by Jon Reyes
Just days before the Trump administration gets its Cheeto-colored hands on the door knob to the Oval Office, music lovers were left trying to figure out what to make of the newly circulating report that the owner of Coachella, Philip Anschutz, is a right-wing fanatic who gives money to a slew of anti-LGBTQ organizations.
Here's the deal with billionaire Anschutz. He's the owner of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the parent company behind Goldenvoice, the company that produces Coachella. Like every good billionaire, his reach is far and wide. He owns a stake in the Staples Center in L.A. and the L.A. Lakers. He's invested in films The Chronicles of Narnia, Amazing Grace, and Ray. Regal Entertainment Group, the company that owns over 565 theaters in the U.S., is another Anschutz venture.
Print? He's got that covered, too. He holds the companies that publish The Weekly Standard and The Washington Examiner – right-leaning publications. Not to mention, AEG Live (the AEG subsidiary) also promotes tours for Jay Z, Justin Bieber, Taylor Swift, and Bruno Mars; just to name a few. Oh, yeah, AEG Live also operates The Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
In July of 2016, The Washington Post published an article that reported the findings of Freedom For All Americans (FFAA). It linked the Anschutz Foundation with contributions to anti-LGBTQ organizations: Alliance Defending Fund which actively backs proposed anti-LGBTQ legislation, National Christian Foundation which is a leading funder of more anti-LGBTQ groups and the Family Research Council which supports the sanctioning of gay behavior and falsely claims LGBTQ activists advocate for the normalization of pedophilia. According to the foundation's 990 tax forms, it donated a combined $190,000 between 2010 and 2014 to the three organizations.
That consolidated donation pales in comparison to the $625,000 that the Anschutz Foundation donated to The Heritage Foundation between 2010 and 2014. The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think-tank that flourished during President Ronald Reagan's tenure in the White House. Just recently, the Heritage Foundation abetted President-elect Trump in the wish list for conservative and anti-abortion Supreme Court justices. Because that wasn't enough, Politico reported back in November that the Heritage Foundation is serving as a "shadow transition team" for our bigly President-elect. The idea behind the bevy of billionaires and Wall Street folk appointed to the cabinet had to come from somewhere.
It might be disheartening for music fans that have rejoiced seeing the Presidential Inauguration struggle to fill its performance roster with impactful recording artists. Now, it's more than apparent that the statement might not matter considering Coachella's performer list is full of today's most prolific artists and Coachella lines the pockets of someone who funds bigotry and also, Donald Trump.
When the news of The Anschutz Foundation funding proclivities began to circulate in tandem with the announcement of the Coachella line-up, the majority of artists didn’t comment on the revelation. Perhaps they didn’t know the extent of Anschutz’s reach or just chose to not speak on it.
Does our favorite artist have the responsibility to protest and pull out of Coachella? Sure. Artists like Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar (both Coachella headliners) have built careers on being outspoken and giving a voice to sects of people that need it. But as American citizens, we also have the responsibility to show up at rallies for causes that directly affect us and often, we don't turn up. In this case, if they don't pull out of Coachella, it isn't necessarily a passive move.
Back in May 2016, Beyoncé’s 'Formation Tour' stopped by North Carolina. At the time, the infamous "Bathroom Bill" had been voted into effect, and every person now had to use the bathroom his or her birth document dictated. Beyoncé did her thing and performed her “Formation” spectacular and didn't address her support for trans rights on stage. What she did was post a call-to-arms note on her website and urged readers to support Equality NC, a North Carolina advocacy group. It was smart and empowering choice on Beyoncé’s behalf: passing the ball to North Carolina's citizens and a grass roots organization that knows what to do.
Fans have a call to make, too. Politicians and artists are the same in one big way; they listen to the people who put them up. There's nothing that will get boots on the ground than a slew of voters telling an elected official their vote will go somewhere else come election day. Artists aren't that different. They listen to fans and fans have a vote in the form of their presence and hard earned dollars.
It would be nice if our favorite artists pulled out, though. It’s hard to imagine the festival would be affected unless all 143 acts pull out. That’s the dilemma: making a statement against someone like Philip Anschutz through boycott might be almost impossible, but our favorite artists can still use that stage to propel forth a clear message that bigotry and the revoking of rights won't stand. Taking the four years we have ahead of us into consideration, we’re due some creativity.
Our favorite artists already do one thing: they inspire us. Expecting them to do the work we need to do ourselves, on top of that, is one tall order. In the end, no one has to go to Coachella. The information is there for us, and the choice is now ours.
[Editor's Note: Anschutz has since released a statement to Rolling Stone dismissing these claims as "garbage" and "fake news." However, his charitable donations are a matter of public record. Billboard has found that the most recent available IRS 990 filing (from 2013) for the Anschutz Foundation "shows funding of $10,000 to the Family Research Council, which recently published this report arguing for a legal precedent that defines marriage as one man and one woman. It also shows $150,000 towards the Center of American Values, whose mission is to 'explore how doing the right thing for family, community and country will keep America great.'" Additionally, SPIN also discovered "contributions to Promise Keepers, a ministry that only allows men as members and whose founder once called gay people 'an abomination against almighty God,' and to The Navigators, an evangelical organization that referred to homosexuality as 'sexual brokenness' in a 2013 publication." Rolling Stone adds that when asked about giving to the specific anti-LGBTQ groups mentioned in the reports, a rep for Anschutz said, "We have immediately ceased all contributions to such groups." Records of donations more recent than 2014 are not yet available.]
Relive Day 2 and Day 3 of Coachella 2015 below.