California's Coachella Valley Arts & Music Festival pulls in some of the biggest names in music — like this year's headliners Beyoncé, Radiohead, and Kendrick Lamar — but it was suddenly tainted with accusations of discrimination when news reports showed that Philip Anschutz, the owner of Coachella's parent company, donated money to right-wing groups and anti-LGBT organizations.
In response to the reports, the Colorado-based oil and entertainment tycoon released a statement Thursday denying that he is anti-LGBT.
“Recent claims published in the media that I am anti-LGBTQ are nothing more than fake news — it is all garbage. I unequivocally support the rights of all people without regard to sexual orientation. We are fortunate to employ a wealth of diverse individuals throughout our family of companies, all of whom are important to us — the only criteria on which they are judged is the quality of their job performance; we do not tolerate discrimination in any form.
"Both The Anschutz Foundation and I contribute to numerous organizations that pursue a wide range of causes. Neither I nor the Foundation fund any organization with the purpose or expectation that it would finance anti-LGBTQ initiatives, and when it has come to my attention or the attention of The Anschutz Foundation that certain organizations either the Foundation or I have funded have been supporting such causes, we have immediately ceased all contributions to such groups."
Anschutz's company, AEG, owns Goldenvoice, which organizes the annual Coachella event. Reports from this week showed that Anschutz donated $190,000 to groups including the Alliance Defending Freedom, National Christian Foundation, and Family Research Council. the Family Research Council has been designated an extremist hate group by the progressive Southern Poverty Law Center. The Alliance Defending Freedom has been involved in promoting "religious freedom" to justify anti-LGBT discrimination, reports the SPLC. The National Christian Foundation funds groups that are "aggressively working to chip away at the equal rights of LGBT Americans," reported The Washington Post. During the 2016 election campaign, Anschutz and his wife gave a combined $1,012,000 to Republican candidates and political action committees, reported The Fader. The AEG owner also gave $500,000 to the Senate Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC that spent $83 million to fund campaigns against Democrats in the 2016 election. Anschutz also gave $2,000 to Vice President-elect Mike Pence, a rabid homophobe, in his campaign for reelection to Congress in 2006.
Show Me the Body, a hardcore punk group performing at this year's Coachella event, was shocked to hear the news. Julian Cashwan Pratt, the lead singer of the band, expressed his concerns over the phone to The Advocate about taking "blood money" from a person who donated to "fascist" causes. The interview with Pratt was conducted before Anschutz released his statement.
Show Me the Body was first approached by Coachella organizers several months ago but never came to a financial agreement. So the members were surprised to see themselves on the flier announcing the 2017 lineup this week. A representative from Coachella reached out to the group to apologize, and Thursday the festival and the band finally came to an agreement. Pratt said part of the impetus to agree to play Coachella was Anschutz's donations — the band wanted to make a statement by donating its fees to an LGBT organization.
"While we were considering it, that piece came out online about the guy and what he does and so we were feeling odd about it and that piece was specifically talking about funding anti-LGBT communities and rhetoric and propaganda that denies climate change," Pratt said. "We were weirded out, but then we thought that it gave us an interesting opportunity to do something in our own way."
Show Me the Body members aren't sure yet which LGBT organization they will donate to, but Pratt said he came across the Los Angeles LGBT Center while doing research and was impressed. The band wants to partner with an organization that focuses on LGBT homeless youth and another organization that focuses on the intersection of poverty and climate change. The group plans to perform two benefit shows in L.A. for organizations yet to be designated or to donate to local artists who are involved in LGBT or climate change efforts in Los Angeles.
Pratt was surprised to hear that a music festival that is associated with so many liberal performers could be tied to a man who donates money to anti-LGBT groups and climate change deniers.
"We’re from New York, so we’ve seen a lot of fascism within the underground community and weird stuff within the punk community, but also New York is a pretty woke place, and a lot of people are involved in climate change efforts, and there’s great gay communities and trans communities," Pratt said. "It’s something that we all grew up around, and just to hear that somebody who is donating to the arts is in a fight to end all that is very scary to us."
Pratt said this is a problem that goes beyond Coachella; it's an institutional issue faced by music festivals around the nation.
"It's super important to keep clear that this is not by any means to demonize Coachella," he said. "The problem is that the man who works for AEG also funds fascist propaganda. He also funds venues and festivals internationally. It was really scary for us that that sort of blood money was getting to our pockets, and what's really interesting is that is something that is in all festivals around the country, all festivals are kind of like Coachella, they’re expensive, hard to get into, very exclusive, the tickets are already sold out."
Despite taking his very public position, Pratt isn't asking other artists to do the same.
"It's the job of the artist to be true to yourself, so if you don’t give a fuck, that’s fine," he said. "If you're going there and playing music, I have no problem with you, but if you're aware of what's going on, then you should speak up."
Check out a music video from Show Me the Body below.