With last week’s announcement of Roxodus, the huge ‘celebration of rock’ music festival occurring next summer south of Wasaga Beach, Ontario comes this opinion piece from the editors of Addicted Magazine.
Any festival is going to have its detractors, whether it’s about the off-the-chart hip levels or thick frosting of corporate sponsorship. But the concern here is the sheer whitemaness exuding from Roxodus. This festival is headlined* by Nickelback, Kid Rock and the remnant scraps of Lynyrd Skynyrd plus Alice Cooper, Cheap Trick and Peter Frampton. Without debating the quality of the acts, the biggest question the music department here at Addicted are asking is, where’s the diversity? Where is the anything-but-old-white-dude representation? While Lee Aaron, Lita Ford and female-fronted Headpins are on the bill, those third line acts will play in bright sunlight to a mostly ambivalent crowd before the old boys come out at night. Sure, classic rock isn’t the most diverse genre but it’s the largest known in all of music. And while no one denies this festival’s necessity to make money, which occurs through the headline acts, surely there are rock acts from the 70s to the 00s that could be a bit more diverse. Without even thinking very hard, Carlos Santana, Lenny Kravitz, Gary Clark Jr., Blondie, Heart and The Pretenders would easily add flavor to this plain yogourt lineup. Hell, this old white dude would go to that festival in a minute, but only if Santana agreed NOT to play that Smooth song.
When it comes to the bottom line, the producers of events like this have to consider who will open their wallets to make the financial commitment to attend a festival. And they have to consider the acts that will ensure lots of tickets get sold. At the early bird rates, a general admission ticket for the three days at Roxodus is $229 before all the fees and taxes get loaded on. VIP is near double that. Even with a shooting-fish-in-barrel-approach to this lineup, Roxodus may not be successful financially. I’m aware that this is a classic rock festival. It’s hard to imagine seeing The Beaches or Jazz Cartier open for Nickelback even at a Canadian music festival. However, that would actually benefit Canada’s unelected ambassador rockers. I’m no fan of Nickelback’s music, but I bet they put on a polished, over-the-top dumb-fun rock show. I think they’d be in a position to win a few people (out of tens of thousands) over, or at least away from the default position of hating them without even hearing their music. Finally, on the topic of money, I understand how much of it this festival will inject into Simcoe County, and that’s an amazing thing. I know this one weekend event can make the rest of the year more comfortable for locals who stand to earn off it. That’s amazing, if true. I’m not saying this festival shouldn’t exist. I hope the Edenvale Airport proves to be an amazing site for future music festivals to come. All sorts of different kinds of music festivals.
So, the question many are probably asking is ‘who says inclusion of women, people of color and Indigenous heritage and the LGBTQ community is the responsibility of a music festival where it’s all about good tunes, good times and some quality hangs with other people enjoying the same’?
Well, the western world says so.
This isn’t about favoritism or taking pieces of pie from Kid Rock and his fans and handing them without qualification over to someone who dwells in the margins. This is about equality and parity being an important issue that definitely walks hand in hand with good music and good times. You know that beat that makes you sway your creaky hips? People of color introduced that to blues and country music to make rock and roll. Do you Love Rock And Roll? Joan Jett taught you to sing that phrase loudly and without shame. Am I saying that Kid Rock, Nickelback and Lynyrd Skynyrd don’t deserve to headline a festival? Of course I’m not saying that. But would it hurt anyone or ticket sales if consideration was made to give the stage for a little while to new and different voices? It wouldn’t. It might even sell a few thousand more tickets and actually help smother some of the global garbage dump of nationalistic bigotry and hatred that has somehow become tolerable over the last few years. In fact, Roxodus is the perfect platform to address issues of inequality and bias. Making equality a top line issue at some indie festival attended mostly by bearded lefties isn’t helping the cause. It’s singing protest songs at the choir.
Luckily, there’s still plenty of time for the organizers of Roxodus to make good and find more balance. Again, I’m not saying that Peter Frampton, Alice Cooper and Cheap Trick need to be ousted off the roster to make way for Tribe Called Red, The Beaches and Blood Orange. And again, I would buy tickets for a festival with those six acts on the bill faster than Chad Kroeger can slam down shots of tequila in a gentleman’s club.
But it WOULD be great if room was made on the bill for headlining level acts like those to be included. With ‘many more’ artists still to be added, there’s time for consideration and action. I’d bet there’s several slots that would happily be taken by less homogeneous artists. I’m sure there’s room to have a few booths for marginalized groups to be available to offer info and assistance. Here’s hoping that prior to July, we can see this festival reflect Ontario for its diversity and not as an overblown piss-up party that our regressive milky provincial government and shameless Premier would throw in his mom’s suburban Toronto backyard. You can just picture Dougie blasting Honeymoon Suite, mullet flowing in the breeze, while cruising the mean streets of Etobicoke in his Camaro back in the day, can’t you?
Any step made for balance will be a step towards modernity – towards where we should be, where we need to be, when considering the importance of true equality in Canada. Yes, a music festival of a few less white dudes hired to entertain mostly white dudes CAN be a point of progressive action without losing the good times. Based on the country I remember growing up in, it’s actually a very Canadian sounding music festival.
*Updated to add this comment from Alan Cross, Ambassador of Roxodus Music Festival:
“We’ve approached numerous artists and bands within the rock genre to perform from all backgrounds. Competition for booking acts for summer festivals is fierce. We have more work to do, and more announcements will be made in the coming weeks and months. Stay tuned.”