Marijuana has long been celebrated in music, especially in genres like hip-hop and heavy metal. Neither genre, however, was represented at this year’s Monroe Street Fair on Saturday, the music festival that coincides with Ann Arbor’s long-standing annual pro-marijuana Hash Bash — and the first one held since Michigan voted to legalize marijuana in November.
Though the festival has declined to book hip-hop and metal acts for years, the issue came to a head this year when a screenshot of an email from the Monroe Street Fair sent to Gonzo Stennis, the manager for Flint-based rapper Imagine, started making the rounds on social media.
“We recently submitted to perform at this years festival although it read that you guys don’t accept Hip Hop acts,” Stennis wrote in a February email, which he shared with Metro Times
to verify its authenticity. “I was just curious as to why you guys don’t book that specific genre? I know a lot of people Associate rap and violence but I’d assume there’s more to your reasoning than just that! But nevertheless if you guys decide you’d like to make an acception for an act or 2 we’d be honored to come out and do a set! Check out Imagine on sonicbids when you can!”
Someone from the Monroe Street Fair replied, “we do relate its been our experience one year some rap thugs threatened us about a set. fuck that. goodnight rap. yeah it was only one act. thats how they represented. no pride.”
Last month, some local hip-hop fans began circulating the screenshot, saying that they would boycott the event for calling rap artists “rap thugs.”
“To say ‘rappers’ are the cause of nonsense, I can’t agree with [that],” Ypsilanti-based emcee Louis Picasso says. “The only thing that makes something violent is the people that are violent. Not the music.”
A Monroe Street Fair organizer who asked not to be named says they regret their choice of words, but the festival’s hands are tied — the festival simply cannot afford to book rap and heavy metal acts due to higher insurance rates charged for such artists.
“The rap insurance is so much on public property, same for heavy metal,” he says. “We love rap music, heavy metal, bluegrass, and country. We love it all.”
The organizer says it’s hard enough to get insurance for a marijuana-related event. “Most insurance will not ensure public marijuana-related events, and legalization has actually tightened focus on the insurance industry and risks,” he says. “I'm just happy [to] have event insurance in the first place. That’s a major accomplishment.”
Insurance agent Mary Sue Engers of Meadowbrook Insurance agrees that companies can charge higher rates for rap and heavy metal artists because they are seen as potential event risks, but couldn’t say by how much.
“I can’t tell you how much extra, but I know some companies will not write the policies because of the propensity for violence,” she says. “It’s based on the attendance, where it’s at, what type of venue. There’s a lot that goes into it. The only way to find out a price is to quote it.”
Former Hash Bash organizer Adam Brook says he faced similar booking issues when he worked for the event, which he left in 2011. “[They’re] on a public street,” he says. “Being on a public street, the city requires [them] to have insurance. I have no problem with that.”
Brook, however, disagrees with the Monroe Fair official’s claim that these acts are unbookable. He believes the Monroe Street Fair could find a way to generate enough money to cover the cost required to book the acts.
The Monroe Fair official says rap or heavy metal artists could cost as much as $10,000 to book per act. Nevertheless, he says he’s proud of this year’s lineup, which featured several handpicked bands, including longtime marijuana activist John Sinclair, Billy Davis Rhythm Machine Band, Syd Burnham Band, Leaving Lifted, Covert Operations, and Zack & What Army.
“We carefully review over 100 acts,” he says. “I am very proud of our show over the years.”
Both Brook and the Monroe Street Fair official say they were looking forward to this year’s event.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of crowds show up,” Brook says. “It doesn’t matter who’s playing these events now because they’re so big. If only they’ll provide good music, that’s all I ask.”
Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.