tl;dr: Who can trust Drusky Entertainment? The pay-to-play booking agency and its racially-charged social media posts, censorship, and blatant lies to their partners and press?

Last month, Brian Drusky ignorantly posted racist remarks that compared the recent black lives lost to police brutality to a misplaced McDonald’s order. Almost everyone agrees his comments were of the Diet Racism variety. The obvious result was a walkout of artists and partners vital to his business. The call to #boycottdrusky eventually grew to over 1,000 members. Most notably, Justin Strong, the local entrepreneur behind the much loved and now defunct AVA Lounge and Shadow Lounge, announced on Twitter on Dec. 7, 2014 that he decided to cancel his food service at Altar Bar where Drusky is the major booker. After being hit in the pocket, Brian Drusky posted an apology that we can now call a direct lie.

In his apology, Drusky attempts to make amends for the hurt his words caused, stating that he would host a “community sit in at Altar… with members of law enforcement as well as leaders in the community heading up the protests.” Two days later, Drusky told the Pittsburgh City Paper’s Andy Mulkerin and Rebecca Nuttall that he was planning a town-hall meeting and a benefit event for Leon Ford, a black man left paralyzed when police shot him five times during a routine traffic stop in 2012. These plans emerged after a meeting between Drusky and activist Davon Magwood, and members of the hip-hop community in the days following his apology. Activist Julia Johnson was optimistic saying, “Actions speak louder than words.”

Yet none of the planned events have materialized. Drusky claimed in an email to Jekko that he is still working with individuals to make the community events happen, but we couldn’t find them. Instead, what actions Drusky has taken since mid-December have been troubling.

Soon after the City Paper’s coverage of the issue, Drusky Entertainment started to censor the discussion on social media. Hundreds of Facebook comments were reduced to pro-Drusky propaganda. Account associations were removed or all together blocked. Everything was set to private—even the “public” apology.

In the last few weeks, Drusky Entertainment has also taken extraordinary measures to hide its ownership of the Strip District Music Festival. After local political punk band Anti-Flag moved a February show at Altar Bar to a different venue unaffiliated with Drusky Entertainment and numerous artists left the Strip District Music Festival’s lineup, including Roger Harvey and Chet Vincent and the Big Bend, it appears that Drusky is trying to distance himself from upcoming events to avoid boycotts.

Originally, there was no confusion about the relationship between Drusky Entertainment and the Strip District Music Festival. Freelance writer Nikki Tiani described the festival as, “a Drusky Entertainment event,” in her coverage for on Dec. 9, 2014, and Mulkerin also described it as “a Drusky event” in the Dec. 9 City Paper article. Even before that, on Dec. 4, 2014, a Drusky Entertainment intern posted a blog entry about his experiences on the job, saying “We have recently announced a huge music festival which will be taking place in the strip district (sic).”

But following Drusky’s Facebook comments and ensuing fallout, Drusky Entertainment’s vice president Josh Bakaitus asked us to remove mention of the Strip District Music Festival from our original coverage of the controversy. When we asked Bakaitus to clarify the relationship between Drusky Entertainment and the Strip District Music Festival, we received the following response:

Jekko:  What does Drusky Entertainment hope to achieve by distancing its brand from the festival?
Josh Bakaitus: I understand the confusion, due to my day-to-day role with the company, but I have founded and have personally curated / coordinated this event myself. Drusky Entertainment is involved as a marketing sponsor and has helped give the festival the infrastructure it needs.

sdmf-leaked-contract-page-1We first learned of the Strip District Music Festival in November, when Drusky Entertainment began to approach artists and venues about participating in the January 2015 event. In a copy of an artist engagement contract obtained by Jekko, the relationship between Drusky Entertainment and the festival is unmistakable. The company identifies itself as a “presenting sponsor” alongside City Paper. Later in the contract, Drusky Entertainment refers to itself as the festival’s “organizing business,” clearly affirming its relationship to the festival.

Here is the complete Strip District Music Festival artist contract: page 1, page 2, page 3.

Today, no mention of Drusky Entertainment appears on the Strip District Music Festival website. Drusky Entertainment’s logo is so small it’s almost illegible in other festival marketing materials.

The distancing effort was apparently successful at shielding a key sponsor, Pabst Blue Ribbon, from learning of the controversy surrounding Brian Drusky’s comments. When we asked a representative from Pabst for a comment, they replied that they do not support racism in any form. They looked into it and said they had no comment on the Strip District Music Festival for it was not a Drusky event.

Drusky Entertainment is attempting to relabel the Strip District Music Festival as Josh Bakaitus’s side project in an effort to save sponsors and community support. Instead, their misguided damage control destroys whatever trust Pittsburgh’s music community had in Drusky Entertainment. They’re deceiving artists, associates and patrons who oppose the kind of ignorance and insensitivity.

No one liked being lied to, but there are only so many ways that members of the music community can express their dissatisfaction in Brian Drusky. As Anti-Flag frontman Justin Sane explained in a statement regarding the band’s decision to move their Feb. 6 show from Altar Bar to Mr. Smalls Theatre, “As four individuals from Pittsburgh, PA, our power at times can feel limited; this is an instance where we can exercise our power by not working with Brian Drusky.”

One of the problems in sourcing this material has been fear of Drusky’s retaliation. Being the largest promoter in Pittsburgh has it’s perks. Artists are fearful of being black-balled from booking and venue staff worry over their long-term employment if they speak out. Beyond the articles, there are still repercussions for doing the right thing. As one person affected by the situation, who wished to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, pointed out:

“This whole fiasco is costing [Justin Strong and the artists] much more than Drusky, which is ridiculous. But people don’t put an ‘accidental casual public racism’ clause in contracts.”

This remind us that in struggles of equality, it’s often the minorities that are hurt rather than the entrenched power. It takes courage to walk off the job and into uncertainty. Those who are courageous enough often find themselves tackling more difficulties. Meanwhile, companies like Drusky’s hide behind public relation campaigns to further marginalize opposing voices. The perfect example of which is re-marketing of Josh Bakaitus as a do-it-yourself organizer with a community festival.

Make no mistake, Josh Bakaitus and the Strip District Music Festival are as corporate as it gets.

Where do we go from here?

Despite their uphill battle, some of the musicians who dropped out of the Strip District Music Festival have organized with others to produce their own festival, “BLOOM-FEST” (Rock Against Racism), taking place at six different venues on Friday, Jan. 16, 2015. If anything good is to come out of this, it’s the real community hearing the rallying call to start booking their own shows, venues, and festivals to combat corporate greed.

Foo is the founder of Jekko. Unlike other publishers, Foo attends thousands of events, interviews personalities from startups to Fortune 500s, and blows stuff up on YouTube.

23 replies on “What the Strip District Music Festival Doesn’t Want You to Know”

  1. I truly appreciate the work you put into this article. This issue seems to have disappeared from everyone’s radar quickly (as, fairly, most things do). Drusky’s retreat from the public while this blows over is reprehensible. And I applaud you for shining a light on him once again.

    As for where we go, I’d like to see the focus return to working against actual racism. Drusky’s comments were divisive and while the response of artists to withdraw their support is admirable, we shouldn’t make this about us or our anti-corporate desires. The privilege to avoid realizing just how messed up comparing the deaths of young black men to a botched fast food experience is one that a majority of Pittsburgh’s citizens enjoy. Fighting that should be our first priority, and I guarantee it can be done (I would say *must* be done) in a way that keeps things DIY.

  2. Holy shit… Let it go people. These bands are getting together to play music for their fans. Any money taken for this event is a DONATION. Nobody other than the venues (food/drink sales) are making a buck from the event. Drusky apologized, is working on some sit in or what have you. Let it go.

    Go to the Bloomfield gig…. Go to the Strip gig… GO TO BOTH

    Support local music and for one weekend, put your other agendas aside!

    And no, I don’t work for or support any of the businesses involved in either event.

    I just want to ROCK !!!

    1. Thanks Ralph. The focus of the article is about his actions after the apology.

      Drusky Entertainment is making money off of event sponsorship. The bands, venues, and attendance are the product they are selling. Who really can say what percentage goes where when it comes to the Strip District Music Festival. The contract is very different from their announcement. But who really can say where it goes given Drusky Entertainment has no accountability.

      1. So you think they are banking on a free festival? Please explain. You’re aware of the overhead costs, permites, labor costs, backline that they are providing, right? Just turning on the lights in these venues is costing money. What is the huge revenue stream here? It’s a promotional event for a part of the city that a lot of younger people have lost interest in.

        Comparing Josh to Monsanto?? Are you kidding me? The guy is clearly just doing his job, now he’s labeled some corporate sellout?

        1. The revenue stream Drusky Entertainment is taking is from the sponsorship of the festival. The bands, venue, and audience are putting sweat equity into a festival Drusky Entertainment owns.

          Yes. I agree comparing Josh to Monsanto was a heavy-handed hyperbole. I was was hoping that our article showed that Brian and Josh were motivated by profit rather than community.

          1. He “owns” the festival now? How did you determine that?

            So anyone who does anything for a profit should be compared to Monsanto? What??? Also, Why do you think he shouldn’t make a profit?

            How can people who voluntarily participate in this event be considered “Sweat Equity”? Please explain.

    2. Proud of everyone standing up against Drusky! This is a great sign of things to come.

      Everyone who grew up in Pittsburgh knows that racism is the norm for the majority of whites, mostly those who are a part of the Baby Boomer generation. Regardless of what class you are from, it is there. I am glad to see Yinzers finally standing up against this disgusting norm.

  3. This article is a lawsuit waiting to happen. I’d take it down before they see it. You were so inaccurate that they could def get u for slander. Brian is far from a racist. This looks like an attempt to kick him while he is a tad vulnerable. You buy twitter followers dude ur that kinda guy. Love the attempt to get exposure but we have seen that man do things for people that never end up in the media. I too thought drusky would be cocky because did his success. Opposite the dude is legit one of the greatest guys I’ve met.

    1. Thank you for reading the article. First of all, I’m confident in both Foo’s and my due diligence in creating this piece. This was not something that was hastily put together in an afternoon; every claim about those involved was heavily researched and confirmed through multiple sources. I disagree that this is “an attempt to kick [Drusky] while he is a tad vulnerable.” Whatever vulnerability he’s experiencing at the moment is self-induced. And as a major Pittsburgh promoter and organizer of a large upcoming music festival, I would argue that he’s in a position of power, not vulnerability. He could be the nicest guy in the world, but he’s still in a position to reinforce systemic racism. And you are too, as long as you still operate by the “Well, if he’s a good guy to me, he must be to everyone’ mentality.

  4. Hey Foo! Good to see you defending the fight against racism and the struggle for diversity!! So, just a couple points of clarification… I have been meeting with Brian Drusky, as we have a relationship going back to our days working with DiCesare/Engler Productions, and he hasn’t been “doing nothing” he has attended private sit downs with local artists and activists, he has met with advocates for diversity, to discuss why his comments hurt so much and why they were inappropriate. I know he is planning on attending a workshop on White Privelege, as well as numerous events events to learn about racism and it’s evil affects on Black people and society. I state that I absolutely do not apologize for his words, and that I don’t defend them, they were cruel statements made in ignorance…. but I want you to know I sincerely believe he is working on learning why what he said is wrong. He is following up with actions. I’ve been to the meetings. I believe that people can learn, and people can change and when they do I feel that it is better to support that change. For, if we don’t think humans can change for the better, what is the point??? Thank you for being willing to use your blog as a place to talk about race and systemic police violence. I am singing at Bloomfest Rock Against Racism at 8 pm at Howlers on Fri Jan 16, and I’m singing at the downtown rally after the big Mass March Against Racist Wars at Home and Abroad (we gather 6 pm Forbes and Bigelow then march to town) and I would be happy to engage with anyone there about matters of race, systemic racism and violence, because Black Lives Matter and Racism Kills Millions Worldwide and it is now time to End White Silence.

    1. Thanks Phat Man Dee, we had spoken to some of the activists and artists he sat down with. They related to us that the conversation had stalled completely. As I mentioned in a previous comment, I feel their actions since then are what merited this article.

      It is amazing, that a company that makes a living producing events on time has some how managed to miss one… the community event.

  5. Saying Drusky is a pay to play promoter is like saying a girlscout is a pay to play… scout. Drusky doesn’t take money from bands to play shows (paying out of pocket to play, or pay to play) but they do have ticket sales for artists (selling tickets, not artist buying their own tickets) playing their shows. I’m a lot less likely to attend a show if I don’t buy a ticket in advance. Much is the rest of the world. That’s not bad.

    1. This was something I didn’t touch on in the article as much. This has been discussed at a great extent on NTMTO and other fine resources.

      For bands to make money as an opener in Drusky Entertainment events, they have to sell tickets. First, the opening band has to put money in to get any out. Second, this pits the band against Drusky Entertainment’s other sales platforms where they opener may get nothing at all.

      1. This is false and a lie. An absolute lie and misstatement. I have played shows for Drusky, as well as many other promoters regionally. The platform used by Drusky is similar if not identical to many DIY and career promoters. The bands are issued tickets and will make a dollar amount of tickets sold, say $3 dollars a ticket (and honestly, Drusky is one of the only promoters I know willing to negotiate this amount in the bands favor). They are usually issued 40 to 50 tickets. They submit money and remaining tickets (if any) at the show prior to doors being opened. This is very common practice. I have had instances with Drusky where I haven’t sold the 40 or 50, and although they may be less willing to work these bands later (who wouldn’t? You wouldn’t go to work if every week they paid you differently, and a majority of the time less than agreed upon), and there was no issue at all with my band performing. No money came out of my pocket, and I am sure Drusky did not make a profit of my sales.
        This is sales commission on your ticket sales. Are car salesmen pay to play? Do they have to buy the car first before they sell it? No. The company that can afford to do so based on funds and reputation (the dealership) does so, all the meantime, benefiting both parties.

        Pay to Play is buying onto a tour with your own money, or paying upfront for all tickets. If bands were required to purchase 40 tickets in advance off Drusky, or any promoter, and then keep all the sales off those tickets regardless of selling all of them or none of them, this would be pay to play.

        While I in no way mean this as a personal attack, I do question your integrity towards the truth and capability (and research) of understanding the economics behind the practice. I would venture to guess that as it does not play into the narrative that Drusky Entertainment is evil, the facts are changed to present themselves as so.

        TL:DR Bottom line, this business platform is common and not Pay To Play. The above comment shows a lack of understanding/willingness to ignore/lie about the facts.

        I would love a response with the facts behind pay to play. Pay to play, by definition is a practice in which an entity (i.e. promoter) charges an up-front fee to performing artists for the use of their facilities.

        1. Hey Matt,

          I’m in a band too and have played multiple shows for Drusky. Almost every booking agreement we have had from Drusky states the following: a “Minimum number of tickets needed to perform.” <— This is a fact. This also means that we have to sell a minimum of tickets just to perform. If we are unable to sell these tickets, we are faced with the choice of A) purchasing the remainder of tickets ourselves and performing or B) returning the money to the original buyers and not performing. Option A would definitely fall under the category of "Pay to play" as your comment has defined it. I know bands including us who have paid to play a Drusky show. <— this is also a fact. There are other promoters in this city who split the door with local bands no matter what the take is or how many tickets were sold. It is true that both promoters will be hesitant to work with a band that fails to produce a draw, but Drusky doesn't even give you the benefit of the doubt from the first show. I realize this is off topic of the original post and probably why no one replied to you originally. But I wanted to address your requests for a response with facts albeit 5 months after the fact.

  6. Ben from the Irishmen here. First off, fuck racist bigots. If you know me, then you also know I have zero tolerance for racism, sexism, anti-LGBT or anything that goes against your basic freedom as a human being.

    Secondly, saying something racially insensitive doesn’t make you a racist. This type of offensive, insensitive, ignorant, naïve, irresponsible and just plain idiotic behavior should make everyone angry, but there is a major difference between social injustice and saying something that was oblivious and moronic.

    I’m not attempting to justify Brian Drusky’s comments by any means. However, I believe in second chances; especially when there isn’t any sort of history or trend with a particular action. We all make mistakes. It’s what we do to educate ourselves and better the lives around us that truly make a difference.

    The fact remains that Drusky, or Josh, or whomever, have organized a music festival to benefit Strip District businesses and to showcase the amazing musical talent Pittsburgh has to offer. Your side issue of “who gets paid what” is a non-factor. I’ve been playing live music for the better part of two decades and have never run into a successful promoter on any level that works for free (or shows a band his books, for that matter). For this festival in particular, bands are guaranteed $0.75 on the dollar. You’re going to be hard-pressed to find similar contracts on the local level.

    Furthermore, we’re not doing this gig to get paid. We are doing this show for the community of the Strip District which we love and revere, the many businesses within that great community, the bands that we admire and most importantly, the many fans that constantly support the music in this city.

    The festival is “pay what you want”. So if you want to boycott Drusky Entertainment, don’t pay. The unfortunate result is that hardworking, independent, Pittsburgh musicians will be neglected and unfairly lumped in with comments that they couldn’t disagree more with .

    Lastly, I respect your position, Foo and appreciate the work that you do. However, writing a post filled with speculation, not facts, and comparing City Paper, Pabst Blue Ribbon and the rest of the sponsors (all local businesses) to Monsanto is irresponsible.

    I respect all of the bands and fans who have decided not to attend. I spoke with many of the bands on this bill (including several who have dropped off) and Davon Magwood, and I fully support their decision and love the idea of Bloom-Fest. But quitting this event isn’t going to bury anything except the promise of a great day of music in one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods.

    This continues to be an open dialogue and one that we will continually stand behind. Just remember that spewing (misdirected) anger at anger doesn’t get us anywhere. You said it yourself: this fiasco is costing the artists more than Drusky, which is indeed, ridiculous.

    1. Hi Ben, thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I’m responding on behalf of Foo and myself, as I contributed to both writing and researching this article. I stand by that research and disagree with your claim that this was full of “speculation.” Comparing Mr. Bakaitus to Monsanto was hyperbole, usage similar to your (not our) extension of that comparison to City Paper, PBR and any other sponsors of the festival.

      We decided to publish this article because of the many artists who did decide to drop from the festival lineup following Drusky’s comments. The payment issue is indeed a separate issue. The decision of artists to drop from the festival is obviously not influenced by money, but instead is a personal decisions to not support a business whose interests were revealed to not align with theirs.

      Quitting this event, for some, is a way to say “I don’t support what you stand for and I’m not going to help you continue to make money.” Shining a light on that courage is what we aimed to do. We are not spewing misdirected anger. The anger is appropriately directed.

      1. Hadley,

        I certainly respect that and would never try to assert someone else’s opinion or tell someone how to publicly display outrage. I just wanted to let you and your readers know where we stand as a band. Integrity and kindness have always been a priority of ours, no matter what. That said, we’re playing in support of the community, acts, vendors and fans. We have never, nor will ever be strong-armed into a performance. I understand that there is a much larger issue here and I’m hoping this dialogue continues and proliferates so that one day soon, this becomes a conversation that no one in America needs to have.

  7. I’m a baby boomer and white I am not a racist because my parents raised me right.

  8. They’re running a damn business. Of course they are motivated by profit. You can’t keep a business running without making a damn profit.

  9. Great arictle…. Thanks Hadley and Foo for the work you did here to display the truth after all seems to forget… Everyone deserves a second chance but to me only after showing they’ve leanr and grown from the first failure…

    As a promoter/supporter and most of all cash paying fan of live music I will not provide a dime to Drusky ENT in any form or fashion until I see a change… And even then Im not sure… I hope and pray that Bloom Fest went well I was at the Rex supporting the Joey Fattz album release party… I hope that at the end of all this the city shows more support for it’s local talent before they get national attention…..

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