Bayou City

What the Fitzgerald's Uproar Reveals About Houston's Music Scene

What the Fitzgerald's Uproar Reveals About Houston's Music Scene
Photo by Jack Gorman
click to enlarge PHOTO BY JACK GORMAN
Photo by Jack Gorman
According to an eyewitness, the audience at last Wednesday’s show by San Antonio punks FEA was so upset with Sara Fitzgerald, whose epithet-strewn email exchange with Houston rap producer and promoter TrakkSounds had gone viral the previous day, that they chanted “Fuck Fitz!” until the members of FEA had to talk them down. That show had originally been scheduled for Fitzgerald’s namesake venue, and its swift relocation to Satellite Bar was just one example of the fallout from one of the most uncomfortable 24-hour periods the Houston music scene has experienced in recent memory. The uproar has since died down — for now — but the issues raised by her email and subsequent comments, and the firestorm of criticism they encountered, are not the sort of things that can just be swept under the rug.

Houston's music scene is still mired in its own degree of contention. What the Fitz letter and subsequent reaction showed was that people still see hip-hop as a misogynistic void, and it's mostly people who look at hip-hop through an outsider's gaze. Keep in mind that people don't have to reach too far in order to point out misogyny in metal or hard rock but immediately draw upon hip-hop as some low-hanging fruit. It's easier to demean or bemoan hip-hop fans as opposed to rock fans or even cumbia or zydeco fans because they're soft targets. Those who ventured to Fitzgerald's in the '70s and more that have loyalty to Fitz will argue that she was well within her rights. And she is well within her right to curate her building to cater to a certain audience.

However, by slamming, stereotyping and racially generalizing a segment of music fans, she cut off her nose to spite her face. Her subsequent apologies, if you could call them that, were more hiding behind the idea of feminism rather than living up to its standards. Degrading music towards women doesn't have to be vehemently explicit but in her case, she placed hip-hop — particularly the music of two artists from Tennessee — as the best example. It's disheartening on a vast number of levels because Fitz isn't the first venue to detail such things to artists or promoters attempting to book venues in the city. Is she a racist? I wouldn't say. Is she preaching to stereotypes as opposed to using good judgement in regards to booking acts? Yes.

What happens after this? Nothing serious beyond a very determined boycott, myself included. People will be so rooted in their ways, their cultures and what they give grievances to that the logic of Sara Fitzgerald will either appeal to them or not. Honestly, the more we learn about terrible business practices, whether by ignorance or short-sightedness within some of our performance venues, the more they'll die off and be replaced. Because this is Houston — established buildings get demolished and turned into something else every damn day. BRANDON CALDWELL

All that the emails shared by TrakkSounds revealed was that Sara Fitzgerald isn’t into hip-hop and can be a loudmouth jerk sometimes. I'm not sure that was a huge reveal to some of the people who have worked with her over the years. That sad thing is that Fitzgerald’s has made money on hip-hop shows for many years, and I’ve seen some great ones there, from K-Rino to Run the Jewels. There have been plenty more weird and lame ones, too, and I never saw anything unusual about the audiences at any of them. There was never any ban evident on hip-hop for being too offensive or misogynistic, just as there was never a ban on any act or musical genre for being too offensive. It’s no shock that an older clubowner doesn’t think sagging pants and smoking weed are cool, but if you operate a dumpy, blackened old music venue, you’re kind of in the stupid clothes and weed business.

Hip-hop fans are a diverse group of people who are no different and certainly no worse than any other group of fans, a great many of whom also smoke weed, enjoy explicit lyrics and wear weird little uniforms. Fitzgerald’s has gladly taken their money for as long as I can remember, which makes Sara sound like a hypocrite. The fact that she’s singling out hip-hop acts and fans gives her statements an ugly racial tinge that she might not have intended, but stinks nevertheless. There are plenty of venues in Houston that don’t book hip-hop, and if Sara Fitzgerald really can’t stand all the bad words all of a sudden, then it’s just as well if Fitzgerald’s never hosts another rap show, either. Hip-hop fans and artists in Houston deserve to at least work with a venue that wants them there, and there are many willing. NATHAN SMITH

Some points worth mentioning, before I answer the question at hand.

1. Repeat after me: you don’t have to use racial slurs to be racially problematic or racially insensitive. Just because you don’t use the “n-word” or you don’t mind taking the money of minorities or you like “black music” doesn’t mean you won’t eventually end up on TV giving a non-apology apology because you assumed your position of power in a community would protect you from people finding out how you really feel. Life, as they say, comes at you fast.

2. Do you think Fitzgerald’s will ever address the steps they’re taking to make sure no artists with misogynistic lyrics will ever appear on their stage and what actions will happen if an artist makes an inappropriate comment during their performance? Reminder: misogyny, like racism, is more than just the obvious words.

3. A lot of people are clinging to “she just quoted his lyrics back to him” as proof that Sara Fitzgerald is above criticism any higher than “she was unprofessional.” Unfortunately, this is not what happened. One doesn’t have to look too deep, based on the various statement’s she made in the wake of all this, to put the pieces together about why this came to a head when it did, but that doesn’t change the fact that “she just quoted his lyrics back to him” is a transparent attempt to paint a bullseye around an arrow she already shot. Go look up the lyrics to “Caesar and Brutus”; “whore” isn’t used anywhere in that song and neither is the word “shoot”. She was defining her perception of the music, not quoting it, painting it with a broad brush so that she could also paint the fans of said music as bad people not worthy of stepping foot into her venue.

In her follow up interviews, when she had time to relisten to the song, she gets some mentions of “that ho”/”that bitch” right, but even then she invents the phrase “my pussy” to really try and convince people she has the moral high ground. It’s so bizarrely obvious what she’s trying to do that it’s no surprise the only people rallying around that defense are the same people eager to brush away the obvious racial overtones of the situation because “rap is garbage music.”

4. Per Fitz’s Facebook Page: “Regarding the recent controversy, racism was never the intent, in fact quite the opposite, nor was it intended to insult or marginalize any race or group in my ill-worded email response to the promoter.” Then what was the intent, exactly, of the part of the letter that described the fans?

As for the question at hand, at the end of the day I’m not sure this situation really says anything about the Houston music scene directly. I’m happy that so many artists I respect put aside their personal affection for the building and that people worked to move shows to other venues. That’s so awesome. But the reality is that shows will continue to go on at Fitz, and every artist that takes the stage there is cosigning what happened. Every person who goes out of their way to buy a drink there because Fitz “took a stand” is cosigning what happened. Every production person that works there and is slapping themselves on the back right now is cosigning what happened.

That’s a bummer, but it’s not surprising. We live in a society where non-POC need a minority teen’s full criminal record and Facebook profile dragged into the sun before they can make a decision if it was OK for them to be gunned down by a cop even though they were unarmed. That people are OK with Fitz isn’t a Houston music thing or even a Houston city thing. It’s an American thing. It might be the most American thing, really. CORY GARCIA

What does Sara Fitzgerald's social-media meltdown say about the Houston music scene? That it's pretty damned great, and pretty damned progressive. Music fans of all stripes heard Fitzgerald's dog-whistle racism loud and clear, and they vowed to take their ears and wallets elsewhere. Local bands made a powerful stand, relocating their show at the last minute. As Fitzgerald herself tried to backpedal behind some thinly veiled feminism, our community held her accountable. In both actions and words, we flatly refused to support the retrograde stereotypes that Fitzgerald indulged in. That's because of the the cultural crucible in which Houston music is forged. For all of its sprawl, the city unites a growing range of cultural identities. This proximity makes it easier for all of us to bear witness to the injustices borne against some of us. Call me optimistic, but I think the response against Fitzgerald signals a shift to solidarity in the city's cultural denizens. I hope the same voices that called out Fitzgerald will be yelling loud when other members of our music community find themselves facing hatred or oppression. KATIE SULLIVAN

A venue is entitled to book what they want to book. A venue is also entitled to discourage a crowd that does not spend money at the venue. People are entitled to choose which venues they wish to patronize, and which they don't. That said, I will add that I do not believe that Fitzgerald's words were racist, although they did lump all of hip-hop together in one bag - which is not really the case.

IMHO, rap and hip hop contain some of the most positive, life-affirming, funny, optimistic lyrics of any musical genre out there. If you think differently, you have only listened to the crap that big record companies have pushed out there in a sensational way designed to create sales. If you've only heard 10% of a musical genre, you have no position from which to hate or criticize. We have all heard terrible country music. We have all heard wimpy rock and roll that doesn't Rock. We have all heard soft jazz which contains none of the melodic improvisation or harmonic experimentation of the good stuff. Judging all music by the recordings of Fabian, Kenny G, the New Kids on the Block, or Nickelback would make one have some weird opinions, too. Discuss amongst yourselves...

“I don’t want her shut down. I want to open a dialogue and show her that the stereotypes of hip hop music that are spoken of in there can be dispelled and we can put on a good show that she and her grandchildren can be proud of.” — Dr. Robert Muhammed, Nation of Islam

“I hate to say the word, but she needs to make reparations. She needs to give back to the community and bring people in there.” — Charles Adams, Houston Attorney & Talk Show Host

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
The Houston Press is a nationally award-winning, 31-year-old publication ruled by endless curiosity, a certain amount of irreverence, the desire to get to the truth and to point out the absurd as well as the glorious.
Contact: Houston Press