Country Music Has Found Its Weinstein Scandal. So Why Hasn’t There Been A Reckoning?


It had been seven weeks since Austin Rick began telling his story, and he was indignant. In October 2017, Rick posted on Fb that in 2008 Kirt Webster, who represented a few of nation music’s greatest stars, repeatedly coerced him into sexual acts. Rick mentioned this continued till sooner or later the 21-year-old singer awoke bare in mattress subsequent to Webster with no reminiscence of how he’d gotten there.

When Rick posted his story on Fb on Oct. 27, within the midst of #MeToo, he needed to ensure the outstanding publicist by no means abused anybody once more. Though Webster, 43, claimed by means of a consultant that his former consumer’s story was “unfaithful,” he stepped away from his agency virtually immediately after it hit the native press. Within the weeks that followed, more than 20 former staff got here ahead with tales of office sexual harassment and undesirable touching. Talking with BuzzFeed Information, three extra described a hellish work life with a boss who always made crude jokes and talked about his staff’ our bodies, pantomimed masturbation within the workplace, and bragged about buying and selling entry to his greatest consumer, Dolly Parton, for nude photographs; one mentioned Webster invited him and one other man to a “sleepover.” The overall quantity of people that have come ahead with tales of Webster’s office sexual harassment is now properly over two dozen.

Austin Rick (going by stage identify Austin Cody) in 2006.

Courtesy of Austin Rick

Webster retreated from his agency, however his consultant launched a statement saying he had accomplished so “to give attention to combating the egregious and unfaithful allegations made towards him.” He didn’t reply to a number of requests for touch upon an in depth abstract of this story, and has stayed out of the general public eye since November.

Because the variety of voices swelled, Rick hoped that the nationwide reckoning with sexual assault and harassment would hit nation music too.

He’s nonetheless ready. Rick mentioned one factor distinguished Nashville’s sidestep from the eruptions in Hollywood, media, and government: A overwhelming majority of nation artists and executives have refused to even acknowledge something is mistaken.

Former staff mentioned they needed Webster roundly condemned, and what they bought was a sprinkle of tepid disapproval. Many merely needed Webster’s former shoppers to say “I consider you.” “Dolly Parton hopes that we're all mendacity,” Rick mentioned with a scoff, referring to the statement she put out following Rick’s allegations, that she was “hoping” the tales weren’t true. “Thanks, Dolly, that's nice.” Parton didn’t reply to requests for touch upon this story.

Parton and Child Rock, amongst others, dropped Webster as their consultant. Child Rock launched a extra sharply worded assertion than Parton’s, however nonetheless mentioned that he too hoped the allegations had been false. Most individuals related to Webster mentioned nothing concerning the allegations, together with his agency’s second-in-command, Jeremy Westby, who was introduced as Webster’s successor earlier than leaving to begin an unbiased agency on Nov. 2. Westby is Webster’s long-term romantic associate, 12 former staff advised BuzzFeed Information; public data present the lads dwelling on the identical handle from 2013 by means of November 2017. Westby didn’t touch upon the allegations towards Webster or on whether or not they had been nonetheless a pair. “Kirt has not been and isn’t concerned in my new firm,” he mentioned.

There was no pronounced assist for the individuals who mentioned Webster harm them, and thus, in contrast to in different industries, there was no sign to different victims that now was the time to begin naming names.

“I’m afraid it’s all gonna go away.”

Victims noticed this hush as an indication that sexual misconduct was not taken significantly in Nashville, and that Webster may catch himself midfall. Some additionally mentioned this despatched a chilling message to different victims on Music Row: In the event that they got here ahead, nobody would take up their trigger. In Hollywood, lots of of girls signed on to the Time’s Up initiative to fight sexual abuse, whereas nation had a smattering of essential voices that by no means fairly grew to become a refrain. After a DJ sued Taylor Swift for saying he groped her, she received her countersuit and later donated to Time’s Up, and artists like Kacey Musgraves and Maren Morris have criticized harassment within the trade. However Rick and the previous staff, for probably the most half, felt completely alone.

And as Webster dropped out of headlines and native police determined that the allegations had been too previous to pursue a case, it was unclear what the precise penalties for the publicist can be. A former worker mentioned, “I’m afraid it’s all gonna go away.” It’s a pressure of unease that’s sinking in all throughout the nation. The query of what occurs after #MeToo haunts Rick and the dozen former staff who spoke to BuzzFeed Information.

“Anybody who desires to see professional change, that is our window of alternative proper right here,” Rick mentioned. “If nobody else will get up and assist me, then I’ll simply preserve at it.”

From left: Jeremy Westby, Kirt Webster, Dolly Parton, and Danny Nozell in 2012.

Rick Diamond / Getty Photographs

Almost all of the 23 artists, writers, and employees at publicity companies, a document firm, and an company interviewed for this story mentioned nation music stays a small, insulated trade the place status is every thing and there are extra whistleblowers on the blacklist than predators. And whereas Webster could also be gone, ladies and men in Nashville say a tradition of silence stays. One former Webster PR worker mentioned that her present boss approached her after the allegations towards Webster broke and advised her to remain out of it. “He saved repeating, ‘You don’t have anything to achieve by coming ahead,’” she mentioned.

There’s ample proof that sexual harassment in Nashville isn’t up for dialogue. Reached this week, Danny Nozell, Parton’s supervisor and Webster’s longtime good friend and affiliate, mentioned he didn’t learn about any sexual harassment allegations earlier than they grew to become public and declined to remark additional on the allegations towards his colleague. When BuzzFeed Information requested 12 companies that beforehand labored with Webster or his shoppers whether or not they would work with him sooner or later, solely two, Kicker Nation Stampede and Reviver Leisure Group, mentioned they’d not work with him once more. “We now have no plans to work with him once more sooner or later, regardless of this matter, and definitely now wouldn’t think about working with him once more due to this matter,” mentioned Reviver’s president and CEO, David Ross.

“He saved repeating, ‘You don’t have anything to achieve by coming ahead.’”

Time Life and the Nation Music Affiliation answered not directly, each saying they weren’t at present planning to work with him, whereas Massive Machine Label Group, which labored with Webster by means of his shoppers, mentioned, “It’s not the tradition of the Massive Machine Label Group to condone any such conduct at any degree from anybody we affiliate with.” The opposite seven entities — Sony, the Academy of Nation Music, L3 Administration, Vector Administration, Outback Live shows, Neste Leisure, and Nation Thunder Music Festivals — didn’t reply in any respect or declined to remark.

On Feb. 5, Nation Radio Seminar revoked press credentials for NewsChannel 5 reporter Jesse Knutson and requested him to go away the premises after he advised the occasion’s public relations consultant that he deliberate to ask questions on how CRS was addressing the sexual harassment and misconduct in radio recently documented by Rolling Stone. On Wednesday, after NewsChannel 5 reported on the debacle, CRS officers agreed to an interview with Knutson. CRS didn’t reply to BuzzFeed Information’ a number of requests for remark.

It was reported just last week that the disgraced nation music DJ David Mueller — who a jury determined groped Taylor Swift — was employed at a radio station in Mississippi. And as a parade of males in movie and TV had been being outed as harassers and publicly castigated, one of many solely folks within the nation music trade to talk brazenly about sexual misconduct discovered herself embroiled in a lawsuit. In October, singer Katie Armiger mentioned she was groped by radio DJs a number of occasions all through her profession — and was blacklisted for openly complaining about it. Two weeks later, Armiger was sued by her former label, Chilly River Data, for allegedly breaching her nondisclosure settlement.

Recording artist Katie Armiger attends the Dial World Radio Remotes in 2013.

Jason Kempin / Getty Photographs

Armiger declined to remark instantly on the continuing lawsuit towards her, however mentioned that in nation music, victims are nonetheless anticipated to maintain quiet about sexual harassment. “For those who're a feminine artist and also you converse out, that would restrict your probabilities of being performed [on the radio] once they're already slim to none,” she advised BuzzFeed Information.

And if girls are anticipated to endure objectification, the foundations are even much less clear for males who report abuse by different males.

“For those who're a feminine artist and also you converse out, that would restrict your probabilities of being performed.”

Alex Caress, the lead singer of Little Bandit and one of many few out musicians in nation, rattled off a listing of queer artists that was so quick he mentioned it made him really feel unhappy. Caress thinks the trade by and huge refused to handle the allegations towards Webster as a result of “to be able to try this, you kind of must acknowledge that homosexual folks exist, and that doesn’t appear to be one thing that they’re interested by.”

And Music Row’s squeamishness was evidenced by the way in which Webster performed his personal life.

Former staff advised BuzzFeed Information that Webster lived with “one foot nonetheless within the closet”; a number of mentioned that the publicist expressed shock when folks ascertained that he was homosexual. When he labored for particularly conservative shoppers — one supply remembered Mitt Romney, one other remembered the Academy of Nation Music Awards — Webster would actively conceal his sexuality, reserving two lodge rooms for himself and his boyfriend, Westby, on a enterprise journey as a substitute of 1.

When Rick was nonetheless attempting to make it as a rustic music artist, worry that Webster might destroy his fledgling profession saved him quiet. After he left the trade, he stayed quiet partially due to disgrace, enhanced by the stigma of being a male sufferer. “I felt like a disgusting excuse for all times, and so I didn't inform anyone,” he mentioned.

“I felt like a disgusting excuse for all times, and so I didn't inform anyone.”

Disgrace saved Webster’s male workers feeling trapped too. One former Webster PR worker mentioned he would solely converse to BuzzFeed Information on situation of anonymity, largely as a result of most of his household doesn’t know he’s homosexual, and he hasn’t advised them that Webster pinched his nipples within the workplace and repeatedly confirmed him a dildo he saved in his desk and talked about one other worker “sitting on it.”

That disgrace, combined with worry of retaliation, has saved individuals who say they had been harassed by Webster from figuring out themselves even after his identify has turn out to be synonymous with abuse allegations. And that, in flip, has made it simpler for Nashville to observe its impulse to disregard a possible controversy till it goes away, with none critical reckoning.

Kirt Webster in 2015.

Rick Diamond / Getty Photographs

Webster himself relied on a system of express intimidation, sources advised BuzzFeed Information, relying on the small measurement of the trade — and his stature inside it — to encourage folks to remain in his good graces. Two former staff recalled an incident from round 2015 the place a job posting appeared in an trade publication, Nation Aircheck, with out itemizing the agency; a number of days later, Webster knowledgeable his workers that he himself had written the advert, calling it a loyalty take a look at. It made one girl who labored there suppose any job posting could possibly be a entice.

“If nobody else will get up and assist me, then I’ll simply preserve at it.”

And Rick mentioned when he was nonetheless attempting to make it as a rustic star, Webster would gesture in his workplace to the numerous photographs of himself with highly effective folks and recommend that he might give Rick that type of profession. Rick believed him. He additionally believed that Webster might take that profession away. In a small trade, these in Webster’s circle had been satisfied the phrase of 1 highly effective man who felt wronged might derail your Nashville hopes. Now, watching folks like Armiger publicly flail makes them suppose they had been proper.

However the mechanisms that preserve folks quiet don’t apply to Rick anymore: “The issue with Kirt is he picked on somebody, he victimized somebody … who has nothing to lose,” he mentioned. He was decided, and strengthened by the supportive emails and messages he’s obtained from different victims — each women and men— within the trade. Rick continued, “If nobody else will get up and assist me, then I’ll simply preserve at it. I’ll preserve at it so that each time [Webster] reveals his head, that he’s going to be confronted about it. I signify lots of people now.”

As a result of he mentioned so many had been nonetheless silent or anonymous, Rick added the inverse of #MeToo: “It’s not simply me.” ●



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