyone who took a moral/ethical stance against R. Kelly being in the lineup:


    The festival has no plans to replace Kelly on the bill, which is now headlined by the likes of O.A.R., Michelle Williams and Local Natives. Furthermore, Dickson declined to comment on the possibility either Damn the Witch Siren or Saintseneca could be invited back to FMMF, saying only “our initial response is to look at the sponsors and musicians and artists and vendors who aligned with us.”

  • spnorris83

    Validation that if you stand up for what you believe in, you can still impact change in your community. Likely to no one’s surprise though, a change wasn’t made until a sponsor backed out. Hit ’em where it hurts….the wallet.

    I still find it strange that Limited Brands (who already has a huge presence at the LC Outdoors) is not a sponsor for this event. Perhaps it’s just apprehension about it being a first year festival.

  • I’d encourage anybody who supported dropping Kellz from the lineup for moral/ethical reasons to also cancel IFC and boycott their original programming, as they frequently play (and clearly support) his 33-chapter magnum opus ‘Trapped In The Closet’.

    Or does ‘Portlandia’ trump your moral/ethical reasoning?

    • You can’t “cancel” individual channels from a cable package if you have cable.

      If you could, that would be awesome. I might consider cable again.

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