In the past few weeks, the music press has gotten wind of a not-so-new story on Philip Anschutz, billionaire businessman and owner of the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG). AEG Live is the world's second largest presenter of live music and entertainment events after Live Nation and operates Goldenvoice, the organizer of major festivals like FYF, Firefly, Panorama and most notably, Coachella. Claims that Anschutz had financially supported anti-LGBTQ groups such as Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council made headlines on Billboard, Rolling Stones, The Guardian and more, drawing heated discussion from the music community and news outlets alike.
The timing of this coverage is no coincidence; with the release of Coachella's 2017 Lineup and the impending Presidential Inauguration occurring in the same month, the scrutiny of Anschutz conservatism seems to be linked to a political tension that resulted from last year's polarizing, controversial election race. To some, their decision to attend AEG events such as Coachella has inevitably been decided by their disagreement with Anschutz's political views and actions. Many avid festival-goers have already said no to Coachella on this basis. However, to the majority of us, the answer is not that simple.
While Anshutz does not represent Coachella's values or beliefs, does our attending Coachella indirectly lend our support to him? Your answer might be "obviously not", but the big-picture presents a scenario where Coachella tickets still sold out in less than 3 hours, a statement that the festival's overwhelming popularity overshadows any doubts people have about the implications of their money. The Coachella-Anshutz-Anti-LGBTQ situation might be a lost cause due to the magnitude of Coachella, Anshutz's minimal involvement in Coachella's operations and the improbability of reactionary change or impact, but it does lead to broader, more complex questions.
Do we as consumers have responsibility for who, where and what we indulge in entertainment-wise and can we make statements with our actions? For example, are we inadvertently empowering people through our consumption of their products or services? Can we also take away that power through our lack of consumption? Coldplay's Chris Martin has demonstrated this exact positive empowerment in a concrete way through his involvement with Global Citizen Festival. Should creative outlets like art, music and live events be enjoyed separately from and regarded independent of their creators or sponsors? Can we still enjoy art forms as pure art and creativity or do we need to see it in the context of its creator? Great artists are not always great people and the opposite also stands true -- so where do we draw the line of appreciation, if there is even one to draw?
We are more than ever, in the age where entertainers and artists harness power as influencers on topics of politics, activism and much more. As festival season draws closer, music and politics and their interdependence will either find its way into the spotlight or become forgotten. Whether Philip Anschutz and Coachella remain a topic of interest to the public is unclear, but similar controversial debates will undoubtedly repeat in the future. Hopefully this has been some food for thought to stew on.