Toby Keith Punished for Inauguration Performance?

Country star is not the only one who may face backlash for musical work at Trump event

by Zachary Leeman | Updated 14 Feb 2017 at 8:16 AM

A country music festival in Naperville, Illinois, is under pressure to drop country superstar Toby Keith as the headliner for its show. What, you might wonder, was Keith’s offense that has offended some people so much?

Simple — he performed at an inauguration event in January for President Donald Trump.

Many are still insisting he is a divisive figure for choosing to take part in America’s peaceful transfer of power.

Though Keith made no endorsements during the presidential campaign and typically keeps politics out of his performances, many people are still insisting he is a divisive figure for choosing to take part in America’s peaceful transfer of power.

“In the current political climate, it seemed overtly polarizing and political,” a Naperville resident told the Chicago Tribune about Keith’s headlining of the festival, called Ribfest.

The festival responded to public criticism on its Facebook page, saying, “At no time does the Exchange Club of Naperville make any political statement or endorsement. At no time are artists booked based on their political beliefs or actions.”

Keith is not the only musician who took part in this year's inauguration to feel backlash from the Left. Rock band 3 Doors Down played at an inauguration — and then faced calls for boycotts from some of its tour stops in Canada following the inauguration gig.

"Playing for a misogynistic, racist, homophobic tyrant like Trump makes you complicit," wrote someone on the group's Facebook page. Plenty more chimed in, vilifying the band — though none of the band members made official endorsements of presidential candidates.

Related: Toby Keith Won't 'Apologize' for Inauguration Performance

Yet the worst example of backlash comes from director Spike Lee. He admitted on Instagram that he was taking one of singer Chrisette Michelle's songs out of consideration for an upcoming soundtrack simply because she had accepted an invitation to play a Trump inauguration event.

"Good Morning Folks. I Wuz Sorry To Read That 'Sistuh Girl' Is Singin' At DT's Inauguration (And To Use His Fav Word-SAD). I Wuz Thinkin' 'bout Using Chrisette's Song- 'BLACK GIRL MAGIC' In My Netflix Series 'SHE'S GOTTA HAVE IT'…. NOT ANYMORE. And Dat's Da Truth, Ruth," he wrote.

Meanwhile, Chrisette Michelle was not a Trump supporter. She had expressed anti-Trump sentiments through Instagram — but she said her accepting an invitation was to show how the country could unify and come together despite political differences. "I am willing to be a bridge," she wrote.

"I don't apologize for performing for our country or military," said Keith.

It is astounding that this even needs to be said, but playing at a president's inauguration does not equal a political endorsement. Choosing to share one's abilities and take part in our country's peaceful transfer of power is commendable and the sort of action that helps to bridge gaps and unify people through art, music, performance, and other forms of creativity.

Unfortunately, Keith and others have faced public backlash for decisions that should be applauded. None of them are public Trump supporters, although they shouldn't receive criticism even if they were. They are artists who have shown a level of professionalism and maturity that their leftist critics should respect.

As for Keith, the backlash likely doesn't faze him. The country star will play the June 30 Ribfest like any other show. He faced public outcry when he agreed to play the inauguration in the first place and he made his sentiments crystal clear then — he was not apologizing or backing down.

"I don't apologize for performing for our country or military," said Keith. "I performed at events for previous Presidents [George W.] Bush and [Barack] Obama and over 200 shows in Iraq and Afghanistan for the USO."

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