In case a global pandemic wasn't enough to rock the music industry, it's now part of a global conversation about racism—and fittingly, too, since most music we all love and enjoy today came from generations of Black creativity. On June 2, the Instagram bandwagon movement #TheShowMustBePaused made waves within and outside of the industry. Launched by two Black Atlantic Records execs (Brianna Agyemang and Jamila Thomas) and their desire to pressure industry peers to think meaningfully about tackling racism in their respective companies, it quickly took on a life of its own. Companies, bookers, labels and venues from the large to the small all took it upon themselves to make statements on Instagram—with messages that were at best giant, transparent monetary contributions to Black causes, and at worst lip service.
Many members of SLC's own music community also participated, posting their own black squares (which were not part of Agyemang and Thomas's original direction for expressing solidarity) with text expressing their sentiments. The Depot and its parent Live Nation, for example, also made a donation to the Equal Rights Initiative. Even I posted a black square, before doing more reading and finding out that the squares—whether they contained hashtags like #blackouttuesday or #blacklivesmatter or not—were algorithmically beginning to block pertinent information for protesters using Instagram on the ground for valuable updates. I deleted my post promptly, but there was still plenty to see and read.
On Soundwell's Instagram (@soundwellslc), the venue stated that they'd "stand in solidarity" with the many industry people they work with in observance of "Blackout Tuesday." After what they (and many others) called "a day of reflection," publicist Adam St. Simons said, "Soundwell, Live Nite Events and Reggae Rise Up all acknowledge that the music industry at-large is profoundly influenced by Black culture. We don't think there's anyone out there who shouldn't agree or already be aware of [that]."
Still, St. Simons expressed the need to think about how they could keep up doing the work to make space for people of color on their stage. "The work of a music venue is inherently about providing a platform for different voices and creating a safe space for audiences to come together," he says. "It's within these settings that a lot of progressive ideas and messages take root. Owning a music venue naturally puts you into a space of community leadership, and we take our job seriously."
Though these words are reassuring, clearly the music industry as a whole wouldn't feel compelled to make statements like these if there weren't a problem. Something in our music realm is touching racism. Many local artists of color have expressed a jadedness about SLC and its arts scene. How do venues come up with truly new ways to bring more people of color, and particularly Black people, into the fold?
It may be harder now than it would otherwise to address these issues, as venues are also currently preoccupied with the work of surviving COVID-19. This is the case for S&S Presents. Owner Will Sartain says, though, that S&S is unique in its anti-curatorial and open format approach to booking, which allows for a more diverse range of artists on stage. While he maintains that S&S has long strived to "provide equitable conditions for all artists," he admits that the Black Lives Matter movement makes it apparent that venues need to be communicating more with artists about their needs. "We look forward to resuming daily concerts and having those conversations. Specifically to Black artists and POC, we look forward to continuing to offer a platform," he says.
Matthew Windsor, owner of local DIY venue Gold Blood Collective, says that he and his fellow owners Jack Harnick and Adrian Evans saw their initial black box post as a way to "give space for black voices and causes that are more important than the usual IG feed type post ... but the more we looked around social media and actually read about it, we understood that all that was doing was clogging up the feed even without the #blacklivesmatter hashtag attached to it." After deleting it, they reposted a new black box post with a message explaining why, along with helpful links to organizations in need.
"Obviously Utah is not the most diverse place, but if we're purely booking local bands made up of white dudes and/or white suburban rappers, we are by default ignoring entire groups of people and artists that do exist in Utah and are making incredible art," says Windsor. "Rather than say 'Well, we just haven't had any booking requests from Black artists this month so here's another show full of white guys,' I think it will be important for us to really show that we are here for everyone and make sure that Black [and] POC artists feel comfortable reaching out to us to book shows even more than they have already."
And that's the thing: No matter what claims of diversity exist, SLC's rep for whiteness is something we're constantly dancing around, whether we want to admit it or not. If we were diverse enough, would we need all those black boxes posted up on the 'gram?