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Fashion Meet Music Festival closes the book on R. Kelly controversy

R. Kelly at 2013 Bonnaroo SuperJam
R. Kelly at 2013 Bonnaroo SuperJam
John Patrick Gatta

When you’re a young band finally making inroads nationally it’s rarely a good idea to swim against the tide of the music industry. But Columbus’ folk rock act Saint Seneca did just that when the members published an open letter announcing that it was dropping out of the inaugural Fashion Meets Music Festival (FMMF) in the group’s hometown due to the inclusion of R. Kelly as headliner.

Kelly was indicted in 2002 on charges of making child pornography and was acquitted in 2008. The “Chicago Sun-Times” also ran an investigative series portraying the musician as a sexual predator. It was revisited last year by the “Village Voice,”

In the letter the band said (The full text can be found at

“The headliner at a big music festival is kind of like that symbolic figurehead. It’s the big text at the top of the page. There is definitely more to it; more bands, more people involved, more creative effort and time, but in the end that’s the defining feature.

Fashion Meets Music Festival happening in Columbus was a very exciting prospect to us; a way to represent our city and help form its identity, as well as a symbol of new things to come. We were very honored and excited to be asked to be a part of it.

That being said, 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. This is in no way meant to be a direct attack on the festival or its organizers; in fact, we genuinely appreciate their hard work and their commitment to bringing something new and exciting to our hometown. It is just that being so closely associated with this artist, especially here in our own hometown, is something we are not comfortable with.

We would like to offer the opportunity to channel this energy into something positive, so we plan to host an alternative concert. It will be a benefit that we hope will help in some way to support victims of sexual assault, as well as keep our minds on the issues at hand. Final details on that will be forthcoming.”

As the controversy grew, Columbus radio station WCBE 90.5 FM ended its sponsorship of the event. Prior to this, another local act, Damn the Witch Siren, voiced its displeasure and voluntarily left the bill.

There were also numerous complaints on social media.

In the end their stance against the R&B star as a headliner had an effect. By Tuesday, FMMF promoters recognized the growing controversy and dealt with it by parting ways with Kelly.

Kelly did perform at Bonnaroo and Pitchfork festivals without any protests from artists or sponsors.

Right now, the Fashion Meets Music Festival has no plans to replace Kelly. Its lineup now includes O.A.R., Michelle Williams, Local Natives, New Found Glory, Paper Diamond, Future Islands, Cold War Kids, Switchfoot, Maps & Atlases, Empires, Circa Survive, JD Eicher & the Goodnights, The Menzingers, Angela Perley & the Howlin Moons and Wakey! Wakey!.

Combining music and fashion, the festival hosts 120 acts Aug. 29-31 at a various venues in Columbus as well as turning the Convention Center into a Fashion and Retail Expo.

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