For the first time in its burgeoning existence, Free Press Summer Fest is engaged in a legitimate controversy. Activist groups, music bloggers and Summer Fest ticket buyers have called on the festival to cancel one of its main-stage acts, R&B crooner R. Kelly.
Kelly has long been dogged by accusations of pedophilia. His alleged sex crimes against youths were classified as "stomach-churning" and "horrific." He was tried and acquitted of child pornography charges, but the stigma remains. In the eyes of many, Kelly is a sexual predator whose presence is unwelcome.
The most vocal opposition has come from the ranks of Girls Rock Camp Houston, which helped launch the "Cancel R. Kelly at FPSF 2015" social-media campaign. Over the course of about a week, the movement has drawn the interest of most local-media outlets as well as the attention of music-news observers from Stereogum and the Washington Post.
FPSF organizers have been amenable to discussions with the GRCH-led group and, as of this writing, continue to open-mindedly deliberate the issue. Without knowing the legalities or logistics involved in scrubbing Kelly's act, and with better, more informed commentary on the politics of the matter eloquently laid out elsewhere, we turn to the music. If Kelly is indeed scratched from the bill, it will leave a gaping hole for FPSF to fill.
But booking the right replacement act could be the proverbial lemons-to-lemonade scenario, one that could endear the festival and the substitute to socially conscious music fans for a long time to come. At the very least, a replacement act is going to get substantial press for stepping in. At best, it could shine as a beacon for others to follow on these matters.
On that note, here are some suggestions, with sincere hopes that these issues are soon sorted out to the satisfaction of everyone who loves FPSF:
BEYONCE You can go all the way back to "Independent Women" and "Survivor" to gauge Bey's stance on women's issues. Since then she has declared herself a modern-day feminist focused on empowerment and has even posed as Rosie the Riveter to get her point across.
What could make any Houstonian love her more than a gratis performance - she certainly doesn't need the booking fee - of all the hits, as the step-in (and step-up) replacement for Kelly? Just by showing up, she'd negate the detractors of her brand of feminism and give her hometown's festival its biggest boost ever at the very moment so many are watching to see what comes next.
ANNIE LENNOX She once termed Queen B's efforts as "feminism lite," so Lennox could put her actions where her mouth is and save the day. Again, the idea is she could be booked at little or no cost, since she'd be moved to act by virtue that she'd be replacing an alleged, suspected serial sexual predator from a gig playing for thousands of listeners.
If you were looking forward to hearing "I Believe I Can Fly," then there's virtually no loss hearing Lennox soar on "There Must Be An Angel." Could sweet dreams be made of this?
AZEALIA BANKS The outspoken, beef-seeking rapper is touring this year to promote Broke With Expensive Taste. She'd make a good replacement fit since she is probably not commanding exorbitant appearance fees, but more so because it'd give her a chance to direct her sites on a new target.
She's had no problem calling out Iggy Azalea, Lily Allen, Pharrell and even Perez Hilton. Their "crimes" were mostly Twitter fodder for Banks -- just imagine how scathing her Kelly-directed tweets might be were she to be named his replacement?
TAYLOR SWIFT Swift is an excellent songwriter whose career needs to keep evolving in other ways if she is someday going to be Madonna someday, another woman who made good music, smart business decisions and had a voice on issues that mattered in her day. If Swift could step in for Kelly, as a former child star now emerging as a woman with a strong voice, she too could chart a 30-year career, even surviving the occasional American Life-styled misstep.
LYKKE LI Has Lykke Li ever played a Houston gig? She's performed in Austin and Dallas, but if the Swedish indie-pop star has ever played here, I can't recall. She's a festival darling and a pro, so she'll need no direction on what to do on the main stage once she arrives. She announced a recent hiatus from some touring, but is expected for Coachella. If she is looking for quality dates in warm, music-loving cities she's rarely if ever visited, Houston is long overdue a set.
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D'ANGELO D'Angelo is emerging as the 2015 comeback of the year. His story is filled with sultry soul music and also redemption from low places. Once the heir apparent to a throne of kings like Al Green and Prince, his career was derailed by substance abuse and poor choices. This booking could be problematic, as he once was arrested for solicitation. He at least was seeking a consenting adult, but solicitation is a sex crime, so removing Kelly for D'Angelo might not be the right fit for Summer Fest when it's trying to get back to the music.
Which is too bad, really, since he admitted he was wrong and has worked to rid whatever demons poked and prodded him during his addiction. His new album, Black Messiah, is wondrous and would be great to hear live.
LANA DEL REY True, the former "Lizzy Grant" will be performing only weeks before FPSF at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion, as part of her current North American tour. A glance at her schedule reveals a gaping hole on June 6 and 7, the weekend between gigs in Canada and New York City. But Del Rey was made for the festival stage and for dramatic settings like this one. Her sultry voice and hipster cred make her an exciting prospect for those who planned to see Kelly's set.
And, like D'Angelo, she could make some amends with a community that stands up for women's issues. She's been deemed "anti-feminist" in the past, primarily because of some perceived disinterest in women's issues and her willing participation in a brutal simulated rape filmed -- for no apparent reason -- by horror movie director Eli Roth. A star turn here, coupled with waiving or lowering her booking fee, could earn her some new fans.
DRAKE Because we can't get enough Drake in Houston, ever. One more reason to foster our ongoing, mutual love affair.
BLINK 182 Is Blink 182 in the same festival demographic as R. Kelly? Survey says "yes." They both were incredibly popular in the late 1990s and the teen music listeners of those days are the music-following hipsters of today.
Possibly they could be penciled in on the cheap. They were slotted to play last year's doomed Lone Star Music Festival here, but this year the band is feuding and would probably come as only two-thirds its former self. Which means cutting the booking fee by 33 percent, right?
GIRLS ROCK CAMP ALL-STARS feat. THE JULIE RUIN Graduates of the Houston chapter of Girls Rock Camp open with a swift set of punk and riot-grrrl classics, then turn it over to Kathleen Hanna and cohorts before rejoining The Julie Ruin for a joint run through Bikini Kill and Le Tigre favorites? I would literally do anything to see this happen, including deliver the bad news to Mr. Kelly in person.
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