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Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival is right around the corner.
Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival is right around the corner.
Photo by Alex Markow

Should Cancel Culture Dictate Music Festival Lineups?

Anticipating the bass-filled evenings of Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival next weekend, fans have begun mapping out their daily show schedules and strategizing how they'll navigate conflicting set times to see as many acts as possible.

Though most talk mentions must-see shows — including Vampire Weekend, Lucy Dacus, and Blood Orange — some Okeechobee enthusiasts on Reddit have singled out electronic duo Hippie Sabotage as one to skip.

Users who posted on Okeechobee's subreddit spoke out about the presence of Sacramento brothers Kevin and Jeff Saurer on the festival's 2020 lineup and pointed to a 2016 incident during the pair's performance at What the Fest in Portland, Oregon. As detailed by Billboard, a member of the group placed a security guard in a chokehold when a fight broke out. After a video of the skirmish spread online, Hippie Sabotage issued a statement: “It was an unfortunate event that placed us in an unsafe situation in the middle of our performance.” In a later interview, Jeff said, "The internet is completely wrong on what happened."

Many of the remarks by Redditors have questioned why Okeechobee would book Hippie Sabotage in light of the duo's history of bad behavior. Elsewhere on the site, posts accuse the group of impropriety at other gigs too.

Cancel culture was already fully underway when news of the Hippie Sabotage melee broke. In the three years since then, the volume surrounding demands to #cancel public figures for poor behavior has grown to deafening levels. Even in the world of EDM and bass, where it's all about good vibes all the time, it appears as though fans aren't too quick to forgive and forget when someone radiates bad energy.

What we're left with is the question of whether there's room for redemption when it comes to musical acts accused of less-than-saintly behavior: Should they be booked at music festivals and concert venues? And, if so, does that open the door to criticizing festival organizers and promoters who place those acts on lineups? Or should we let the free market decide and leave it up to concertgoers to decide whether they'll buy tickets? The flareup around Hippie Sabotage is just a microcosm of larger issues facing the music industry at a time when the discourse about who should or should not have a platform has never been louder.

Many, many months go into planning a music festival, much less booking its final lineup. So it's understandable that once a lineup drops, promoters probably won't remove an act from the bill based on the opinion of a limited but vocal faction. Contracts have been signed and salaries have been paid: Unless egregious stories come to light or the act cancels, the show will likely go on regardless of social media buzz. By virtue of their function, organizers and bookers have the greatest say in who will have a second chance in the public eye.

Ultimately, it’s up to festivalgoers to decide whether to show up for a controversial act's performance. Even if a scrutinized performer has been booked, attendees still have the power of strength in numbers and organization: Musical acts on the live circuit will continue to snag gigs only if they draw a crowd and sell tickets. Although concert promoters have their hands on the lever when it comes to whether a band will have a stage, audiences can decide whether to validate those acts.

Given that festivals are seen as places of positivity and community, maybe they should be sanctums for forgiveness as well. Guests aren't expected to know the background of each and every act on a lineup; because many festivals run for days, attendees can easily check out an artist simply by walking past a stage. It's the perfect environment for so-called problematic acts to reach fresh ears that may not be familiar to the act's questionable history. Former fans who've aired their grievances might not show up, but blissfully ignorant festivalgoers might give a #canceled band a shot at salvation. (Assuming, of course, the band has made amends for past shitty behavior.)

Many Okeechobee participants will not know the stories surrounding Hippie Sabotage, especially newer attendees less attuned to the ins and outs of EDM drama. They might stumble upon Hippie Sabotage's set during a break in their schedule and recognize the name from the song "Devil Eyes," which can be heard all over TikTok. Just as festival performances present a clean slate for talent with a troubled past, so do omnipresent social media platforms ruled by Gen-Z-ers. As more and more fresh faces discover the joys of music festivals, organizers are looking to them when determining which bands make the cut. As naive as young people may seem — whether they're unaware of Twitter talk or semi-obscure subreddit threads — their impressions will be weighed as heavily as (or more heavily than) anyone else's.

As cancel culture continues to permeate public conversation, the push-and-pull over who's worthy of redemption will persist — it's not easy deciding who's entitled to a second chance. But until a consensus is reached, the one thing we can count on is for festival organizers and concertgoers to continue playing their respective roles. If there's one thing that can't anger us, it's the natural order of things.

Okeechobee Music & Arts Festival 2020. With Vampire Weekend, Bassnectar, Mumford & Sons, and others. Thursday, March 5, through Sunday, March 8, in Sunshine Grove, 12517 NE 91st Ave., Okeechobee. Tickets cost $119 to $699 via okeechobeefest.com.

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