A music performance at the Bayou Boogaloo & Cajun Food Festival by Boots Riley, the well-known front man for The Coup, ended abruptly with police charges of “abusive language.” Boots was charged with an obscure law even the police had difficulty finding; citing him with Â§ 18.2-416. http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?000+cod+18.2-416. This law has never been applied to a performer. In this situation, Boots’ lyrics were only “provoking” a good time, as the vast majority of the people in attendance were dancing and visibly upset when the festival pulled the plug. The city is pressing forward with the charge â€“ which the city is enforcing for the first time in 26 years. Since the incident on June 21st, numerous false reports have emerged, and Riley is looking to set the record straight.
Riley claims the charges were racially motivated as they are part of a backlash from the recent Afr’Am Festival in Norfolk in which Gospel and R&B performances generated “noise complaints,” despite the performers adhering to the same decibel parameters as all of Norfolk’s other festivals. The Afr’am fest has been the subject of controversy since. Both festivals occurred at Towne Point Park, an area where high-priced condos have recently been built and an impending $11.5 million makeover is in the works.
“City Officials claim that they are making the statement that profanity will not be tolerated,” says Boots Riley. “Obviously, since no one has been charged with this in 26 years, profanity IS tolerated. The statement they are making is that the culture and the people they feel I represent won’t be tolerated. I was already off stage; the man they asked to leave the stage was Trombone Shorty, another Black man who looks nothing like me. This happened at 10:00PM, and it was far from a ‘family’ atmosphere, most of the audience was intoxicated after drinking at the festival’s bar – ‘The Missing Kidney’. There was also a VIP section where free alcohol was distributed by the keg. Anyone who has been to a music festival on a Saturday night understands the scene. I did not leave the park afterward, as was claimed by FestEvents, the organizers of the Bayou Boogaloo Festival. I stayed and debated the validity of the charge with police and festival promoters. It is clear that this is part of a larger debate that has nothing to do with profanity, one that is being dealt with nationwide. That debate is about racism, gentrification and the ownership of public space.”
Neither FestEvents nor the city indicated that swearing was a concern at this paid-admission festival. Additionally, the chorus of the only song Riley performs on the album, the release of which brought him to Norfolk, VA in the first place, contains the phrase “What the F–k?â€, inferring FestEvents knew what they were getting. There was never a “slew” of profanity as reports indicate, only a few words that were meant to flatter, explain a life situation, or used as a lyrical device to provoke positive thought.
FestEvents’ statement that Riley’s act was a “surprise” to them is false. It was and is currently posted on their website with a hyperlink to Boots Riley and The Coupâ€™s MySpace, under the link â€œThe Bands of Bayou Boogalooâ€. http://www.festeventsva.org/events.php?event=102&mini=122&events_site_PSID=hld8jgenmj8tjfggfpf2nej8c6