Remembering the time R. Kelly got booted from a Columbus music fest

With the R&B singer finally convicted of federal racketeering and sex-trafficking charges, we’re looking back at the time he got booted from FMMF

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
R Kelly found guilty, convicted of racketeering in sex-trafficking trial

R. Kelly, who faced accusations of sexually abusing dozens of young women for more than 25 years, was finally convicted of federal racketeering and sex-trafficking charges on Monday. Announcement of the charges followed a month-long federal trial in Brooklyn, New York, where Kelly faced one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, a federal law addressing sex trafficking. The singer was found guilty of all counts, and now faces decades in prison, with sentencing scheduled to take place on May 4, 2022.

The conviction has been a long time coming for Kelly, who has been the subject of a damning series of reports for more than two decades, beginning with a groundbreaking story from former Chicago Sun-Times reporters Jim DeRogatis and Abdon Pallasch, which was published by the newspaper in December 2000. (DeRogatis continued to doggedly report on Kelly for the Sun-Times and later BuzzFeed, among other outlets.)

Despite the allegations, Kelly continued to tour, sell millions of records and headline festivals, including the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2013, a decision for which the music site later issued an apology, writing, “It was wrong to book R. Kelly to perform at our festival in 2013 and we regret doing so.”

That festival headlining slot led to the December 2013 publication of an interview between Jessica Hopper and DeRogatis in the Village Voice, in which DeRogatis detailed “dozens of girls — not one, not two, dozens — with harrowing” allegations against Kelly.

The Village Voice article had a notable impact on the public perception of Kelly, which played out when Kelly was announced as one of the headliners of the inaugural Fashion Meets Music Festival in June 2014. In the days and weeks that followed, Columbus band Damn the Witch Siren, which had been slated to perform at the fest, released a statement condemning his inclusion and later removed itself from the bill. Saintseneca also withdrew, as did sponsor WCBE 90.5 FM. Rumors also circulated that a prominent national act had threatened to withdraw from the event if ties with Kelly weren’t severed. (Multiple sources later said the band in question was Future Islands, though the Baltimore group has never commented on events publicly.)

Amid the blowback, FMMF founder Bret Adams initially responded to Alive via email with a statement that called out Kelly’s character (“R. Kelly may not be a good person”) while advancing the idea of separating the art from the artist, which is still a concept embraced by many who continue to deliver millions of streams to the musician

Eventually, though, FMMF relented, cutting ties with Kelly in July 2014 and releasing a statement that read, in part, “Fashion Meets Music Festival and headlining artist R. Kelly have come to the mutual decision to cancel Kelly’s upcoming performance.”

“We really needed to think about the announcement,” Adams said in a 2019 interview with Alive. “We had to evaluate everything because we had a huge financial commitment to R. Kelly, and we couldn’t just cancel the contract. Contractually, [public sentiment] is not a reason to cancel, because you’re making a moral decision to not have him on the bill.”

As part of the settlement, FMMF reached an agreement with Kelly’s team that included payment “in the low six figures,” Adams said.

Kelly continued to tour in the years following the FMMF split. Indeed, he wouldn’t cancel another tour date until 2017, shortly after the “cult” allegations surfaced in DeRogatis’ BuzzFeed feature.