Controversy erupted in Midway last weekend when a guest singer performed a song with anti-gay lyrics during the first in a series of outdoor summer concerts presented by a downtown revitalization group.
The bluegrass band that allowed the impromptu performance has voluntarily returned its $500 pay and will not be returning for an August performance, Mayor Grayson Vandegrift said Wednesday. The bluegrass band, Shades of Grass, has asked that the money go toward a LGBT cause, the mayor said.
In addition, Vandegrift said he has drafted a letter to the editors of the Lexington Herald-Leader and The Woodford Sun explaining what happened.
“It was unfortunate,” Vandegrift said. “It goes against what we stand for in Midway. ...I’d heard that there were people waiting to see how the city responded to this.”
The controversy came Friday night near the conclusion of a Midsummer Nights in Midway event. It included live music, street vendors, activities for children and open retail stores and restaurants, all with the purpose to attract people to downtown and celebrate the small-town vibe. The event, the first of three this summer, was presented by Midway Renaissance, a civic group that also puts on the annual Francisco’s Farm Art Festival on the Midway University campus.
“It was a wonderful event until that moment,” said Midway Renaissance President Jo Blease. “The whole thing is so regrettable, just so regrettable.”
Vandegrift and Blease said an unidentified man in the audience asked to sing during the Shades of Grass performance near Darlin’ Jean’s Apple Cobbler Cafe in downtown Midway. The band allowed the man to sing a song called Come on Down to the Farm.
The chorus of the song goes: “Come on down to the farm, come on out to the barn/You won’t see two roosters walkin’ arm and arm/They couldn’t make a chicken; they don’t have an egg to hatch/When God said, ‘Love your brother,’ I don’t think he meant like that.’”
Vandegrift and Blease said they did not see the man’s performance but heard about it later from witnesses.
“He sang this unambiguously anti-gay song,” Vandegrift said. “There was an immediate negative reaction to it. ... We don’t condone any kind of speech like that in Midway, whether it’s racist or sexist or anti-gay or anti-religious or anti-Christian or anti-Muslim or anti-Jewish. We don’t want any of that happening, especially in a public performance like that.”
Vandegrift added: “I do believe everybody has a right to say what they want to say. ... I think the band recognized the error of their ways and decided it wouldn’t be prudent to play again” for a scheduled Aug.19 performance at the third and final Midsummer Nights in Midway event.
Steve Norman, a member of the Shades of Grass band, could not be immediately reached Wednesday for comment.
Vandegrift met with members of Midway Renaissance Tuesday night at city hall to discuss how to go forward. Midway City Council member Sara Hicks also attended that meeting, Vandegrift said.
“We certainly aren’t interested in shaming people or making people feel like they can’t speak their mind. But what they need to realize is that when they speak their mind, others have the right to speak their minds back,” the mayor said.
“In our community, we want everybody to feel safe and welcome, regardless of their sexual orientation, their religion, their race,” Blease said. “We’re a very open community. So to have this happen is really not representative of our community at all.”
It will be up to the full board of Midway Renaissance to decide where the $500 returned by the band goes, Blease said. Vandegrift suggested that the money go to the Versailles-Midway-Woodford County Human Rights Commission, a public agency that forwards discrimination complaints to the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights.
Last year Midway became the eighth and latest city in the state to adopt an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. With a population of 1,656, it is the second-smallest city in Kentucky to pass an anti-bias ordinance.
Perhaps 500 or more people attended the Friday night event, Vandegrift and Blease said.
“The shame of this whole thing is that, by almost every other metric, the thing was a huge success and exceeded expectations,” Vandegrift said. “Other than this, it was a very good event.”