Rock band Filter had their show canceled Thursday night over a Facebook post and the band’s intent to portray the American flag upside down in a background video onstage. The band was scheduled to perform at the Speaking Rock Entertainment Center in El Paso, Texas.
The Facebook post featured a short video of the band at sound check and read, “This is sound check!! We’re Playing El Paso!!! Get here later and it will be packed!! A lot of Trump bashing! Does anyone know Beto?? Bring Beto!”
In an exclusive interview with Billboard, Filter frontman Richard Patrick explained what happened.
“We were at sound check and I just took a quick video with my phone and threw up a post, kinda joking around. So that was the first thing,” Patrick said, calling from the El Paso International Airport. “The club has a video screen behind the stage, and that afternoon, I was working with the lighting guy picking out images to run behind our logo, and I picked about five and one of them was an American flag. Now we have this song, ‘American Cliché,’ and at the end of it, I say Donald Trump quotes, but I do it in a bad German accent — ‘Vee have to build za wall!’ — so I told the lighting guy to turn [the flag image] upside down and make the colors all trippy and weird like it’s a bad acid trip.
“So afterwards,” Patrick continued, “the band had left and I was walking out and one of the managers came up to me — really pleasant, very decent — and said, ‘I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but you can’t do that to the flag.’ When I asked him why not, he said, ‘It’s illegal.’ And I said, ‘No, it’s not.’ And he said, ‘You can’t hang it upside down unless it’s an emergency.’ So I said, ‘Well, President Trump has declared a national emergency because our southern border is being invaded by rapists and drug dealers, and babies have to be taken from their mothers, so this is an emergency.’ And then he said that El Paso is a big military town, so I pointed out that I’ve been to Iraq three or four times and once to Afghanistan to play for the troops. I was with the military when it was attacked in Kirkuk and we were just done playing when we were fired on in a rocket attack. It changed my life forever. I love the military, but our leaders are crazy and that’s why I’m so passionate. I have a great deal of respect for the American flag and our troops. I care about this country and I’m not allowed to talk about it and express my opinion? But you know, I understood where he was coming from and it was the club’s equipment, so I let it go and said we’d take the video down.’
Patrick said he thought that was the end of it. “But before I could do that,” he said, “they just decided that they didn’t like us because of our Facebook post and they canceled the show. I was back at the hotel and our tour manager was backstage and the general manager and the production manager came in with five security guards and started yelling at him, looking for me, and they were ready to kick my tour manager’s ass if they couldn’t kick mine. The production manager told him that the show was canceled and that we had to clear out, that because of the Facebook post they were getting credible threats — bomb threats — and they were canceling the show for our safety. And my tour manager said, ‘I have to call Richard and our management because this is Richard Patrick’s First Amendment right to say what he wants to say and the band stands behind him.’ And the general manager flipped him off, put his finger in his face, and yelled at him, ‘The First Amendment doesn’t exist here! Now get the fuck out of my venue! And these five men are going to stay here and watch you pack your shit!’
“But there were no police,” Patrick said. “No tribal police, no law enforcement, no bomb-sniffing dogs: It was all about us. And they still had a show that night; I think the opening band still played.”
When asked if canceling the show was a breach of contract and if the band might sue, Patrick paused for a bit and then said, “Ah… I’m not gonna sue anybody, you know? I mean, according to them, people were calling and threatening us.”
When asked how he felt about the experience, Patrick sighed. “Gutted. Just gutted. That club had the best sound, a great staff, the best lighting designer…,” he said, trailing off for a moment. “This country is so polarized. This isn’t the America that my family fought for. This is some guy trying to make a quick buck while he’s in the White House for a couple of years. Carl Bernstein said: ‘It’s not the first time that half of America has hated a president, but it’s the first president that’s hated half of America.’ And I agree with him. And I think no matter what, people should be able to speak their minds. And you know what? You can serve your country without ever putting on a uniform by exercising your First Amendment rights.”
Reached by phone Friday evening (March 8), Speaking Rock Entertainment Center general manager Karl A. Maahs gave his version of events to Billboard, saying, “When the singer got here and he started doing sound check, I guess he posted up a video about coming down and bashing Trump and all that, whatever he put on there, and that started the phone calls with customers being concerned that it was a political rally. He had some graphics that he brought in, some graphics or had some graphics created — I’m not exactly sure if he wanted us to create them or he already had them on a flash drive, but either way he wanted us to post graphics on our equipment of an American flag hung upside down, and he told us he wanted to desecrate it with different markings and everything else, and our staff didn’t feel comfortable doing that. It’s our equipment, it’s our video boards; he didn’t bring his own flag from outside, he wanted us to do all this electronically with our equipment, and we didn’t feel comfortable doing that. We told him he could sing the songs, but we’re not gonna stop in the middle of the show, put an American flag upside down and desecrate it so we could turn a rock show into a political rally.
“So he said that if he didn’t get to do whatever he wanted, that he had freedom of speech, that he wasn’t gonna play, and we told him, ‘We’re paying for the show, we just want a show, and if you want to turn it into a political rally, we’re gonna cancel the show,'” Maahs added. “The band was paid in full before they got here, and it was a free show, so we didn’t have to refund any customers any money, but I am the general manager and I wasn’t gonna make our employees feel uncomfortable posting the American flag upside down and putting different graphics over the top of the American flag. And we’d rather cancel the show than be in the spotlight with all this anti-American political thing, especially when it came down to the American flag being hung upside down for the show and being desecrated.”
Maahs continued: “I walked down there later and talked to the production people, but he [Richard Patrick] was already gone, the band was already gone — sound check was over. And we told them, the band was going back to the hotel, and we said, ‘Just don’t bring them back.’”
When asked if he was involved in booking an openly politically outspoken artist like Patrick, Maahs said, “I have the final say on everything. They’ve played here before. We didn’t follow his stuff after this president got elected. He’s never done the flag upside down and doing the stuff he was asking us to do, and we didn’t feel comfortable doing that.”
About the alleged bomb threats the venue received, Maahs said, “I didn’t answer the phone myself — that’s what I heard from some of the employees, that people were calling in with bomb threats or calling in and making threats — but I can’t tell you for sure what people said because I’m not a switchboard operator.”
As to whether Maahs or the venue alerted authorities about the alleged bomb threats or evacuated the casino, he said, “This is a tribal reservation and we have our own tribal police force, our own tribal fire department, and we work with our own tribal infrastructure. It was my decision to cancel the show, and once the show was canceled, we felt like the threat was alleviated.”
The dressing room incident, according to Maahs, “was overplayed. They said there were 30 security guards; we didn’t even have 30 security guards at the event. I got there after the band was already gone. The tour manager came up to me and he was very apologetic and I told him that if he could get [Patrick] to stop tweeting and stop the Facebook stuff and stop mentioning our names and just let this go that would be great, and he got all super pissed off and started talking about his First Amendment rights, and I said, ‘You know what? Just get your equipment and go.’ And he acted like we were going to take his equipment, so I did say, ‘Yeah, just get the fuck outta here.’ But I didn’t say, ‘There’s no such thing as the First Amendment’ — that’s not what was said. And there was no 30 security guards. I’m 6-foot-3, 320 pounds; the guy’s a hundred and 20 pounds soaking wet, 5-foot-2 or something.”
The venue was open Thursday night and the opening act, a local band, performed, Maahs confirms, for about 40 or 50 people.
On Friday morning, Patrick and the band were at the airport, flying home to Los Angeles.
When reached for response about Maahs’ statement for this article, Patrick said: “He’s straight-up lying. I told Scott, the production manager, that I would not use the image of the flag being upside down. I swallowed my pride. I conceded because I really wanted to play my concert and told him I wouldn’t use the image. And then all hell broke loose because they didn’t like my Facebook post. And if you’re getting bomb threats, why wouldn’t you call the police, FBI or Homeland Security? I think he’s fully lying.”
Patrick is currently recording a follow-up to Filter’s 1995 debut album, Short Bus, with his original songwriting partner, Brian Liesegang, tentatively titled ReBus.