June 28, 2019
Community Leaders & Merriweather Post Pavilion Staff:
We write to express our grave concern about an incident of racial harassment reported by one of our members at Merriweather Post Pavilion (MPP) following the Phish concert on Sunday, June 23, 2019; and to request that you take immediate action to investigate this incident and hold any responsible individual(s) fully accountable.
Phans for Racial Equity (PHRE) promotes racial equity and respect for difference within the Phish and greater jamband community and beyond. We strive to make our scene a more welcoming space for people of all races and ethnicities, bearing in mind the many ways in which race/ethnicity intersects with gender, sexual orientation, disability, and other identities. We aim to facilitate education and thoughtful engagement, first and foremost within the Phish community, about race and its intersection with other issues; give people tools to build a more welcoming environment; and activate our community to make a positive impact on racial equity in the U.S. more broadly.
One of our members, [NAME REDACTED], reported that as he was exiting MPP with his fiance [NAME REDACTED] —who is Latina—on Sunday night, a golf cart carrying up to six staff members (not clear whose staff) sped towards them and the driver yelled to his fiance “What are you? The MS-13? Are you setting up your camps?” The others on the cart did nothing to protest his remarks. When asked his name, the driver said “Bill.” When [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] reported this behavior to venue staff, they were asked what they might have done to provoke the incident, and no action was taken. They have also informed MPP management about the incident through multiple channels, without sufficient response.
This is obviously a completely unacceptable way to treat any person, including a paying guest at a Phish concert at MPP in Columbia, Howard County, Maryland. The alleged harassment, of course, occurred in the context of rising hate / bias incidents both in Maryland and nationally. And it comes on the heels of an incident at MPP last year in which one of our African-American members heard a venue staffer say that he “didn’t know niggers liked Phish.” Without sufficient detail, we will not comment on whether this year’s incident amounts to a potential hate crime; but it is certainly grounds for immediate termination of the perpetrator(s)’s employment.
Phish concerts are overwhelmingly white spaces. This alone can make it uncomfortable for people of color to attend shows and provides our community with a special responsibility for fostering a welcoming environment to ensure that people are not being kept away from a transcendent musical experience because of the color of their skin. At an absolute minimum, it means that we must provide a safe environment free from physical or verbal harassment. This imperative took on new urgency after a horrific incident at the Gorge Amphitheater in the summer of 2018 in which two people of color were viciously assaulted with rocks and hospitalized. At PHRE we take this responsibility to heart, and work every day–in cooperation with band management and others–to make the Phish and broader jam-band scenes as welcoming and inclusive as we know it can be.
Of course, City, County, and State officials share the responsibility for providing a safe environment for fans of every color and creed. The fact that this harassment was reportedly perpetrated by someone acting in an official capacity makes it especially egregious. The fact that there have now been incidents involving staff at MPP two years in a row is a matter of grave concern.
Phish has played 21 concerts at MPP over the past two and a half decades, and the band’s fans have injected tens of millions of dollars into the local economy. Our fan community has been a great boon to both the venue and local businesses in Howard County. In return we ask that you make sure all of us feel welcome, or else none of us can.
We urge all parties responsible for the comfort and safety of Phish fans attending a concert at MPP–that is band security; venue management and security; and City, County, and State officials–to cooperate to fully investigate this incident and hold any responsible perpetrators to account.
We also urge MPP to conduct equity and inclusion training with all of its staff that covers race and other identities vulnerable to harassment such as gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, and disability status.
We request that you inform us as to the progress and ultimate outcome of your investigation as well as any action taken to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Phans for Racial Equity