As you may or not be aware, on Friday, August 29th the “Fashion Meets Music Festival” will be coming to the Arena District. From a cursory review of its website, it includes hipster bands, “Access to Excess VIP Badges” and the kind of people who hang out at the patios on the 670 cap. Also, “urban camping,” presumably a cleaner and puma-free version of regular camping.


Frankly, the thing looks like a hurricane of suck, some sort of Lolapalooza for idiots wearing those nice black shirts with the subtle patterns. Admittedly, my general preference is that fashion not meet music, so take that with a grain of salt.


Headlining the festival will be R&B singer R. Kelly. Kelly is famous both for his music, which is terrible, and for 2002 allegations that he made a professional quality sex tape with a 14 year old girl which included footage of him urinating on her. He was acquitted of the charges brought against him, likely because prosecutors were unable to establish the identity (and therefore the age) of the female in the video. 


If that was the way it went down at trial, Kelly most certainly deserved to be acquitted -- in a free society the state must establish all elements of an offense. Regardless of criminal culpability, however, the evidence set forth at trial shows him to be a rather odious individual. So do the multiple settlements he’s paid to minors who accused him of sexual misconduct. Smoke and fire and all that.


Columbus bands Damn the Witch Siren and Saintseneca were originally slated to play the festival, but have pulled out due to Kelly’s inclusion. Damn the Witch was the first, pulling out just after the announcement. A few weeks later, Saintseneca did so as well, issuing a statement on their website which included the following: “... we were disappointed that the artist selected to headline the festival was R. Kelly. We feel his selection as a performer ignores his very serious allegations of sexual violence and assault. 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.”


A cynic would point out that bands to pulling out will get a lot more publicity that those who actually play. Damn the Witch, though, left without any fanfare, and Saintseneca’s phrasing with regard to survivors of sexual assault convinces me that their position is genuine. If they were doing this as a publicity stunt, that isn’t how they would write it.


The Festival, anyway, isn’t backing down. They aren’t exactly handling it in a sensitive fashion either, with Co-founder Bret Adams telling the Columbus Alive that “[w]ere running a festival to help brand the City of Columbus. We’re not the morality police.” Brand Columbus as what, exactly? The city of kiddie porn apologists?


As of my deadline, local acts The Wet Darlings, Mojoflo, Angela Perley and the Floorwalkers remain on the bill (there are probably more, I don’t pretend to know every band in town). Some have released statements that they are unhappy with Kelly’s selection. The unspoken corollary, of course, is “but you’re out of your fucking mind if you think we’re missing out on this opportunity.”  


Fair enough. If it’s only a couple of unsigned local acts, Adams and his people could give a shit less. Harsh reality is that these bands appear at big festivals as a sop to local promoters, not as the result of talent scouts. Their only merit is that they play for free or for peanuts, and they are utterly replaceable (not intending this as pejorative, I’ve been there a few times myself).


Saintseneca, however, is a serious band on the Anti- record label. You can bet they weren’t going to be playing on the Mr. Pibb Funhouse Stage at 10:00 A.M., and their decision is stirring up a lot of interest in their hometown. It’s not impossible that it will cause more boycotts as people sense the wind changing. People get a little funny about having their names associated with child pornography. It’s bad for business.


It’s hard – ridiculous really -- to blame the local acts that still intend to play. They all dream of being discovered. Great festival expectations typically dissolve into lonely performances, but it’s always possible that you might catch an A&R rep on her way to somewhere else. Success in the music biz is often based on freakish luck and, as Wayne Gretzky said, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.  


And let’s take a hard look in the mirror. Jimmy Page reportedly kidnapped a 14 year old girl and kept her at his house for 3 years, are you going to turn down a chance to open for a reunited Zeppelin on a world tour? Elvis loved his underage girls, would you refuse to jam with a resurrected King? To record with Pete Townshend?


Would I play a festival with R. Kelly? At the age of 37, with a beautiful daughter, absolutely not. But at 25? I think I might have played.


Regardless, R. Kelly headlining a festival here is a civic disgrace, and there are some that we can blame without reservation. Festival organizers like Adams. City Council and the Mayor. Whoever runs Nationwide Arena these days. Corporate sponsors including Concessions by Cox, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ice Miller Legal Counsel, Partner Hotel Hyatt Regency Downtown and Mills James (hilariously, the “Official Storytelling Partner” – no word on whether they will be reading Lolita to the crowd between bands). Fashion designers with a FMMF booth at the Convention Center. The Fusion Foundation, a legacy 501(c)(3) which according to FMMF’s website is their associated “philanthropy.” These are the people who could have prevented the Kelly selection and didn’t.


Saintseneca is apparently planning an alternative concert, which will be a benefit for victims of sexual assault. If it’s here in town, I hope we can all commit to playing – even if just on the Funhouse Stage.