The War And Treaty Call Out Racist Festival Experience

9 July 2024 | 8:34 pm | Ellie Robinson

“It’s something that white artists don’t have to worry about at all,” The War And Treaty’s Michael Trotter Jr. says.

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The War And Treaty are one of the most renowned acts in the modern Americana scene – but alas, this world is littered with heartless villains, and the Michigan-native power couple encountered one at last week’s Sips & Sounds Music Festival in Austin, Texas.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, singer-songwriter Michael Trotter Jr. explained that he experienced a gut-wrenching act of racism backstage at the festival, walking into his dressing room to find a cotton plant. “We all know what that means,” he said. “We all know what that represents in this country to people that look like us.”

Michael went on to discuss the emotions he felt in such a devastating moment: “Anger is what I felt. Disrespect is what I felt. Sadness is what I felt. Sadness not just because of what that plant represents to people that look like me but sadness for myself because I am a son of this country. I served this country honourably in the United States Army 16th Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. I’m wounded for that service. I’m very vocal about my wounds and my scars, and I felt betrayed.

“It’s not fair. It’s something that white artists don’t have to worry about at all. It just happens to come through the bowels of this genre. So, I feel that it’s not enough for us to talk about it, we have to demand that we be about it.”

Michael and his wife, fellow singer-songwriter Tanya Trotter, went on to perform their set on the Sips & Sounds mainstage, but endeavoured to leave the festival immediately after it. Michael explained that he and Tanya “had a moment in our hotel room where we wanted to address our son, Legend, who’s 12”, but ended up being the ones “addressed”.

He continued: “[Legend] said that this is not the time to be quiet about it. He was very upset, and he understood exactly what it meant. He’s home schooled, and he knows what that means, and he doesn’t know what it means because Ty and I have sat down and drilled it in his head.”

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Tanya also spoke out about the experience, saying an incident like this “hits hard when you are a granddaughter of a sharecropper”. She said: “My grandfather actually bought the plantation that he picked cotton on in New Bern, North Carolina. My family actually still lives there. So when you see these things, you look at it and you’re like, ‘Wow, even though my grandfather bought the plantation, there’s still a lot of pain rooted for people that didn’t get an opportunity to change it into economic development for their families.’

“I didn’t want to sit in there and educate because it’s not my position to educate anybody on what cotton is and what it represents in this country. It just shouldn’t happen. Beyond it just being about racism, it’s broader now. It’s now a safety issue because we have to feel safe coming to these festivals.”

She expounded on the sentiment: “If we’re going to infiltrate and we’re going to have Black people, Asian people, Hispanic people, then you have to look at it as a safety issue the same way they did when they integrated the school in Arkansas. They had the police there.

“It has to be safe for people to come to get an education, to be entertained, whatever the case may be. So that’s the position that I take as we are moving into this genre and the spaces broadening not just for us but for everyone. Anybody with melanin in their skin, you have to provide an environment of safety for them.”

Michael agreed with his wife, adding to her notion: “My skin color is red, white and blue – the flag. I’m an American soldier. That is what this country called upon when it asked me to serve, so I feel betrayed.

“Yes, it’s a safety issue, but it is bigger than that. It is a humane problem. It is humanity, and I was put in a position where I felt I had to protect my wife, and my son, and my daughter, and my band members at all costs, which would mean I got to go into war mode in my own country.”

The Hollywood Reporter later received a statement on behalf of the Sips & Sounds team, saying they were “disheartened” by the Trotters’ experience at the festival. The statement read: “There was no purposeful harm intended, and we sincerely apologize. Their concern was met with immediate action, including a heartfelt in-person apology, removal of the decor and a personal conversation with the artists by event organizers to assure them this was an honest mistake.”

The War And Treaty are currently touring in support of their fourth studio album, Lover’s Game, which arrived last March via UMG Nashville. Their last trip to Australia came in 2022, when they played five consecutive days at the Byron Bay Bluesfest.