US folk rock band Saintseneca have pulled out of the Fashion Meets Music Festival in their hometown of Columbus, Ohio, because the headline act is controversial R&B singer R. Kelly. The band say the festival’s selection of Kelly ignores very serious allegations of sexual violence and assault made against him.
In an explanation posted on their website, the Columbus band explain that while they were honoured and excited to be asked to be a part of the festival, they cannot bring themselves to be part of an event that includes R. Kelly.
“We feel his selection as a performer ignores his very serious allegations of sexual violence and assault,” explain the band. “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,” they continue. “It is just that being so closely associated with this artist, especially here in our own hometown, is something we are not comfortable with.”
In 2008, R. Kelly was tried and later acquitted for making child pornography. Reports Columbus Alive, the singer has also faced dozens more lawsuits filed by underage girls who have charged him with statutory rape. He also was involved in a scandalous relationship with the late R&B singer Aaliyah, even marrying her illegally when she was 15 using falsified documents.
The inclusion of R. Kelly on the festival bill has sparked the attention of other artists as well. A few weeks ago, electronic duo Damn the Witch Siren also pulled out of the event after publishing an open letter imploring the organisers to re-examine their choice.
“While we were (and still are) very honoured to have been asked to play this event, we cannot personally support the decision to have [an accused] serial rapist perform,” band members Bobbi Kitten and Z Wolf wrote. The post generated the band’s largest Facebook response to date.
Event organiser Bret Adams defended the festival’s decision in an interview with Columbus Alive. “I don’t even think [Kelly’s inclusion] was a debate,” he said. “He was not convicted of anything. He was acquitted.”
“If we wanted to limit our artists to people who never had brushes with the law or were not good people, then you can eliminate quite a few across the board. We’re running a festival to help brand the city of Columbus. We’re not the morality police.”
Nevertheless, Saintseneca feel they had to make a moral choice. “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,” they continue in their statement. “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.”