See video about the Cee Lo scandal in today's TimesFreePress newscast.
First, let's get one thing straight: Cee Lo Green wasn't "banned" by Riverbend for cursing in his performance on Saturday night. It's just that the stocky, short-armed soul singer "won't be coming back," according to Chip Baker, executive director of the Friends of the Festival.
Apparently to Baker, whose organization manages Riverbend, never being invited to play Riverbend again and being banned are two different things.
Let's not kid ourselves, Cee Lo wouldn't have ever played Riverbend again anyway. The odds of seeing Cee Lo a second time on the festival's floating stage are about the same as Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley rising from the dead to perform a surprise zombie duet of "Thriller" at next year's Riverbend.
Not only do Riverbend organizers (wisely) refrain from repeating headlining performers, but Cee Lo actually appealed to teens and young adults, drew people from outside of Chattanooga to the festival and infused some authentic excitement into the event — all things Riverbend seemingly tries to avoid.
Friends of the Festival's silly ban-that-wasn't-really-a-ban was a response to the "very, very, very many disgruntled emails" that Joe "Dixie" Fuller, the festival's talent and production coordinator, claims to have responded to from attendees upset by Cee Lo's R-rated performance. Interestingly, while Fuller was apparently quick to respond to the deluge of emails from disgruntled festival-goers, he did not respond to an email from this editorial page last week asking if Friends of the Festival planned to request that Cee Lo change the lyrics of his hit single "F@ You" to "Forget You," as they are in the radio edit of the song.
That should've been our first indication that Riverbend didn't know how to balance an artist known for prolific use of the "F-word" and the "N-word," and glorifying gun violence and drug use during his days with the rap/hip-hop group Goodie Mob — which reunited on the Riverbend stage for five songs during Cee Lo's performance — with the festival's straight-laced identity.
Sure, it's easy to blame the Friends of the Festival for booking Cee Lo. Either they didn't consider the fact that he might perform some of his songs as written, with the naughty words intact, or they knew it was a possibility and ignored it because they were just happy to have a well-respected artist who also happens to star on one of the most-watched shows on television, NBC's "The Voice."
It's also easy to blame Cee Lo, who certainly could have shown a little more concern for Riverbend's prudish nature and the broad and diverse crowd gathered to watch him perform. In the past, he has been happy to clean up his lyrics for live television and radio performances. The same consideration, it can be argued, should have been made for Riverbend.
Still others may also claim that the Riverbend attendees who were offended are the bad guys in the scenario. Caveat emptor, after all — let the buyer beware. If Riverbend festival goers are easily offended by cursing, they probably shouldn't be in public; certainly not in a crowd of more than 25,000 folks. At the very least, they owe it to themselves to be familiar with the acts they plan to see. A cursory Google search of Cee Lo's lyrics as a solo artist, and with Gnarls Barkley and Goodie Mob, would indicate that his songs might offend sensitive ears.
The real responsibility for Riverbend's silly "Cee Lo-Gate," however, lies not with the Friends of the Festival, Cee Lo or the easily offended. The real culprit is our society.
For some strange reason, our culture continues to give power to certain words. This concern over cursing goes back nearly a millennium to a preposterous notion that saying certain words would trigger a curse — hence the term "curse words." It is unfortunate that, in our modern time, our society is held hostage by vocabulary taboos that are rooted in superstition.
Rather than banning Cee Lo from Riverbend or boycotting the festival over a few curse words, we should instead have an adult discussion about why we continue to give importance to — and even fear — certain words. When you think about it, is there anything sillier than being offended by the sounds that come out of someone's mouth? Isn't it about time we all grow up?
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In the entertainment industry, "ban" is a four-letter word.
Cee Lo Green won't be coming back to Riverbend.