Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ladies & Gentlemen: The Boycott Show (& a few more surprises!)

I know this blog is really late, but so much has happened since the Boycott Show on March 15th. I thought I was going to be able to sit down right after the show and recap it all for you, but the world keeps turning. Also since I don’t have an assistant...yet, I have to keep the wheels on my personal life bus moving. Please forgive me for the long delay.

Since the show I have had so many conversations about what happened, how I felt, how I feel, how to move forward, etc. The reasons this show had to happen in the first place are so layered, but after the myriad of conversations I’ve been involved in, I know that these are conversations that need to keep happening. Conversation is key here and it’s a big point in my blog so without further ado I bring you the Boycott Show wrap up.

Here we go...
We had an amazing show at Freebrook on March 15th, but I know there are still a lot of questions about what happened. Those of you who follow me on Facebook might have seen my angry rant, had no idea what I was talking about, and were a little shocked because I don’t usually take to Facebook in that manner. But Monday, March 10th – Sunday, March 16th I ran through every emotion in the book. It was a tough week that ended gloriously. So what happened?

Back to the Beginning: Wednesday, February 19th
I received an email from the Purim Spectacle Committee, which included three organizations (Jews for Racial & Economic Justice, Aftselokhes Spectacle Committee, and the Workmen's Circle),
asking if my band blaKbüshe could play this year’s Purim event on March 15th. In the email they said, You guys really turned the dance floor up a notch and we hope so dearly you will play again and rock our party.”

They were correct in that quote. We played Purim two years ago and we did indeed rock the house. We also had a really fun time. I had no idea what to expect when we got there that first year, but it was a really cool event. Puppets, oxtails and social justice were on the menu that night. Not to mention lots of revelry. It was a good time.

Monday, February 24th
It took a few days, but I was able to confirm that blaKbüshe could play for Purim this year. To which I received the reply, “This is great news. We are so excited to have you in our line up!” I was also excited.

My full band hadn’t played since last summer and to be honest I wasn’t planning any shows. My focus has been on recording the next project, which I feel like is long, long overdue (even though I know everything is on time). But when the Purim folks reached out to me I thought it would be a great place to play after being away so long.  I was feeling really good about what was ahead.

Monday March 3rd
Then I got an email from Matsu, my drummer, asking if I would be interested in having two of his friends from Japan who are dancers, sit in on the show. Shin and Zabu are members of collective in Japan called WeFunk. Matsu gave me a few links to check them out online and I have to admit I was shocked by the sheer number of people in the collective. It is a crew of over 150 folks (singers, dancers, musicians) and all they perform is Funk! Matsu also showed his friends a clip of blaKbüshe and they were really interested in working with us.

Shin lives here in NY, but his brother Zabu who lives in Japan was visiting for a few weeks. They really wanted to find someplace to perform while he was in town so this seemed like the perfect opportunity. After checking out their clips I told Shin and Matsu that it was a go!

Thursday March 6th
We had our first of two band rehearsals today. Shin and Zabu came through so they could get a feel for the music and make some decisions about what they were going to dance to. We had a great rehearsal and the guys were amazing! This made me even more excited about the show. I had never officially had dancers in a show so this was so great! I never really thought of myself as being a band that people could dance to, but why not?! At the end of that rehearsal they decided to dance to “In Your View” and “Power on the Floor.” Nice!

Everything was coming along nicely. I spoke to Kelly Horrigan about helping me to put together an outfit for the show. We were scheduled to meet on Tuesday, March 11th. Then I would be able to give the band a little more clarity about what to wear and we would be off to the races.

Friday March 7th
Just when it seemed like things couldn’t get better, the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival lineup was announced. Holy Cow! I had known for some time that I was on the festival and headlining again, but when I saw the lineup I was so excited about the 39th year of the festival. The New York contingent is in effect this year including Climbing PoeTree, Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely, MazzMuse, Marcelle Davies-Lashley, Cocomama and blaKbüshe. Of course my west coast folks are representing as well, but the person who stood out for me was Beverly McClellan!!! I don’t know if you watched the first season of the Voice, but Beverly was one of the four finalists on Christina’s team. She is a vocal beast!!! I can’t wait to see her on the land. Whoo Hoo!!! It was a good Friday indeed, but little did I know, this simple announcement would become my steam roller and a reactionary battle cry.

Monday, March 10th (12:47am)
I received an email from the representative from the Purim committee who I had been corresponding with saying she needed to talk to me, but realized she didn’t have my number so I should give her a call. I really thought nothing of it. I replied to the email with my number;  saying that I was up, but she must have gone to bed.

“There’s a Shit Storm Coming!” (11:58am)
The statement above is the actual subject line of an email that was sent to me and another artist by a good friend, about what was about to go down. When I opened the email it said:

“I just found out that the Purim Collective voted to take Shelley off the bill because she’s performing at Michfest and a bunch of the Purim organizers are supporters of the Michfest boycott. They plan on calling you this afternoon. I didn’t want you to be blindsided. I just wanted to give you a heads up even though you probably know. I wanted you to know that there are people ready to support you Shelley if you want or need that.”

Well...I did NOT know. So her email did catch me off guard, but not as far off as that phone call would have. Now I knew exactly why the committee was trying to get hold of me via phone after we had been corresponding via email the whole time.

I got my friend who sent me the email on the phone, and she broke down what was happening. Honestly after I got her email I knew EXACTLY what was happening. Therein began my wave of emotions. My Monday morning emotion was, “Whatever! If they don’t want me on the event, then I don’t want to be where I’m not wanted.” Well, that was the morning.

I know some of you are wondering how a issue with Michfest could have made its way to a Purim event in Brooklyn. So I’ll break it down for you in a nutshell because that’s all we really have time for.

Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is just what the name says. It’s a WOMEN’S music festival. That means that ONLY WOMEN attend the festival and ONLY WOMEN build everything on the land to make the festival happen. The only time there are men on the land is when they come to clean the port-a-janes at the end of each night. So, the protest/challenge for many years, long before I even started attending, is around trans-inclusion in the festival. There are some who feel that the festival should be for womyn-born-womyn only meaning that you must have been born a girl and more specifically born anatomically into a woman’s body in order to attend the festival, while others feel this is not a fair assessment of womanhood in these changing times of gender identity and politics. Now as you can imagine this is a tricky and touchy subject to say the least and one that I’m not about to begin to address here, but let's take a moment to contemplate the challenges on both sides of this argument. It’s not only about gender politics it’s about the body politic. Feel me?

As for me, I have been blessed to be able to heal in women-only spaces for years and I am not about to argue against those spaces because they have made me a better woman, a better person and helped me to step into my power in such meaningful and profound ways. Michfest has been one of these powerful spaces. I don’t just go back year after year because it’s something to do for a week in August; I go back because it’s a refuge. It’s a week of no men and the energy that comes with that in the world. Let me also make something clear, I love men. I have some of the most wonderful men in my life in both my professional and personal circles, but sometimes a girl needs a break from even the most evolved man!   I will not apologize for my love of the festival, the land or for what is has meant to me over these last eight years. I have made personal and professional friendships that will last me a lifetime on and off the stage. I will not apologize for the tears and scars I have left there that the land has taken from me so that I can fly. I will not apologize for wanting my spaces with women as I know it and have known it, so I will not be bullied or made to feel ashamed of my love for this place or these women. I will not be made to feel ashamed of the love I feel when I walk through those gates and hear the words, "Welcome Home." But that does not mean that I am anti-trans and/or not open to having a conversation about the changing face of womanhood. I'm not afraid to ask or be asked the hard questions, but if you only want to throw fear, shame and angry gestures my way, then any conversation we could have had will be a wrap!  Trust me, I'm being real polite right now.  Feel me? OK. Let’s carry on.

The Call (10:28pm)
The whole day went by and no call from my Purim committee rep. I was in total “Act as if...” mode already. Even though I had gotten the earlier email telling me what was coming, I just kept moving forward with show plans. My thought, until I hear it from the horse’s mouth, it’s not a done deal. Then on my way home from a pretty stellar night, I got the call.

When the Purim rep told me that I was voted off of the show due to the fact that I was headlining Michfest I guess I shouldn’t have been shocked, but I really was and soon became angry (my second and third emotions) because A) this is NOT the first time I’ve played festival. In fact this year will make my 8th! So if the committee was really that dedicated to protesting the festival and the artists who play there then they would have vetted me! All they would have had to do was 5-minutes of research and they would have found out that I have played Fest MANY times and participated in many capacities. AND if they were REALLY dedicated to this protest they just wouldn’t have invited me from the get go! B) No one on the committee did me the courtesy of calling to talk about how they felt once the Michfest lineup came out. No one asked me about my politics. No one took a moment to say, “Hey, Shelley has supported us and has been promoting the event to get people out so maybe we need to check in with her and see where she’s coming from and let her know what our challenges are.” No! None of THAT happened. Instead, in what felt like a total reactionary move they voted me off the show and then sent a woman who really wanted me to stay on the program to give me the news! Yup! But we’re getting there.

During the course of this conversation, which lasted about 30 minutes, I asked a lot of questions and got some pretty sad answers. Also the woman I was talking to was exhausted because she’s the mother of a young baby, which also made me angry. Not that she’s a mom, but because I knew she was tired and even though she wanted to talk to me because we had been corresponding the whole time, she clearly was not up for this conversation, which could really have been delivered by someone else, namely someone in this nameless, faceless committee who voted me off the island to begin with who probably doesn’t have children and wouldn’t be exhausted at 10:30pm on a Monday night. Another thing that had me livid was that fact that this nameless, faceless committee knows my face and name, but I don’t know theirs? What kind of cowardly shit it that??!! The woman on the phone told me that they were still going to pay me (well of course they were), but then she asked me not to say anything about this, specifically over social media. What??!!! Are you kidding me? So you have to right to just vote me off the show, for really no good and fair reason that I see, I have no say in the decision-making and then you pay me and want me to shut up about the whole thing?? Now, you’re smoking! I promptly told her I couldn’t make any promises on that front. In other words, Fuck That!

Now I ask, what does that sound like to you? I’ll tell you what it sounds like to me. It sounds like some white, male, entitled, patriarchal, misogynistic, cowardly bullshit is what it sounds like. I have absolutely no idea what the faces of the people who voted me off the show look like and honestly that doesn’t even matter, but I know THAT energy when I feel it. I know shady dealing when I see them. I know the shadow masculine when I encounter it. Trust me I know. I’ve been a black woman a long time. I know patriarchy and misogyny like I know my name.

Then came the rant. I got on Facebook at about 3am and let folks know how I was feeling. I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like that, but I needed to be loud that night. My feelings required more than my journal.

As a side note, I also found out earlier that day that musicians in the house band, who happened to be all women and transgender (in specific FTM), were being questioned about their affiliation with Michfest artists! Yes you heard me correctly. So now we have also entered into some pseudo-McCarthyism here?! I’m just asking.

Tuesday, March 11th
“Rejection is God’s Protection” was one of the first things I saw that morning on Facebook. Thank you Lord. I was determined that the show must go on. I was ready to sing, the band was ready to play and Shin & Zabu were ready to dance. So I set about the business of erasing myself from Purim. I took down the invite I had put up for the show and changed it to say, “Shelley Nicole’s blaKbüshe: Playing somewhere near you.” I informed people that the show would go on, but at a different venue although I had no idea where that would be. I let the band know what happened and told them that the show would go on. I kept our rehearsal date for Wednesday. Act as if...

That morning as I was riding the train into the City there was a man who was asking for food. Not a new concept on the train, but that morning I actually had some food to give. So I pulled two oranges out of my bag and handed them to the man. He thanked me and just as I was about to sit back and close my eyes I hear a voice say, ”You have another orange for me?” I opened my eyes and it was my friend Daniel. I started to laugh, but before I could really get it out, the man I handed the fruit to offered one of the oranges I gave him, to my Daniel. Saying, “Hey man, you can have one of mine, I have two.” Let me tell you something; that made my whole day. That man was clearly down on his luck, but he still offered one of his oranges to someone he thought was in need. That was such a lesson in giving. I needed that. People on the train also noticed the man’s generosity. It was a powerful moment on an otherwise mundane morning commute.

Later that night, after teaching yoga, I went to see Kelly and keep working on what I was going to wear for the show. Act as if...

Wednesday March 12th
My fourth emotion kicked in on this morning; sadness. I went to pick up my check from two reps from the Purim committee. They were there with a check and flowers. One woman said, “Here are some flowers. You can do with them what you please.” I promptly told her that the flowers didn’t do anything to me so I would put them in water where they belong. Then I headed to teach yoga, but before I could get into class I finally cried. I called my friend Ian and just let it all out. That was my sad moment. I just want to make music. It shouldn’t be all that deep, but some people really make it a challenge. I was upset because people are sad out here in the world, miserable really. So they inflict their misery upon others in an attempt to feel better about themselves and I got caught up in some of that. I knew everything was going to be alright, but I needed to cry especially since I felt myself getting sick and I knew it was because of all the anger I holding and not releasing. So standing on a street corner in Brooklyn I did just that; released. After my cry, I pulled myself together and went to teach.

Later that day I posted what is now somewhat my mantra: “I am an artist and a healer. I go where both are required. I am necessary.” That day I solidified a venue for the show. I spoke to DeeArah at Freebrook Spaces and she said that the 15th was open so I could have the main room for my show. At that moment I put the word out that the Boycott Show was happening on the 15th. I didn’t have all the details, but things were moving.

Freebrook is a raw space so I needed sound and a drum kit. I called my man Dexter because I knew he had everything. Thank Goddess he was free that night and able to provide the sound. Now we were cooking with gas!

Later that night I had band rehearsal and gave them a short press conference so everyone understood what had transpired. Only the women in my band have been to Fest so the men needed some clarity about what was going on. After that meeting we got to work on the show. Onward!  Late that night I got home and posted on Facebook the details of what would be The Boycott Show and then even more magic happened.

Thursday March 13th
The word started spreading like wildfire. Once people found out that I was kicked off of the Purim event because I was headlining Michfest the festival community and my personal community came out of the woodwork to support me and honestly I was blown away.

As I stated above, this year will make my 8th festival. When I went to Michfest for the first time with Hanifah all those years ago I had no idea that I would attend 8 years in a row. There have been many years that I thought about not going, but then something would pull me there. I know what that something is, but it’s still amazing to me. It doesn’t take much to fall in love with the Festival. It only took one shot for me. But what became abundantly clear for me in light of these events, is how much we are family. I know fundamentally that these women are a part of me, but now I’m a super clear. I have no doubt in my mind that if the ship is going down, one of these ladies is going to throw a lifeline or better yet, bust a flaming arrow in someone’s ass! LOL! I’m not saying that Michfest is utopia because like any other family we have our squabbles, but at the end of the day, when the shit hits the fan, folks show up!

From Thursday to Sunday I was riding a love wave. Before all of this happened I went to see Nona Hendryx at Joe’s Pub on the 9th. She has a song that I LOVE called “Let’s Give Love a Try.” I downloaded that joint and listed to it every day, many times a day during that week. It really kept me going. Simple words, but very powerful. A simple thing to try, but many of us don’t give it a shot. Remember love does not mean backing down, it means showing up. Love is a verb!

Friday March 14th
The word was spreading fast and the love was rolling in spiritually, physically and monetarily. Then my girl Nedra asked me about streaming the event live for people who wanted to see it who were not in New York. I didn’t have the energy or the head space to make that happen, but then in walked Leo. She saw Nedra’s post and said she would come to the show and cover the live stream! What??!! When I said these women show up, I was not playing! Houston, we have live stream.

When Sara (another woman from Fest) found out that we were going to stream she set up a PayPal account specifically for people who wanted to “buy tickets” to the show to support the band! Genius! So many people were sharing the invite on Facebook! It was a true community effort. We can’t do this alone people. We really can’t.

Saturday March 15th
That morning I woke to a full list of errands to run before the show. I didn’t have to teach that day so I was free to take care of myself.

First things first, I got my hair cut and then got my brows done. I had a few other errands in between before heading to Kelly’s for my final outfit decisions. After that I actually had time to go home and chill. I did a final push for the show letting people know that there would be a ustream link coming soon, but it was really time to clear the mind a bit an reflect on the week.

When it was time to head to the venue I packed all my things and began my walk to Freebrook, which is not far from my house. It was a pretty nice night so I could take my time getting there and take those final moments to get clear about what was about to happen. I have played a lot of shows, but I knew that night was going to be special. Also anytime you play a show that intimate it has to be special. Freebrook is a mansion that has been converted to community space. So we were basically performing in the parlor.

Set up was coming along and slowly people were rolling in. I left everything in Dexter’s care and went upstairs to change my clothes. Everything was in order.

Right before I took the stage I came downstairs to see Vernon Reid at the door. I gave him a big hug and then almost right behind him was Toshi! She said she couldn’t stay, but came to support. Yes! When I came downstairs the room was packed! It was overflowing really.

I took the stage and looked around the room and the diversity was amazing. Besides my friends and fam there was a whole Japanese contingent that came to see Shin and Zabu! It was the United Colors and Flavors up in there.

We kicked off the show with “Go Head & Rise” as there was really no other way to begin. The song says, “Most times you gotta go through to get to the other side/sometimes you gotta dig deep pull out what you’re trying to hide/sometimes you gotta look up and let the sun on you shine/dry your eyes child, go head and rise!” That’s what I had to do that week. I had to go head and rise because I was not gonna to let nobody turn me around. As my other song, “I am American” says; there’s “too much blood under my feet!”

The show was amazing if I do say so myself. Shin and Zabu ended up dancing to “In Your View” and our uptempo version of “Long Train Running” by the Doobie Brothers. It was killin’! I even danced with them a little bit. Just a little bit. LOL. I didn’t do a whole lot of talking about what got us to that point; I just let the music be my press conference.

We closed the show with “Power on the Floor,” which was also very appropriate. The chorus says, “If you recognize you’re on the ground, you can get up.” What that means is that if you are present to the fact that you are down then you can get up. It’s about being present. So nothing can really hold you down if you are present to what is happening around you or what is coming at you. I danced by myself to that song for a while. I talked for a while. It was a bit of a Holy Ghost moment. Give thanks.

When the show was over I got to love up all my folks who came out to support me in person. It was really a house of love. It was hands down one of the best nights of my career, and something changed in me after that day. I have always been a push through kind of chick, and though it looks like that is what I did here as well, it was actually something different; a different spirit riding me. Yes, I kept going in the face what could have been a really sad situation, but it hit me a little bit deeper than that. I’m not quite sure how to explain it all here, but I’ll just say that I’m changed for the better.

Today, Tuesday April 15th
It’s now been exactly a month since the show happened. It’s been a month of triumph and joy. It’s been a month of deep conversations about Festival, trans-inclusion, safe-space and gender issues in general. It’s been a month of waking up almost every morning and going to teach yoga, working a freelance research gig, going to shows, playing shows, witnessing friends get married, lose children and husbands. In other words, life goes on.

One of the many wonderful things that came out of the Boycott Show was a fund set up by Sara for artists who are being harassed about playing Festival. Turns out I am not the only one. In fact some artists have backed out of the festival under pressure or other reasons not known to me, but most of us are staying and playing. Most if not all of the artists who play the festival are independent and as there are people trying to disrupt the livelihood of these artists, we need your support. Sara set up this fund so that artists who are being or have been bullied or harassed can continue to do their work. If you are so moved, please donate to any of this year’s Michfest artists so that we can continue to work with a bit more ease. You can support the artists by sending your donation(s) through PayPal to boycottedartistsfund@gmail.com and specify which artist(s) you would like the funds allocated. You can see a list of artists at www.michfest.comIf you would like to support me and my band you can donate that way or by going to my site www.blakbushe.com.


Taking a slight turn in the topic I pleased to let you know that I am finally looking at studios and we will be going in to record very soon. There has also been a change in production personnel. I am so excited to announce that Vernon Reid will be producing the new project! If you are not familiar with Vernon please go to my page and read about him and if you are moved please donate  as we still need all we can to make this project happen.

I know this blog was extra long (much like my festival blogs) and my apologies if it took a lot out of you, but it took a hell of a lot out of me. LOL! Thank you all for reading and listening. I can’t wait to share all the wonderful things that are on the horizon. Twenty-Fourteen is shaping up to be epic! I’m about to go on tour with Rebellum and we are rolling though the midwest so come see us! I’m going into the studio with blaKbüshe shortly and then I will be on the land.

Thank you for your support and keep supporting independent artists of all kinds. We chose this life, but it’s nothing without you.

One Love!

Thank Yous: My Band (Achuziam, Ki Ki, V. Jeff, Jerome, Matsu, Jeff, Ganessa & Shawn), Shin, Zabu, Kelly Horrigan, Dexter Taylor, Lionel Sanchez, DeeArah Wright, Steph Wiley, Leo Wamsley, Nedra Johnson, Sara St. Martin Lynne, Ashley B, Jimmy, Hemamset, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival community and all my friends and fam!