River Festival

Riverfest headlining rapper pulled after playing anti-Trump song. Festival blames weather

The headlining rapper at Riverfest was cut off before his set was scheduled to end, spurring controversy.

Talib Kweli, an outspoken rap activist, was scheduled to be the lead performer at the festival’s “Wet ‘n Wild Dance Party” on Wednesday evening.

Some attendees are convinced that his show was cut off because of his politically charged messages — including a profanity-laced anti-Trump song.

Festival officials say the performance was ended early because of threatening weather — which had already delayed the show for more than an hour. Festival officials were also concerned about profanity, said Mary Beth Jarvis, president and CEO of Wichita Festivals.

“I don’t give a hoot about Talib’s politics, or the views expressed by any of our artists (and there have been ALL kinds), but we don’t want profanity to rule the day at our festival,” Jarvis wrote in an e-mail. “Bottom line, Talib’s fans would be off base if they think his views were an issue last night. “

At the same time, an acoustic country show on the festival’s RedGuard Stage, about a block away, was allowed to continue after Kweli’s show was shut down.

What happened

The “Wet ‘n Wild Dance Party,” which was sponsored by Channel 96.3, started at 5:15 p.m. with a performance by DJ Carbon on the Wichita Acura Dealers Stage on Kennedy Plaza.

Wichita-native rapper XV followed at 7:30 p.m., but by 8:15 p.m., stormy weather had passed into the downtown Wichita area.

Riverfest suspended all festival activities for about 20 minutes as the storms passed. It then reopened and started “cleaning the stages in anticipation of getting our headliners onstage to play tonight,” according to a news release from the festival.

Kweli took the stage around 9:15 p.m., according to festival officials.

Some attendees say his performance lasted about 30 minutes; Jarvis said that he “played all but 9 minutes of his 60 minute set.”

The following details have been culled from a Facebook Live stream of the concert a fan posted online:

During his set, Kweli — who bills himself as the “racist rapper career killer” on Twitter — performed songs and spoke about racism and social injustice.

“This generation’s got its own protest songs,” he said midway through the performance. “One of them is by one of my favorite rappers — he was just recently taken away from us, rest in peace Nipsey Hussle. He did a song with YG that expresses what I want to say.”

Immediately afterward, the self-explanatory chorus of “F--- Donald Trump” blared over the speakers, repeating eight times as people in the crowd cheered.

“Sometimes when you stand up to white supremacy, some white people — obviously not y’all here — but some of you get very upset, and they feel like you’re talking about them personally. If you say ‘F--- Donald Trump’ and if you say ‘F--- white supremacy,’ and somebody says, ‘Why you talking about me?’ then I was talking about you,” he said.

“Don’t be scared to say it. I mean, I know there’s kids here and everything, but sometimes righteous anger is necessary. Sometimes you’ve gotta speak truth to power.”

Around the same time Mary Beth Jarvis, president and CEO of Wichita Festivals, said the sound/stage provider reported his “lightning detection equipment was popping.”

Jarvis said the Riverfest’s stage manager gave Kweli’s management a “last song” indication.

Kweli soon after launched into a performance of Mos Def’s 1999 song, “Umi Says,” before walking off stage.

A few seconds later, Kweli returned to the stage and talked to the crowd sans microphone.

Jarvis then walked on stage and pointed to the sky, signaling to cut the show, she said.

She said Kweli was gracious and gave her a hug — after which she tried to lead a round of applause for him.

The rapper then left the stage.

Reactions

Jessica Griffith, who was in the front row, said she stood around for two hours in the rain to see Kweli, of whom she is a fan.

“The weather seemed to be getting better, but after he did that (Trump) song and the crowd was singing along, not even a minute or two later was when they came up on stage and cut it off,” she said.

“Everyone just looked kind of confused and baffled and upset. ... It just seemed like very weird timing with the content of what was going on in the concert.”

Ryan Sellers, who was at the show Wednesday night, said that “if anybody knows Kweli, you know he gets political.”

“If you listen to him before inviting him to come, you would know what to expect,” he said. “I don’t think they did their due diligence on this artist they invited to come.”

After Kweli’s show was over, both Griffith and Sellers walked over to the RedGuard Stage, where Jerrod Neimann continued to play.

Jarvis said that concert continued because the weather situation was different there — about 1,000 feet away.

“We weren’t getting the same readings with regards to lightning (at the RedGuard Stage),” Jarvis said in an email. “Secondly, it was an artist doing an acoustic set, so pulling him off was a simple prospect if the lightning detector down there started to pop.”

Neimann’s show ended on schedule.

Though she emphasized the lightning threat was the cause of Kweli’s set being cut, Jarvis also said “Talib struggled throughout his show to adhere to his contractual requirement to keep it radio edits/all-ages show.”

Wichita Festivals did not provide the Eagle with a copy of the contract between the festival and Javotti Media, Kweli’s management group, but did provide a copy of an email.

Jarvis said that in that April email exchange, Riverfest told Kweli’s management that “this is an all-ages family festival, so we ask for PG-13/radio edit,” to which his people replied, “Will make sure everyone is aware.”

Riverfest performances in the past have included foul language — including Liz Phair and Cypress Hill just last year.

“I’ve been to plenty of concerts at Riverfest over the last two years, and it happens at almost all of them,” Griffith said.

In response to an upset Wichita fan on Twitter, Kweli tweeted to “direct the anger at your town not me.”

He also said that “there are no stipulations in any contract I sigh abt (sic) language or content. If there was, I wouldn’t sign it. I’m not a slave.”

Kweli’s management group, Javotti Media, did not reply to an emailed request for comment.

A written statement posted to Riverfest’s Facebook page said that “we’re amazed that under the circumstances, we got any of the headliners on last night.”

“We are truly sorry to disappoint some fans. We love both of these artists, too,” the statement read.

Matt Riedl covers arts and entertainment news for the Wichita Eagle and has done so since 2015. He maintains the Keeper of the Plans blog on Facebook, dedicated to keeping Wichitans abreast of all things fun.
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