On Wednesday evening, approximately 40 men and women gathered on the first floor of The Montrose Center to meet and discuss progress on the "Cancel R. Kelly" campaign, which was launched in response to the R&B singer's booking at this year's Free Press Summer Fest.
"We spent about four hours on the phone with Omar Afra the day the line-up was announced," explained Muna Javaid, an affiliate with Girls Rock Camp Houston -- a nonprofit organization that hosts a weeklong rock band camp every summer for Houston-area girls.
Since the announcement for the seventh installment of the annual music festival, feedback has bombarded social media both in support and protest of the controversial singer. But none have been more vocal than the men and women of GRCH, who have banded together to begin the "Cancel R Kelly at FPSF 2015" campaign. And for good reason.
Aside from Girls Rock Camp's affiliation with Free Press Houston and Fitzgerald's, Kelly's name has been splashed across headlines for a number of predatory allegations and charges over the last 20 years, including a video that allegedly contains Kelly urinating on a minor, as well as 14 counts of child pornography he was later acquitted of by a trial jury.
However, Kelly's recent publicity has been for issues much like those he faces in Houston: that many festival-goers simply do not want their money going towards a performance from him. But Houstonians might not be as successful as festival-goers in Ohio or Dallas when it comes to giving Kelly the boot.
You see, Free Press Summer Fest isn't the same small, grass-roots production that it once was.
Now, Free Press Houston and Pegstar -- the festival's founders and two of the largest names in the Houston music scene -- are partners with international talent/booking agency Red Light Management in what has become one of the largest productions in the city. This means that, even if FPH and Pegstar wanted to kick Kelly to the curb, it's no longer a decision they can make simply on their own. There are investors, vendors and contracts involved that could potentially turn everything upside down were the festival to make one wrong move. [Note: this paragraph has been changed after publication to correct the name of FSPF's partner.]
However, according to Anna Garza, founder of Girls Rock Camp Houston and member of the Cancel R. Kelly campaign, Kelly is expected to perform as scheduled.
"His booking agency asked Free Press if they were going to cancel, because if they were, they had something else lined up," explained Garza, who made it clear that they took all of their issues with the booking directly to FPH.
"We felt they were directly responsible for the booking, so that's who we spoke with," she said.
To this day, Free Press Summer Fest has declined to comment on the issue, but that doesn't mean that they haven't been listening to the concerns of the community.
Free Press Houston managing editor Harbeer Sandhu was the only member of his publication present at the meeting, where he expressed that he wanted to hear the concerns of the community, but said he "couldn't comment publicly" regarding his position on the topic.
Still, Sandhu's presence was reassuring at the least, especially when information was given regarding the progress that Girls Rock Camp and the Cancel R Kelly campaign have been able to procure thus far.
According to a press release prepared by Girls Rock Camp, festival organizers have made some pretty hefty promises. For one, every screen on every stage will display a PSA that promotes consent before each band plays. Additionally, the festival is working to enact a community-standard policy that helps guide booking decisions to avoid alienating its attendees, while other discussions are in the works regarding a potential after-show that would benefit Houston-area organizations dedicated to the issue of sexual violence.
That said, concerns were brought up Wednesday evening on whether or not some activists would agree that this progress meant it was time to pack up and move on. And rather than make that decision for the nearly 840 petitioners who vowed not to affiliate themselves with the FPSF's organizers, discussions were had on what alternatives could be done.
"Where we're at now, they're seriously rethinking the way they curate a festival," explained Javaid. "I think they've put sincere effort into talking with us, and the tenor really changed over the last few weeks. I don't think they had any idea."
As of now, the Cancel R Kelly campaign is alive and well with support from the likes of Houston-area organizations such as Touch: The Rebellion and the NOW -- Houston chapter, which will continue to meet in the coming weeks.
Though discussions on how to approach these groups' presence at the festival still aren't set in stone, they remain dedicated to spreading awareness, education, and the reminder that not all Houstonians support a performance from R. Kelly. Anyone interested in protesting, boycotting, or spreading awareness on the issue of sexual violence is invited to join the movement.
GRCH also posted an open letter to its supporters on its Facebook page Thursday night, which we have re-posted below.
[Note: after this article's original publication, a paragraph that contained incorrect information about R Kelly's contract has been removed.]
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