UPDATE 9/9: Kozelek is now selling an “All You Fuckin’ Hillbillies Shut The Fuck Up” teeshirt via his Caldo Verde label website, and in a stroke of poetic justice, the shirts are being made by local Raleigh biz Tannis Root.
The “fucking hillbillies” comment, though ill-timed, was clearly a joke. Above: post-concert graffiti dedicated to Mark Kozelek.
By Fred Mills
Once again, the immediacy and ubiquity of social media has conflated an isolated incident into some sort of Ukrainian missile crisis in the ever-sensitive indie rock community. In this corner: Mark “Kruschev” Kozelek, who prior to a Sun Kil Moon set Friday night (Sept. 5) at Raleigh’s Lincoln Theater during the annual Hopscotch Music Festival, was experiencing a short delay in starting up due to microphone issues and, responding to a noisy, restless crowd, told the “fucking hillbillies” in the audience to “shut the fuck up.” In this corner: a handful of self-appointed indie freedom fighters who decided that Mr. Kozelek needed to be taught a lesson in Southern manners and spent the rest of the evening in a passive-aggressive snit, deliberately making noises and baiting the band. The result: a highly anticipated concert ultimately ruined for the 95% of the crowd that actually wanted to hear Kozelek & Co. perform.
While a number of blogs and social comments have tried to cast Kozelek as the bad guy—Pitchfork, for example, tried to spin the incident along lines of other times when he was “surly” with audiences, such as the show reported on by The Seattle Times in February and the Barcelona gig The Quietus reviewed—that type of contextual generalization ignores most of the specifics. Admittedly, Kozelek was frustrated and was seen having a heated conversation with a crew member or a Lincoln Theater employee prior to going onstage, presumably about the mic problems. And even though Kozelek stated from the stage that he had been joking, using a term like “hillbilly” in North Carolina, while not on the order of, say, using the N-word in Harlem or calling a Hispanic crowd in Texas “wetbacks,” is flirting with misinterpretation, to say the least.
Full disclosure: I was not at the show. Still, according to at least three people who I talked to yesterday (including a photographer who was working with me during Hopscotch), Kozelek was clearly joking when he made the comments, but a certain number of thin-skinned people chose to take offense anyway. Those people then proceeded to make noise throughout the set, some of them giving exaggerated shushing sounds, others lobbing catcalls in the direction of the stage. This in turn prompted their neighbors to try to quiet them down, resulting in a kind of verbal domino effect. One of the folks I talked to said that after about 15 minutes he’d had enough and walked out—not because he was angry at Kozelek, but because the boneheads in the crowd made it impossible to concentrate on just the music.
As one might imagine, though, comments flooded social media, many of them along the lines of “really rude,” “stuck up asshole,” “prima donna meltdown” and “#SunKilMoon is a dick.” I saw a few counter-comments, but it appears that the majority of commenters were reacting to “what they had heard” rather than what they actually observed firsthand.