The annual Coachella Festival made its debut back in 1999 at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California. Its inception came from a 1993 performance from the rock band Pearl Jam, who played at the Empire Polo Club in a boycott against Ticketmaster, who controlled a lot of overpriced venues; and was co-founded by Paul Tollett and Rick Van Santen, who collaborated on Goldenvoice, a subsidiary of the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG.) And, AEG is owned by a man named Philip Anschutz, a 78-year-old billionaire who is described as a Christian conservative and he essentially owns Coachella, making millions off of it every year.
Makes sense, right? Well, here’s where it gets interesting. Anschutz uses the profits on causes that fight LGBT equality, reproductive rights, legalized pot, and even the acceptance of climate change.
The Washington Post called out Anschutz and others in a 2016 article addressing the “Enemies of Equality”, following the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. The report shows that Anschutz donated thousands of dollars to the religious organizations who state that homosexuality is Satanic and lead to sexual perversion. He has also donated money to many anti-choice, pro-gun, and anti-marijuana organizations. If that wasn’t enough, he is also very friendly with many politicians, such as Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, giving money to super PACs, as well as backing Senator Cory Gardner, who fought gun control legislation after the Las Vegas shooting last fall.
In fairness, Anschutz has claimed that he’s not homophobic and has donated to Elton John’s AIDS Foundation, BUT that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. A man can be married to a woman and still hold misogynist views, a white person can have a black or brown friend and still hold racist views toward said friend’s demographic. There was an old CSI: Las Vegas episode where a well-known animal rights activist was the kingpin of a dog-fighting ring. Sometimes people do things for the sake of appearances and to hide in plain sight. Anschutz may not consider himself homophobic, but he doesn’t seem to care that a lot of the organizations he donates to are.
It is Anschutz’s money, so he can do what he wants with it, which means this conundrum shifts to Coachella goers and the artists who perform, putting many between a rock and a hard place. Last year, Coachella brought in $117 million. People come from all over the world to watch artists both established and upcoming, and Festival-goers will tell you it’s a place of freedom of expression for themselves, from the fashion, to the music to the people, something that they might not find at their respective homes.
Then there are artists like Beyonce, who was the first black woman to headline at Coachella since its inception, making history. That’s major progress. Beyonce’s politics and music influence each other, something she hasn’t been shy about, and her performance at this year’s Coachella is still being discussed. So, how do you boycott her or any artists who may be living their dream by performing at Coachella?
There are some who claim that these artists should hold themselves accountable, especially since there’s a new wave of activism due to the current White House administration. Anschutz associates himself with some really disconcerting organizations that absolutely hate the LGBTQ community for no other reason, but that they are don’t conform to “traditional” relationship roles and wants to criminalize the lifestyle. There are environmental activists who would have a problem with Anschutz’s donation to anti-climate change organizations. There are many Coachella artists and festival attendees that fall into the very demographics Anschutz is actively fighting against, and paying $400 to someone who is going to use that money to restrict their rights is a very bitter pill that the Coachella boycotters refuse to swallow.
Coachella boycotters are working to spread this knowledge about Anschutz around, as many people simply just don’t know about it. Other music organizations, like AfroPunk, urged people to boycott Coachella due to Anschutz, especially minority groups who are directly hurt by Anschutz’s causes.
Activism isn’t always black and white, and for music lovers, this might be a lot of information to digest and a hard decision to make. But, that’s what integrity is, being whole and undivided in your morals and principles, no matter who is or isn’t watching and no matter the circumstances.
UPDATE: Following the publishing of this story, AEG and its chairman, Philip Anschutz, released a statement addressing the matter.
Statement from Philip Anschutz, Chairman of AEG: pic.twitter.com/zsNLRnE0Nd
— AEG (@AEGworldwide) April 17, 2018
STATEMENT FROM AEG: “AEG whole-heartedly embraces the LGBTQ community. Our recent support of the Elton John AIDS Foundation and its vital work speaks to our organization's true values.”
— AEG (@AEGworldwide) April 17, 2018