That Time When the Dam Burst

A little over a year ago, the frontman for a band here in San Antonio called me for advice with handling a problem. As it turns out, one of their members had been accused of inappropriate behavior with a woman in our community. The band leader was asking me what I thought he should do.

As I saw it at the time, there were three options, none of which were going to be easy as they would all involve bringing the accusation to light.

One option was to say they were going to take a break as a band while the member in question sought help to resolve some issues related to his personal behavior.

A second option would be to acknowledge the accusation and release their bandmate.

The third, and least desirable option, was to disband entirely.

As I saw it, these were the only three options that would allow them to let the music community and its fans know they were taking the matter seriously and dealing with the issue head on.

But there was a fourth option the band chose. It was one I hadn’t thought of. It was the option to do nothing. To keep it quiet and act as though nothing had happened. When I saw them taking this path, I knew it would not go well for them.

Eventually it came to light and it did have an adverse effect on the band. Time will tell what the long-term implications for them will be.

But what happened with them was just the beginning. It turned out that it would be only one of what’s become a series of allegations against several artists, revealing what is a serious problem in San Antonio’s music community.

I’ve been a supporter of the music scene in San Antonio for decades. I was attending shows in venues around the city long before some of the current artists on our scene were even born. I’ve also had a front row seat watching my own kids thrive as contributing artists.

I know the San Antonio music scene can be a community of artists which creates moments for people to celebrate through music born right here in the city we love. In order to do that, however, the scene needs to be a community of people that respects everyone. Sadly, that isn’t happening right now.

It seems there isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t hear about a band – or several bands – either dropping off a show’s lineup because of allegations about another band performing or I hear of a band – or several bands – being dropped from a show because of allegations. I imagine all of us know someone who has in some way been affected by what’s coming to light.

The problem is a lack of respect for each other, especially women, in our community. I was watching an interview with Tom Hanks about the current undoing of Hollywood that began with the allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. In the interview, Hanks said, “The dam has burst here in a big way. And it is not just the halls of places like Harvey Weinstein’s office…it’s also happening in every corner of all of America.”

The dam has burst here in the San Antonio music scene as well and it’s making everyone feel angry, suspicious, and afraid. And it should. I told a friend just this week that women are fed up with what they’ve had to endure at the hands of people in positions of influence. They’re tired of not being taken seriously or being taken advantage of and it’s time for us to pick up the tab and pay up.

The bottom line is San Antonio’s music scene should be life-giving, not life-sucking. There are a lot of players, each with a responsibility to carry.  Bands (and those that handle their business) need to police their behavior. When they don’t, they need to address their issues accordingly and be ready to accept the consequences of any ill-advised choices.

Venues, booking agents, and bands who are selecting other artists to support their shows have a responsibility to provide a safe place for the audience and should take into account the behavior and reputation of the bands in their circle.

The bottom line is everyone has to own their actions and any consequences that come with the choices they make.

It’s not easy to face our demons head on. In fact it’s downright scary. But if our music community is going to get where it needs to go, if it has any hope of moving forward, what is happening now is necessary.

I’ve been around long enough to know that every few years our society goes through an upheaval. It’s painful and hard and never any fun, but it’s an important part of becoming who we need to be as decent human beings. In the midst of it all are three things we need to do.

First, we need to check ourselves. It’s so easy to not see your position of influence as something that could easily be leveraged to make another person feel unsafe or threatened. And if you’re in a particularly influential seat on the bus, it can be easy for another person whom you may have harmed to feel their voice will be unheard if they try to speak up.

Second, and this is especially for the men in the music scene, we need to speak less. Our voices have been loud and clear for decades now. It’s time for us to shut up and listen. Listen to the anger, the hurt, the shame, the frustration women around town are expressing. This is not the time to come to anyone’s defense. This is the time to hear voices that for too long have been shut down and to let the process play out.

Third, we all need to listen more. If the overarching goal is to achieve respect for everyone, one of the best ways to get there is to actually listen to what other people are saying. Get past the rhetoric and emotion and hyperbole; people will speak out of those things right now. But do the hard work of looking past all of that and listen to the heart of what’s being said.

We need to ride this out. It won’t be this way forever, but it is this way for now. It will all eventually pass and the waters will calm and we’ll all be able to breathe a little easier. When that happens, we’ll look around and realize we’re all the better for it. We’ll be stronger, more united, and ready – really ready – to experience what’s next.

In the meantime, educate yourself. Work together to find solutions. Commit to creating a path forward so we can all take part in the joy that comes out of the music our artists create.

The music community in San Antonio doesn’t have to be a place where there is a lack of respect for each other, where fans feel unsafe or don’t want to attend a show, where band members are on the verge of walking away from it all. We’re better than that.

The promoter of a recent local show posted a phone number on the event’s social media flyer stating, “If you ever feel unsafe or uncomfortable at our shows, please call or text.” How awesome is that? A small step like that can yield huge benefits.

San Antonio’s music scene can be a place where everyone — artist and fan, male and female — is respected, people feel safe, where they know everyone’s best interests are being given attention, and where we’re more intentional about how we treat each other. That’s something each of us deserves.

We’re long overdue.

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