After fielding complaints, AS220 removes Sharon Needles as 2017 Foo Fest headliner

Sharon Needles will not be headlining Foo Fest after all.

The annual festival organized and curated by Providence arts space AS220 has cancelled the controversial drag performer’s headlining appearance at the August 12 and 13 festival after fielding complaints from both attendees and other bands and artists scheduled to perform that weekend.

“Numerous local performers booked as part of the musical lineup have expressed reservations to us about performing on a bill with Sharon Needles,” reads a statement released by AS220 on Thursday night (May 18). “Therefore, we feel it would be irresponsible on our part to proceed as planned with the headlining act.”

Past Foo Fest headliners have included Lightning Bolt, Andrew W.K., Deerhoof and, most recently in 2016, Dan Deacon. When the announcement for this year’s edition of the festival was made earlier this month, it was met with controversy via outcry from numerous people from Providence’s LGBTQ community and the local arts and music scene.

Sharon Needles is brainchild of Pittsburgh-based Aaron Cody, and gained fame in 2012 after winning the fourth season of the reality TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race. Within moments after the Foo Fest lineup announcement, people began sharing their disapproval on Foo Fest’s Facebook event page, most stemming from reports of Needles’ racist and transphobic discourse along with photos of her wearing a swastika t-shirt and a confederate flag one-piece swimsuit.

“Booking a TRANSPHOBIC and RACIST performer like Sharon Needles looks really bad,” wrote Vivian Sutherland last week on the Foo Fest Facebook event page. A day earlier, Bashir Daviid Naim expressed a similar concern: “Really deeply disappointed that Sharon Needles — a consistently problematic “artist” is headlining foo fest.”

Efforts to reach Sharon Needles for comment were unsuccessful.

Among the bands set to play this year’s Foo Fest include Hot Boyz, Shira, Lifers, Midriffs, Minibeast, Hairspray Queen, and others. Read AS220’s full statement on the removal of its headliner below:

“In light of issues raised by members of our community about Sharon Needles, AS220 has cancelled her appearance as the headlining act of Foo Fest 2017 on Saturday, August 12th, 2017.

AS220 chose Sharon Needles for our headliner as a drag artist who performs all original music, an alternative artist who pushed the envelope of beauty in the mainstream drag world, a performer from the LGBTQ community who would bring a theatrical element to the Foo Fest stage, and as an advocate for LGBTQ youth as recognized by the Pittsburgh City Council. While we knew of her reputation as a transgressive performer, we were not aware of past controversies that have since been brought to light by our community.

AS220 was founded on the principles of freedom of speech and artistic expression. We provide unjuried and uncensored venues for any artist to perform or exhibit their original work, regardless of the content. In the past, AS220 has dealt with controversial artists and events by facilitating discussion between parties, whether in a community forum or one-on one discussions.

However, it does not appear that having a meaningful, well-rounded conversation about these issues will be possible in a timely manner. Numerous local performers booked as part of the musical lineup have expressed reservations to us about performing on a bill with Sharon Needles. Therefore, we feel it would be irresponsible on our part to proceed as planned with the headlining act.

This decision was not arrived at lightly. After thoughtful discussions and debates in which we considered the potential impact on our community, audience, residents, members, Foo Fest performers, vendors, and sponsors, the administrative staff at AS220 arrived at the decision to cancel Ms. Needles’ appearance.

We wish to make it clear that, while AS220’s mission is to provide a venue for all artists, Foo Fest — our annual fundraiser — is a curated event. The supporting acts that participate in the festival are chosen by AS220 staff to reflect our dynamic community. While we have decided to cancel Ms. Needles’ appearance at Foo Fest, AS220 remains an unjuried and uncensored space for any and all artists who wish to exhibit or perform at our open-forum venues: the Main Stage, Black Box Theatre, Psychic Readings room, and the AS220 Galleries.

‘AS220 wants to encourage further dialogue about these issues so we can further understand and respond properly to community needs. We invite members of our community to remain engaged in this dialogue and will be offering an opportunity to continue the conversation at AS220’s Main Stage on Sunday, May 28th,” said AS220 Artistic Director Shey Rivera. A time that is best for all parties will be determined as soon as possible.

More news about the status of a Foo Fest 2017 headliner will be released as it is confirmed.”

Watch the video for Sharon Needles’ August 2016 single “Hollywoodn’t” below.