Controversial all-ages charity concert canceled in Texas

Thursday, June 10, 1999

An Amarillo, Texas, band says its civil rights were violated when its scheduled charity concert was canceled after a local church protested that the band's material was inappropriate for minors.

The Big End of School Bash '99 was scheduled to take place May 28 at the Tri-State Fairgrounds' Rex Baxter Building and was advertised as an “all-ages” show to benefit the South Amarillo Optimist Club and its charities for children.

Pagan Graves member Chris Whitehead said the show was supposed to provide a drug- and alcohol-free environment for kids of all ages on graduation night, historically a dangerous night of drinking and driving for area teens.

Whitehead and band manager Robert Sowle claim that the band's civil rights were violated by the show's cancellation.

First Church of the Nazarene started the ball rolling, Sowle said. He said that after church member Jean Gray saw a flier for the event naming Pagan Graves as the headlining band, she contacted Whitehead and the Rev. Ray McDowell, senior pastor of First Church of the Nazarene.

Sowle said the church's main concern was over the name of the band, but McDowell said that after he purchased the Pagan Graves album, “My Right to Die,” he decided to raise public awareness about the inappropriateness of the band's material for young people.

“We expressed our right to free speech by opposing [the concert] being open to all ages,” McDowell said. His concerns were confirmed, he said, when he came across a ticket to a canceled Pagan Graves show from last year that read: “Not appropriate for young audiences.”

“What adults choose to participate in is their privilege; however, it's a different scenario for children,” McDowell said. Communities have a responsibility to discern what is appropriate for children, he says.

Sowle, Whitehead and Chuck Houston, president of the South Amarillo Optimist Club, said that the show was, indeed, fine for minors. “It's not any different than what kids hear on the radio all the time,” Houston said. He has known Whitehead for several years and said he was glad to offer to sponsor the after-graduation charity concert.

Things started to fall apart for the planned concert when the Potter County Sheriff's Department — which, according to event fliers, was providing security — denied that it had agreed to do so and told the band that it did not have the manpower to cover the event, Whitehead said. Once the department pulled out, Whitehead said the fairground's manager told him that was the loophole she needed to shut the concert down.

The fairgrounds' manager was unavailable for comment.

Lt. Joe Morris of the Potter County Sheriff's Department said that the band incorrectly presumed that the department would provide security.

“Everybody deserves security whether we agree with their agenda or not,” Morris said, but he said he can't force off-duty officers to cover an event. He said the decision was left up to the individual officers, and “they decided of their own volition not to get involved.”

Morris said that no one was interested in providing security for the band because of the controversy surrounding the concert.

Whitehead claims that the Nazarene church contacted civic officials and put pressure on them to cancel the show. “All we're trying to do is run a show for charity, and [the church] is running a slander campaign against us,” Whitehead said.

McDowell said he had no power to sway civic leaders, other than getting the word out about the type of show Pagan Graves was planning for an all-ages audience.

Pagan Graves had never played an all-ages show and was hoping to broaden its audience by playing to everyone, Sowle said.

A look at the band's Web site reveals the type of show that Pagan Graves is known for producing: “You can't stop watching, as PAGAN GRAVES take you on a chilling roller-coaster ride of stomach-gripping suspense that throws you against the brick wall of morality. PAGAN GRAVES' white-knuckle, hair-curling-on-the-back-of-your-neck live show is as close to actual physical terror music can deliver. By the end, you will be emotionally exhausted … shaken … and disturbed.”

McDowell said he found the band's lyrics about accepting suicide and mass murders inappropriate for children.

McDowell cited lyrics from “Bad Seed,” a song on the band's album, as an example of harmful lyrics. Some of the song's lyrics include: “Do unto others/ Before they do unto you? Die or be tried/ The choice is up to you … Never let time/ Weild (sic) the final knife/ Take control and you will know/ When it's time to take your life … Bleed my mind … I'm your master/ Kill 'em all … I'm your bastard.”

Whitehead said that the album, “My Right to Die,” was about euthanasia. “It's not pro-suicide,” he said.

Attempts to find another venue to host the Summer Bash concert have been unsuccessful. Sowle said the band had been turned down at the civic center and was considering playing in a local bar. He said the original plan was to split the ticket sales with the South Amarillo Optimist Club; 2,000 people were expected at $10 a ticket to attend the fairgrounds' concert.

Houston said he was not sure if it would be feasible for the Optimist Club to support further attempts by the band to secure a show site. “Myself, I'd support [the band], but I'm not sure other members of the club would,” Houston said.

Whitehead said he had contacted the state American Civil Liberties Union chapter because of the alleged civil rights violations against his band. “We've lost a lot of money, and our band name has been slandered,” Whitehead said. Although still in preliminary discussions over the matter with the ACLU, Whitehead said he would most likely name First Church of the Nazarene, the city of Amarillo and the Tri-State Fairgrounds in his lawsuit.