FMMF Removes R. Kelly From Lineup after Month of Controversy
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.
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