Howard County police said they are prepared for but unaware of any planned protests of country singer Jason Aldean, who will perform Thursday night at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia amid backlash over his recent song “Try That in a Small Town.”
“As with any large concert, HCPD will have adequate security and EMS personnel on site. We’re currently unaware of any planned protests or disruptions, however our detail will be fully staffed with all necessary resources available,” police department spokesperson Seth Hoffman wrote in an email response to Baltimore Fishbowl.
In recent weeks, Aldean has been embroiled in controversy over the song and its accompanying music video, accused of evoking a racist’s nostalgic view of lynching.
The video was pulled from country music television station CMT. It has also been reportedly edited to remove footage of 2020 Black Lives Matter protests from the original video, though other protest footage remains.
Aldean has claimed that all the footage was from U.S. protests, but viewers have pointed out stock footage from foreign countries that was used in the video.
It was at Aldean’s 2017 concert in Las Vegas that a mass shooter killed 58 people who had gathered to celebrate his music – considered the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Against that backdrop, critics find the topic, tone, and tenor of “Try That in a Small Town” even more egregious.
There may not be any official protests planned for Aldean’s Merriweather concert, but Columbia residents are registering their disgust; some on Twitter, others in longer form.
Julia A. McCready, who blogs at Village Green Town Squared, made her opinion clear on Sunday in a post entitled “Suburban Desperados.” (Aldean’s tour is called “Highway Desperado.”)
After explaining the reasons for the backlash, with which she concurs, McCready calls out her own community for inaction while Aldean comes to their own backyard to a nearly sold-out crowd.
“I feel a visceral revulsion to Aldean’s slick brand of anti-Black violence being marketed and lapped up anywhere. Is it worse because it’s Columbia? I don’t know. There are so many opportunities that we have right here at home to stand up for our Black friends and neighbors and to stand against systemic racism and we don’t.
“Columbia made a powerful showing in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and was inordinately proud of itself. The next day? Week? Month? Year? Not so much.
“That’s life in Columbia, Maryland. Show up for the big protests. Look the other way afterwards.“
Byron Macfarlane, register of wills for Howard County, however, understands the reluctance to stay away from the concert, regardless of the revulsion people may feel towards the performer and his views.
“People have a genuine concern for their safety,” Macfarlane told Baltimore Fishbowl. “Jason Aldean is not an artist. He is a fearmonger who spews dangerous rhetoric. Look back at January 6. People died.”
“People in Columbia are mortified,” Macfarlane said of Merriweather’s choice to book Aldean, who he said “peddles racism and vigilante justice. He serves up fear and anxiety at a time when political discourse is at a boiling point.”
Macfarlane recalled growing up listening to Garth Brooks with his father and when conservatives were the party of “law and order,” he said. He described Merriweather as having always been a “jewel” in Columbia.
“Everyone has wonderful memories of seeing concerts there,” McFarlane said. “Diverse programming is important. There are plenty of country music fans here. But plenty of artists don’t peddle in the dangerous rhetoric that Aldean does. This was a poor programming choice on Merriweather’s part. A serious misstep.”
Baltimore Fishbowl contacted Merriweather Post Pavillion but a spokesperson was unavailable.