The two bands were removed Sunday, June 9, following a demand placed on the festival by its insurance provider
On Sunday, June 9, ComFest posted a statement to its official site announcing that two bands scheduled to play this year’s festival — Unchipped and Weed Demon — had been removed from the bill at the demand of ComFest’s insurance company, which, according to the fest, would not have provided the required assault and battery coverage had either act been allowed to perform.
“Without this coverage, ComFest would not be able to get the necessary permits to operate at all, and would be cancelled,” the statement read, in part.
Both bands were informed early last week that there might be an issue with their appearance at the long-running local festival, and representatives from each met with a group of ComFest organizers on Sunday to discuss the decision, according to multiple people interviewed.
“Everyone who was present at the meeting seemed very frustrated by the entire situation,” said Unchipped's Ty Owen, who grew up in Lancaster and was ecstatic for the opportunity to play ComFest, describing it as a bucket list experience. (The festival is scheduled to take place in Goodale Park Friday-Sunday, June 28-30.)
In conversations with ComFest, neither band could get a clear idea why they had been singled out for exclusion by ComFest’s insurance provider, which organizers named as Houston Casualty (now Tokio Marine HCC) during the Sunday meeting, according to Jordan Holland of stoner-rock band Weed Demon (Holland recorded the proceedings).
“We’ve not been given a clear answer as to why [we were removed], and to my knowledge no one in the room during that meeting has been, either,” Owen said. “We’re all members of the arts community in Columbus and have been fixtures in bands for a long time, and we’ve never had any act of violence at our shows. ... I’m not interested in promoting a show where people crowd-kill or beat each other up, and if that were to happen at one of our shows, it’s something I would personally stop immediately. … It’s disheartening to think that someone somewhere out there … thinks that we are unfit to play ComFest, or somehow violent or dangerous. It’s really a disgusting feeling, and it’s against everything we stand for.”
“With some heavy music, there is a stigma surrounding it, for some reason, because people are energetic and there might be moshing or crowd surfing, but our style of heavy music is quite the opposite,” said Holland. “Our songs are all nine to 12 minutes long, and they’re slow, plodding, heavy songs. It’s not something that really works you up.”
Meghan Ralston, who has been involved with ComFest since 2012 and operates as part of the entertainment committee, echoed these sentiments, saying that the insurer was “making an issue of something that would not happen.” “The bands would never let it happen. The stage managers would never let it happen,” she said. “Nobody wants any violence at ComFest.” Ralston also noted that ComFest has hosted louder, more aggressive acts without issue in the past.
Michael Gruber, the ComFest committee member responsible for handling insurance, was not present at the Sunday meeting, and was unable to provide further clarity when conferenced in via telephone, Owen said. (Gruber did not reply to multiple calls for comment.)
In ceding creative control to an insurance agency, ComFest noted it was going against its founding principles — “Letting a corporation tell us which members of our community can and cannot participate is antithetical to who we are,” it wrote in its statement — but argued that the compromise was better than the alternative.
“Having to cancel two bands goes against that [statement of principles] directly,” Ralston said, “but having to shut down the whole festival, is that more productive? When you weigh these options out, there are no good ones.”
“We all agreed as band members from both parties that there’s no way we’d ever support ComFest canceling because the insurance company didn’t want our two bands to play. That would be silly and selfish,” Holland said. “But for them to stand on a platform saying, ‘We are against the actions of a corporation telling us how to run our festival,’ that’s also pandering to that idea while still trying to maintain this sense of integrity.”
Owen said he hopes the decision starts a larger dialogue — much as ComFest’s 2017 decision to pull the plug on a jazz collective that discussed covering the N.W.A. song “Fuck tha Police” — in which organizers can re-establish their commitment to their founding principles, while continuing to expand the event to include all elements of the community.
“I’m hoping what we can get out of this is positive change and a positive discussion about what ComFest is and what ComFest actually stands for and who ComFest represents,” Owen said. “Hopefully they can reaffirm the values by which they run their organization, because a situation like this is something I wouldn’t want any other band in Columbus to have to go through.”
Rather than filling either time slot, Ralston said the current plan is to leave the stage empty during what would have been back-to-back sets from Unchipped and Weed Demon on Friday, June 28. “These spots still belong to them, even if they can’t play,” she said. “They’ve been invited to come out, and they can still sell merch. No band will be inserted in their place.”
Holland, for his part, isn’t sure yet how the band will utilize its time.
“Who knows? We might just play our music over the PA and drink beers with everybody,” he said, “or we might plug our amps in and just feedback for 45 minutes to make a statement that way.”