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Front Porch Step: Why is Warped Tour endangering its audience?

Today Front Porch Step, a musician who has admitted to being involved in sexually explicit text conversations with underage fans, was allowed to play a set at Warped Tour in Nashville. Not a single word of that sentence is speculation.

“I liked the new attention, l suddenly had a handful of “online girlfriends” one text away,” Jake Mcelfresh admitted in a statement back in April addressing the, then accusations.

Someone who has been proven to be an active danger to minors has been allowed to perform at a festival where the average age of attendees is seventeen years old, in a country where eighteen is the age of consent.

Pardon the repetition there, but this is a situation that takes a little while to sink in. Reading the above statement from Front Porch Step, released some months after the accusations first came to light, you’ll find that he denies any physical interaction, but justifies the phone conversations (in which he was accused of soliciting nude images of the girls he was speaking to) with the idea that “texting is a two-way street,” and that “sexual or otherwise, I only had text interactions with willing participants.” Lots has been said about this statement already, but it’s important to note here that Mcelfresh, doesn’t see that he’s done anything wrong – the sheer arrogance of the way that statement closes only serves to reiterate that.

So not only has this person admitted to the conversations taking place, he’s also unashamed of it. Once again, Front Porch Step played Warped Tour today.

“There are a lot of stories on the internet about how well I treat my fans. I take pride in the fact that THAT is the person that I am,” he boasts earlier in that aforementioned statement. A phrase that was echoed as Front Porch Step took to the stage today. “I know who I am and I am fucking very proud of that,” he spits at a member of the crowd. “Thanks for the ticket money, dude.”

There’s a terrifying lack of remorse threaded throughout this sorry tale.

Warped Tour and its organiser, Kevin Lyman, have come under fire in recent years on a number of issues such as gender-bias and the sexual safety of its attendees. To Lyman’s credit, he has made a point to join in on these conversations and tried to learn from them in a bid to improve Warped Tour. However, today’s decision to gift Front Porch Step a platform serves to destroy every one of those efforts and shows total disregard, not only for the problems mentioned above, but the general well-being of the audience Warped Tour caters for. As recently as May, Lyman has gone on record to say that he intends “to make Warped Tour a safer place for fans and musicians,” specifically name checking sexual abuse and predator awareness as being issues he wants to address. Less than two months later, Lyman allows a known sexual predator to play a stage at his tour, seemingly providing security for that predator’s safety along the way. Is this the safety Lyman spoke of, issuing heightened security so that someone who is a direct danger to his fans can perform safely?

There’s no two ways about this; Kevin Lyman is actively endangering the minors who attend his festival whilst protecting the very cause of that danger. This isn’t just an oversight, this is actively enabling. So, the question has to be asked; why was this allowed to happen?

As Kelly Doherty wrote for AbsolutePunk earlier today, there was absolutely no need, from a ticket sales perspective, to add Front Porch Step to the bill: “It makes no negative impact on the sales of Warped Tour to not include him. No one ever said ‘Aww, I was going to pay a load of dollars to go to Warped, but Front Porch Step isn’t on the line up so I guess I’ll play Xbox instead.’ In fact, the tickets for this date were already sold at the point of announcing the act, so there is literally no benefit. Inclusion of Front Porch Step feels like a giant ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’. It feels like a pathetic act of rebellion from a man who’s been coming under fire because his festival is the anti-thesis of what it once was, and that makes breaking away from Warped and everything it stands for all that easier.”

Kevin Lyman has been in the business for a long time now. You don’t get to the level of influence he has by being an idiot, so to think that he might have just overlooked the situation by mistake is naïve. In his Op-Ed for AltPress back in May he admits his responsibility to a scene that he, “not only holds dear but feel I had a hand in creating,” before aligning himself with Front Porch Step and then indulging in victim blaming. “It started with the allegations against Front Porch Step. Not one person whom he had interaction with went to the authorities (after I encouraged them myself) or to their parents. I have seen completely innocent people have their names dragged through the mud…the witch hunt must stop.” Remember: the person accused had publicly admitted to everything a month earlier.

In a brave, lengthy and damning Tumblr post Autumn Brooke, someone with an incredibly intimate knowledge of Jake, says this. “I called Kevin Lyman, I told him that (Jake) wasn’t sticking to his treatment and I didn’t feel it was wise he played Warped Tour. I knew that Jake was a cash cow for them but I didn’t think it was right to have him around at the expense of other people.”

Kevin didn’t listen.

We’re left with two avenues. Either Front Porch Step has been allowed a platform as a publicity grab by Warped Tour, or Kevin Lyman is, with full knowledge of the situation, actively putting his audience in immediate danger while also sending a message of tolerance to the world at large. It’s a bleak fork to be faced with. The Acoustic Basement stage where Front Porch Step performed today was shown as being over capacity.

Whether this was down to fans who’ve stuck by him in spite of all this or a depressing insight into just how morbid human curiosity can get – we know it wasn’t full of people there to confront Mcelfresh, since anyone speaking out against him was apparently removed from the tent by security – the fact is that people went along and listened to his set.

Add to that the online publicity that occurred after it came to light that Front Porch Step would be performing with bands reacting (thankfully unanimously negatively), to the news and media outlets then reporting on that. The decision to allow Front Porch Step to play is the most noteworthy thing to happen at a Warped Tour event this year. They say any publicity is good publicity, but if this is the case, then this is far too high a price to pay for it. The huge swathe of the music scene that Warped, and by extension Lyman, represents has not reacted well to the news of Front Porch Steps performance. The Wonder YearsDan Campbell cancelling his Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties performance and, alongside countless others, encouraged a boycott of the stage. Others used their platform, either at the festival or online, to speak out against the situation . This incident has sent a shockwave through a community.

For acts as influential as The Wonder Years, who are one of the tour’s biggest acts this year, and Paramore, one of Warped’s success stories, to use their carefully considered platform to publicly speak out against this situation is a huge red flag. This isn’t a case of ‘he said, she said’ or silly rumours gathering pace in the echo chamber of The Internet, this is an issue that’s been brewing for months.

Allison Weiss and Rob Lynch pulled their UK tour with Front Porch Step in January. Pure Noise, his record label, removed him from their roster. Warped Tour itself removed Front Porch Step, who was due to play every one of the fourty-three dates, from the bill. The decision to allow Jake Mcelfresh to play the Nashville leg of Warped Tour today was taken with all the knowledge being readily available. This was a deliberate decision.

There isn’t a single reason why Front Porch Step should have played Warped Tour today. His inclusion only breeds danger and the paper-thin excuses given by Kevin Lyman to AltPress show a man who puts the artist above the audience.

Punk rock, the very thing that Warped Tour was built on, is supposed to be a safe place and it is the responsibility of punk rock festival organisers to facilitate that. For his negligence – no, for his active hypocrisy and endangerment today, Kevin Lyman and the rest of the Warped Tour have failed miserably in their duties.