Last Weekend's Rally In The Sun Was An Affront To Free Speech And Artistic Expression.
By Lisa Weeks
AS FANS OF alternative music are already aware, last Saturday's outdoor, all-ages music festival, Rally in the Sun, held for the second consecutive year at Rillito Park, was not all it was cracked up to be.
Popular Scottsdale hip-hop group Chronic Future, one of nine bands booked months in advance for this year's event, was banned from appearing because of a contract dispute between the band's management, Stone Age Management, and Rally promoter Bradley Nozicka.
According to Chronic Future manager Willobee Carlan, Nozicka required Carlan to guarantee the band would not use any "profanity" on-stage, either between songs or within songs, effectively requiring the band to censor its lyrics.
When Carlan requested a list of words falling under Nozicka's definition of "profane," Nozicka provided only a verbal list, which included "shit," "fuck," "piss," "cunt," "hell," and "damn," according to Carlan.
According to Carlan, county officials presiding over the Rillito facilities threatened Chronic Future, and any other offender, with a fine of $2,500 per "profane" word, and news that the band planned to proceed with its songs uncensored was met with further threats by county parks officials to extend the fine to Rally promoter Nozicka, and the sound engineers as well.
Carlan said the band would have had no problem ignoring some ill-conceived public obscenity statue designed to squelch free speech, but he didn't want Chronic Future to become known in show-biz circles as a group who broke its word to a promoter over a contractual matter. Thus he advised the band to forego the Rally.
Pima County Attorney Barbara La Wall, who was unaware of the dispute last week, said the county has an anti-obscenity ordinance designed to punish those whose speech endangers public safety--yelling racial epithets at a Ku Klux Klan rally, for example. The ordinance is not designed to stifle artistic performances, and has never been invoked against lyrics at a concert, she said.
Upon hearing the news of Chronic Future's problems the Thursday prior to the event, Robert Schimmel, the HBO comedian scheduled to host the Rally, canceled his appearance. Apparently Schimmel was not made aware by Rally in the Sun, Inc., of any responsibility on his part to keep it clean or else, and, like Chronic Future, refused to be censored.
So how did this mess happen?
Rally in the Sun's Nozicka signed what County Parks and Recreation Director Dan Felix referred to as a "standard contract" for use of the facilities at Rillito Park. Standard but for one clause unique to Rillito Park and this concert:
"Licensee shall supply the County with a list of the bands/musicians and performers together with the type of music and language contained therein at least 20 days before the event. The County will not permit any nudity or profanity by any of the performers during this concert. Non-compliance to this request may result in a cancellation of your reservation."
The clause, drawn up by Parks Department personnel, was added to the contract due to complaints from nearby residents following last year's Rally, Felix said. He was not clear about the nature of the complaints, but said, "Due to the fact that this is an open-air, and not an enclosed facility," the county required "reassurance" the concert would be conducted from a "family-oriented basis within certain parameters." (Rillito Park may be an open-air facility, but there is not a single residential structure visible from anywhere within the concert area.)
Nozicka apparently felt no hurry to apprise the performers of the obligation to provide a list of lyrics. According to Felix, Nozicka supplied a "verbal list" to the Parks Department 20 days before the event, and also provided verbal assurances scheduled performances would respect the profanity/nudity clause.
The mere fact that no written list of "the type of music and language contained therein" was ever supplied to Parks Department officials means that Nozicka and Rally in the Sun, Inc., were in breach of contract weeks in advance of their Chronic problems. So why wasn't the reservation canceled, as called for in the contract?
And just who is charged with determining what constitutes "profanity"--a word meaning "not concerned with religion or religious purposes," according to most dictionaries--and "nudity" under the contract?
And are park rangers, whose official duty is, in Felix's words, to "ensure public safety," also charged with censoring artistic speech? Apparently Nozicka was responsible for ensuring the performers respected his contractual obligation to the Parks Department, but it was up to park rangers to determine whether a certain band's performance was consistent with the contractual terms--a task obviously beyond the scope of a public safety officer's normal duties.
Ironically, the parks officials, in their asinine effort to protect the ears and eyes of children and neighbors--First Amendment rights be damned--succeeded in banning the only band at the Rally whose members were all minors.
And regardless of the absurd and offensive--not to mention legally bankrupt--notion behind the Parks Department's contractual request, what kind of jackass would not only agree to such wholly unconstitutional terms, but act on them? How ridiculous is it that any promoter, much less one promoting a rock-and-roll concert, would allow the artists he hires to be hobbled by such an outrageous and contemptible provision?
Could it be that this ludicrous and embarrassing reality is the reason why performers, not to mention the "proud" sponsors of this "all-ages event"--two of whom were beer companies--were not notified at the time they were booked, nor when Nozicka gave his verbal assurances 20 days prior to the event, that they would be subject to censorship?
When it comes to the Pima County Parks and Recreation Department officials taking it upon themselves to protect the public from naughty words, perhaps they, as Ben Collins of Chronic Future rather aptly put it, should "stick to preventing forest fires and keeping Yogi Bear from stealing picnic baskets."
Last week's article, "It's Your Money," on the city budget left the wrong impression about Councilman Steve Leal's intentions for staffing his office. Leal told The Weekly he had no plans to fill the funded additional part-time position for his staff at this time. But he said he wanted to keep his options for later in the fiscal year. Dave Devine, the author of the article, regrets this misunderstanding.
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