Last Saturday morning, when I saw posts on Facebook about Corey Smith’s show at the new venue Track 29 in Chattanooga being shut down when he began singing “F#@$ the Po Po”, I knew that some of my friends would be interested. I know some people who follow Corey Smith; I am a big fan of the Raleigh-based American Aquarium, the band that opened the Chattanooga show and opened for Smith in Savannah earlier this summer; I have friends who are serious music producers and have a dream of a larger venue — something of Track 29’s size — here in Savannah.
I did not, however, expect that post to get over 1,000 hits in the first two days. For whatever reason, no bloggers or news organizations with robust presences in the Chattanooga market were writing about the incident. So my almost purely informational post was one of the first sites that showed up in internet searches. There would seem to be some obvious lessons here for regional blogs trying to get readers and for traditional media outlets trying to transition to the age of online news.
Since I made that post, a number of things have become clearer, so I’m posting now just to lay out some of that information.
First off, Corey Smith has written and recorded a new song — delivered in a kind of rap — about the incident Saturday night. You can download a free copy of “Chattanooga” here on Smith’s website.
Smith tells a story of a previous incident involving law enforcement in Chattanooga (a run-in with a now Beer and Wrecker Board officer who was officially in attendance on Friday) that he says led to the shutdown, which he puts in stark terms:
“They conspired to kill the P.A.
Like it was Red China not the U.S.A.
[. . .]
It was censorship at its worst
And there’s a damn good reason that amendment is first
If we don’t check power, then power checks us
And power ain’t always just.”
Speaking of himself in the third person, Smith concludes the new song this way:
“He vows to go back to Chattanooga one day
and he’s going to sing at the top of his lungs:
‘F#@$ the Po Po’!”
There are finally some seemingly thorough news reports about Friday’s fiasco, including this piece from the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
For more of Smith’s thoughts, check out Censorship in Chattanooga on his website, which begins:
There have been two times in my life when my rights were undeniably violated. One was in 2003, when I was wrongfully arrested for disorderly conduct for voicing my displeasure with the way a road block near my house was being conducted by local law enforcement. Although the charges against me were later dropped, I felt compelled to write a song about my ordeal.
Ironically, the second time was last night in Chattanooga, TN, when my show was shut down prematurely for attempting to perform that very song.
Safety and security are always given as justifications for the infringement of our freedom.
For the Track 29 perspective and apology the day after the incident, alleging safety concerns, check out the Facebook post here. That post now has 225 comments; posts on the Track 29 page on Saturday were often being erased, so it’s an improvement that the venue has been willing for several days to allow critics to make public statements.
While Smith lays the primary blame for Friday’s censorship on a particular incident several years ago, one has to wonder if the Track 29 incident was also related to a violent police encounter (two 43-year olds were arrested) a couple of weeks ago or to apparent concerns about underage drinking at the 18+ show. The Drive-By Truckers show scheduled for Saturday night, which apparently was a big success, made a last minute change to deny entry to anyone under 21.
Still, the piece from the Times Free Press linked above contains this likely scenario, as confirmed by Smith himself:
When asked if he was asked to censor the song, Track 29 co-owner Josh McManus said the venue would not make further comments beyond what was in their Facebook statement.
Smith said Tuesday afternoon that he was going on what his tour manager told him.
“When I walked off before my encore, the crowd began chanting for ‘Po Po,’ which is a normal occurrence. My tour manager said that the venue demanded that I not play it and that a city official told them they would pull their license or threatened action against them if I was allowed to play the song.
“They [Track 29 management] said if I played the song, they would pull the plug and I would never play there again.”
I could go on and on about this, but I’d say it boils down to a pretty basic issue with artistic and business freedom.
No venue should book a musician and then expect said musician to censor his or her playlist. (“F@#$ the Po Po” is one of Smith’s signature songs, after all.)
And no business should be squeezed by local governments looking to micromanage their operations (if that is what indeed happened).