FYF Fest Founder Sean Carlson Accused of Sexual Misconduct by Four Women

FYF Fest
Trixie Textor/Getty Images

Atmosphere during FYF Fest at Los Angeles State Historic Park on Aug. 24, 2013. 

The allegations in a Spin story come a few days after promoter Goldenvoice cut ties with Carlson with no explanation.

In the latest incident in what has become a torrent of sexual misconduct claims, four women have spoken to Spin about what they claim were acts of sexual misconduct by FYF Fest founder Sean Carlson. The allegations come just days after Coachella promoter Goldenvoice announced that it had cut ties with Carlson, who founded FYF (formerly known as Fuck Yeah Fest) in 2004 when he was 18. The disturbing incidents, which reportedly took place between 2010 and 2015, include one in which a woman said Carlson sexually assaulted her. 

Goldenvoice and parent company AEG Presents -- which teamed with FYF beginning in 2011 --- have not spoken about why they split with Carlson, but Spin said the promoter said two of the allegations were true, while disputing the facts of the other two and offering a lengthy apology for his actions, saying his conduct "in both of these incidents was inexcusable." 

Over the past month, Spin reached out to a number of people who worked with Carlson to investigate rumors of sexual harassment, speaking to one man who worked with the promoter from 2006-2010 and described a house party during the 2010 event where he said Carlson "rolled up to the party and was just like, groping girls... y'know, grabbing their asses and just being super aggressive." The person said even after the women said no Carlson persisted, going on to describe Carlson's troubling conduct with women as an "open secret" in the Los Angeles music scene.

The allegations come in the midst of a number of similar claims against movie producer Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis C.K. and a raft of other politicians, actors, directors, producers and prominent entertainment figures. And, similarly, the anonymous former colleague of Carlson's said that "most of the women work in the industry and are just terrified of coming forward and giving their names and being blacklisted," a sentiment that mirrors the silence by many of the others harassed and assaulted by the above-mentioned figures.

But, in league with the rise of the #MeToo movement and the flood of women coming forward to break their silence on decades of sexual impropriety and assault, Carlson's accusers -- all but one of whom requested anonymity -- came forward to share their stories with Spin. (Warning: the following contain graphic stories of sexual violence.)

Former freelance music photographer Natasha Ryan said she met Carlson at a Matador Records event in October 2010 in Las Vegas, where she attended a late night VIP after-party where she and others got into a hot tub. Wearing only her bra and underwear, Ryan said "this guy kept coming up to me and trying to take my bra off and I had to keep batting him away," noting that she didn't know who he was. A short time later, while waiting in line for the bathroom, Carlson allegedly approached again and "started grabbing me and trying to kiss me" while attempting to pull her into the bathroom to make out. Ryan said she kept saying no, even as Carlson persisted.

She didn't say anything at the time or report the incident because she was still working for magazines and publications, though she did give Spin a copy of an email she wrote to her mom a few days later in which she described Carlson's forceful advances.

The second woman said she knew who Carlson was when she was introduced to him by friends at a barbecue in Los Angeles in 2013. They spoke and she gave him her phone number, describing him as kind of awkward and clearly "not good with women." Carlson allegedly asked her to "make out" a short time later that evening and while she was going to the bathroom she said he barged in and would not leave. Describing his eyes as "dead," she said Carlson shut the door, locking her in as he removed his erect penis from his pants.

Trying to defuse the situation, the woman said she kept asking Carlson to back off as he insisted she "kiss" his penis and lifted up her dress. She managed to escape, but said Carlson later pinned her down on a couch in front of the house and attempted to kiss her again, only to be interrupted by someone, allowing her to get away. "I'm pretty well-educated in terms of my body, my safety, my awareness," she told Spin. "I never expected to be in any kind of situation where I didn't have control, where somebody wasn't respecting my wishes." She shared a series of text messages from the following days from a number connected to Carlson in which he appeared to apologize for his actions, saying he hoped that he could "show you in the future that I am a good person."

The woman -- who said she suffered from anxiety, sleep disturbances and a feeling of being "on edge all the time" for two months after -- filed a police report several days later, though she ultimately decided not to press charges.

A third woman met Carlson through a colleague at the L.A. office of a record label she occasionally worked for and recalled him as friendly, even after she rejected his advances. At a party in the spring of 2015, she said he was "pretty wasted" and "stuck his tongue down my throat" unexpectedly several times, startling her as she resisted his kiss. She said he texted an apology the next day, but once again approached her aggressively five months later at another party.

In a similar scenario, the woman was in the bathroom and Carlson allegedly barged in and tried ot make out with her even as she pushed him away. When she and a friend were preparing to leave, Carlson offered to ride in an Uber with them, suggesting her friend get in front while he sat in the back seat with her and began to "put his hands all over me and again try to make out with me," groping her breasts and thighs as she tried to block him.

Even after the incident, she said she tried to remain neutral and friendly for professional reasons.

The fourth woman is described as a publicist who worked with Carlson for two years. At a concert in L.A. in the fall of 2015 she told Carlson and two male friends that she'd accepted a new job and afterwards they had drinks on the dance floor together. She describes Carlson getting "overly" flirty with her, coming "too close" as she tried to avoid his aggressive advances, jokingly swatting him away so as not to create a scene.

Later, Carlson, who had met the woman's boyfriend before, allegedly began trying to kiss her as a friend pulled Carlson aside and told him to stop. "I didn't want to keep silent anymore," she said of her reason for telling her story now. "Alcohol's not an excuse. Nothing's an excuse." 

Carlson provided the following statement to Spin:

Incident 4 is true. Incident 3 is generally true, but I did not follow the individual into a bathroom. My conduct in both of these incidents was inexcusable.

The descriptions in Incidents 1 and 2 both contain serious misstatements and omissions. However, on both occasions I acted inappropriately and shamefully, and deeply regret my actions.  

I am genuinely, unequivocally sorry. I lay fault at no one’s feet but my own.  I am ashamed by how I acted and feel terrible for the pain that I have caused. Actions speak louder than words.

In December 2015, my years of recklessness and selfishness hit a breaking point; I had to make a promise to family and friends that I would change, or risk finally exhausting what remained of their compassion and support. I gave up alcohol for good, I embraced therapy, and I asked, sincerely, that my family and friends forgive me. Nevertheless, these corrective actions do not excuse my reprehensible conduct, and are small solace to those whose pain I am so sorry to have caused.

Goldenvoice and FYF Fest did not respond to Spin's requests for comment at press time; Billboard also reached out to Goldenvoice and did not receive a response at press time. Click here to read the full Spin story.


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