Discussions of the Triangle music scene often frame the web of musicians, venues, fans, promoters, and other players as a community—one that's vibrant, encouraging, and a largely positive environment overall. But last week, a multi-pronged social-media storm effectively ended the career of one Raleigh promoter, raising questions about how the Triangle's music scene can get ahead of such conflicts in the future.
On Monday, August 14, Kings show manager Kate VanVorst posted a charged account of her toxic interactions with fellow promoter and longtime scene fixture Craig Reed. Until recently, Reed had served as Director of Events for the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, and in his capacity as head of his own booking agency, Younger Brother Productions, has spent the past few years booking the weekly Local Band Local Beer series and Groove in the Garden, a throwdown scheduled at the Raleigh Little Theatre in October.
Among the specific accusations leveled against Reed in the now-deleted post were his statements to VanVorst that she "would never become anything without him" and "owed him for every success and compliment [she] obtained." More troubling still are claims that he referred to her as a "desperate slut" and complained about the reverse racism he experienced as a white man. The response to VanVorst's post detailing a disturbing pattern of bullying and dismissive behavior was an immediate tsunami of support and similar allegations from within the local community, which seemed to corroborate her account of Reed as a toxic presence
Within hours of the initial post, Raleigh's Pour House, which had previously hosted Reed-promoted events like Local Band Local Beer—and, on August 12, Reed's fifth- anniversary party for Younger Brother Productions—cut all ties with Reed.
In another public Facebook post, Pour House owner Adam Lindstaedt was unequivocal about his decision: "We have decided as an organization that it is in the best interest of our community, patrons, bands and staff to sever ties with Younger Brother Productions. We do not condone any sort of behavior that makes anyone feel uncomfortable. Period," he wrote. Lindstaedt did not respond to requests for further comment.
On Tuesday, August 15, Reed resigned his post at the Downtown Raleigh Alliance. In subsequent days, several local bands sent signals that they would have no further involvement with Younger Brother Productions, and the bands Happy Abandon and Ghostt Bllonde quickly pulled out of Groove in the Garden. The same day he resigned from the DRA, Reed released a statement on the Younger Brother Productions page announcing that he would be taking an indefinite hiatus from promoting local music: "After five years of booking shows and being involved in local music, we are taking a break," the statement read.
VanVorst told the INDY she was overwhelmed by the circumstances and declined to talk about the controversy. But the situation is less about her lone post than it is about a community coming to terms with a toxic and destructive member in a position of power, and what happens when that community finally says "enough."
Others who have had their own unpleasant run-ins with Reed over the years have had no such reservations about sharing their experiences. Kristen Hill, the marketing director at the Cat's Cradle, who has also worked as an independent promoter and manager, was eager to discuss the situation.
"Hundreds of people have had a similar experience with Craig and agree," she says. Hill mentioned circumstances in which she had felt condescended to by Reed, and others in which bands she managed felt they were paid less than was appropriate for certain Younger Brother-sponsored appearances. "He made it very evident that he was 'the man' and no one would be anything without him."
Meanwhile, others have already begun picking up the pieces Reed left behind. Groove in the Garden is still on, with a fully restored lineup for October. Charles Phaneuf, Raleigh Little Theatre's executive director, is now partnering with the Pour House for the event after Younger Brother ceased activities. Phaneuf describes his relationship with Reed as "arm's length," and says they had only worked together twice previously, and without difficulty. Nevertheless, in light of the statement made by VanVorst and in the spirit of cultivating a scene where women's voices are heard, Phaneuf and Lindstaedt decided to turn the single-day mini-festival into a benefit. A percentage of the proceeds will be earmarked for a prominent nonprofit that supports and empowers young women.
Whatever else falls out from the discussion surrounding VanVorst's post, there's a palpable sense among bands and promoters alike that it is past time for a new, more accepting paradigm to take hold in the Triangle music scene. Justin Ellis, who fronts the band Happy Abandon and has played in area bands for more than fifteen years, says he was horrified to read VanVorst's post, but not surprised.
"Speaking as a straight white dude, I personally never experienced any trouble with Craig. But I've heard things from others," he says, adding, "It's typically been a boys club, and that really needs to change. And at the end of the day, it really boils down to just listening. Don't speak over someone when she's trying to make a point. Don't assume that the girl who arrived with the band is selling merch and not the guitar player. We've all been guilty of this stuff, but what we are experiencing currently is a true paradigm shift."
Reed, in the meantime, won't address the various accusations levied against him. He maintains that VanVorst's post took him completely by surprise, as did the ensuing comments of the same tone.
"A lot of things came as a shock to me, and I think my biggest regret is that I never wanted anyone to feel like they couldn't talk to me and that their voices weren't being heard. I think with any community, personal communication is very important," Reed says. "I really care about the local music scene and have dedicated the better part of my adulthood trying to promote Raleigh arts, culture, bands and inclusivity in the city."
But he confirms that he's done with Triangle music for the time being.
"At this point I think the best thing for the arts community and for myself, mentally, is for me to step away and let things continue on their own," Reed says.
What appears inarguable is that the Triangle scene, which prides itself on openness and inclusivity, can stand to improve considerably in both regards. VanVorst spoke out bravely, and now Reed is effectively gone. But the problem runs deeper than one man. The constant that emerges from speaking with principals throughout the scene is the need for better, safer, and more transparent communication. With such a deep and thriving music community, it can be easy to become complacent and take it as an article of faith that voices across the spectrum are being heard.
But as last week's online storm indicated, that isn't always the case, and it takes consistent introspection and communication to fix these problems before they become painful for all involved. Whether locals can take these hard lessons, learn from them, and grow even stronger is a longer-term commitment with answers that won't reveal themselves any time soon.