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 AXS.com 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.
We 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.