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Free Press Summerfest

R Kelly still on the bill at FPSF 2015

Progress report from the Cancel R Kelly At FPSF 2015 Facebook page: No progress to report.

Thanks for all the support! On Monday March 9th, we met again with Free Press Summer Fest. They had nothing to report about any decision. So, it’s time to move into all the strategies of a campaign that we intend to win. If you are interested in being part of the next phases of our campaign, say so in the comments!

See here and here for the background. I look forward to seeing what that campaign looks like. As Texas Monthly noted last week, the FPSF Facebook page was still promoting R Kelly’s appearance; that latter link is from a few days after the TM story. The same is true for the banner ad atop the Free Press Houston webpage, which has not mentioned the controversy at all as far as I can tell.

Anyway. There is now a petition that calls on FPSF to cancel R Kelly, and there’s no shortage of better alternatives out there if FPSF wants to look. By now it seems clear that their strategy is to lay low and hope it all blows over. Which, one must admit, is an often successful gambit. It’s on those of us who don’t like this choice or the response to the negative feedback to it to keep up the pressure. So sign the petition, like the Cancel R Kelly at FPSF 2015 Facebook page, and make a little noise. People may or may not listen, but you can be heard.

Chron covers R Kelly controversy

Here’s the story.

Free Press Houston and concert promoter Pegstar are deciding what to do about the inclusion of R&B performer R. Kelly at the 2015 Free Press Summer Festival after a local protest began to draw national attention. Kelly was announced last week as one of the event’s headliners.

Both the popular independent music reporting website Stereogum and veteran music writer Jim DeRogatis — who wrote about accusations about Kelly for the Chicago Sun-Times — have reported on the protest.

The campaign to have Kelly (born Robert Kelly) removed started with the organization Girls Rock Camp Houston, a self-described “DIY, punk, feminist empowerment camp,” which addressed organizers of the event in a letter that read, in part:

“This past week you released the lineup for the Free Press Summer Fest 2015, which includes R. Kelly as a headlining act. A pedophile. Indicted on 21 counts of child pornography. Has filmed video footage of himself engaging in sexual acts with underage girls. Teenage girls he would prey on outside of their gospel choir class at Kenwood Academy in Chicago. Leaving long lasting emotional and psychological trauma, for some resulting in attempted suicide. After dozens of lawsuits, the girls feeling like they could get no justice, settled. The girls of Chicago are the girls of Houston and they MATTER. They deserve the right to live without fear, violence, intimidation and predatory sexual behavior. R. Kelly should not be able to continue to profit from performances that glorify his persona of sexual predator.”

See here for the background. There’s nothing new in the Chron story, and as far as I can tell there’s no news yet on how that Monday meeting with Girls Rock Camp Houston and Pegstar went. In the meantime, the Cancel R Kelly At FPSF 2015 Facebook page, which posted a FAQ about what they’re doing, continues to be the best source of information on this. At some point, the lack of news on the dialog with Pegstar will point to their answer being “no”. We’ll see how long this plays out. Nonsequiteuse and the Washington Post have more.

Why is R Kelly in the Free Press Summerfest lineup?

Maybe this wasn’t such a hot idea.

Music fan David Hayes has attended the Free Press Summer Fest every summer since 2010, and was planning to go this year as well—that is, until he saw that one of the headliners was R. Kelly, the popular R&B singer who has been accused of having sex with teenage girls and possessing child pornography. “Disgusted would be the right word,” Hayes said. “I just can’t believe he’s gigging anywhere after what he’s done. I don’t understand how any person in their right mind could put up the fee to pay him to perform, or go see him.”

Kelly was acquitted in a child pornography trial in 2008 even though a video had surfaced of him having sex with an allegedly underage girl. (Kelly’s lawyers convinced the jury that the identity of the girl in the tape hadn’t been conclusively established.) Still, accusations continue to surface. Dozens of women have sued Kelly for sexual abuse, many of them claiming they were underage at the time. And although the allegations were first made public by Chicago Sun-Times reporter Jim DeRogatis in 2000, R. Kelly remains a marquee performer, releasing bestselling albums, selling out concerts, and headlining events like the 2013 Pitchfork Music Festival.

The tide of public opinion may be turning against the singer, however. Last July, the Fashion Meets Music Festival in Columbus, Ohio dropped R. Kelly from the lineup after protests from other bands, festival vendors, and angry Ohioans. After the Free Press Summer Fest lineup was announced last week, outrage spread across social media. (Sample comments on Facebook: “I just found out that he was on the line up, and was completely at a loss for words”; “He should be in jail.”)

[Monday] night, a group of Houstonians [met] with Free Press publisher Omar Afra to discuss their opposition to Kelly’s appearance. Asked about the meeting by phone, Afra declined to respond until he meets with them. “We’re pretty much in the listening stage right now,” he said. “We never preclude dialogue. If somebody’s got a concern, we’re here to hear that.” But why did Free Press invite Kelly in the first place? Afra’s response: “He’s a musician.”

You should read this 2013 Village Voice story about the allegations against Kelly and the campaign by journalist DeRogatis to get people to pay attention to them. There’s a Cancel R Kelly At FPSF 2015 Facebook page out there in case you want to register your disapproval. I haven’t seen any reports from that Monday meeting itself, but I’m very interested to know how it went, and what if anything Pegstar (whose press releases I get) and Omar Afra will do about this. What do you think? Rocks Off has more.

UPDATE: Another update from Rocks Off.

Moving out of Fitzgerald’s

Big music news in Houston.

The successful concert promotion group behind Houston’s Free Press Summer Festival has secured land just north of downtown Houston to build a three-stage music venue complex with two indoor stages and an outdoor stage.

Pegstar Concerts head Jagi Katial said Monday the project has been two years in gestation. Plans for the development at 2915 N. Main and North Street were leaked onto Houston’s Reddit outpost Saturday afternoon in part from a resident who attended a meeting about the development, which lead to Katial wanting to clear the air on some details that were bandied about.

This new venue would call for Pegstar to leave its current digs at Fitzgerald’s music venue on White Oak Boulevard, and set up shop at the new site five minutes away. This new complex as of now does not have a name, Katial says. He predicts that the doors could be open by late 2015.

“It’s very much a work still in progress,” Katial says, surveying the grounds late Monday afternoon. As of now there is nothing on the property aside from a real estate sign, trees and a concrete slab. A group of tight-knit investors has been working on the nuts and bolts for some time, he said.

The property backs up to what is called Little White Oak Bayou. Katial says engineers have said that flooding should not be an issue. It’s located just a few blocks from Metro’s North rail line, which could make it easier for concert-goers to commute to the venue.

There are a handful of vacant homes on the western end of the property which will be converted into other things, like parking, farmer’s markets and storage. He wants to get Houstonians acquainted with the area when they aren’t there for a show.

Sarah Fitzgerald, who has owned the Fitzgerald’s venue since 1977, said Monday that Pegstar’s lease is up in September 2015.

Pegstar has leased it from her since September 2010, when they remodeled the venue and began booking live music and comedy on the two stages, downstairs and upstairs, most nights of the week. The revitalization of the building has been a boon for development on White Oak Boulevard, which now has a number of bars and restaurants that are full almost every night.

“This is a bittersweet thing for me, straight up, because I love Fitzgerald’s and the idea of me being a concert producer was forged at that venue years ago,” says Katial. “I’ve seen some of the best shows that I will ever see there.”

Swamplot has a view of the new location plus some design illustrations. Fitzgerald’s, which is walking distance from my house, is an institution in Houston. I have no idea what will happen to the space after the current tenants leave. The owner could make a fortune if she sold the place to developers, but I kind of hope she doesn’t. There’s not many places like it left in Houston, and I’d hope the music scene is big enough here to accommodate both Fitzgerald’s and the new place. As for the new place, it sounds really interesting, and I love that it will be near the North Line. I’m looking forward to seeing what Pegstar does with it. See this Chron gallery of 1980’s photos at Fitz’s for more.