Filter frontman Richard Patrick is no stranger to controversy. His band’s biggest hit, “Hey Man, Nice Shot,” is about the public suicide of a Republican politician, and the singer was kicked off of Twitter for a comment he recalls as “something like ‘F— off and die’ directed to Newt Gingrich.”
So last week, when Filter’s March 7 free concert at the Speaking Rock Entertainment Center in El Paso, Texas, was canceled, due apparently to a jokey anti-Trump video posted on the band’s Facebook page — as well as the group’s planned use of an upside-down American flag as an onstage video image — it didn’t come as a total shock. Speaking Rock also claimed they’d received threats against the venue as a result of Patrick’s Facebook post about the gig, which said in part, “Get here later and it will be packed!! A lot of Trump bashing! Does anyone know Beto?? Bring Beto!”
Yet Patrick claimes the situation was complicated by the venue’s years of legal machinations to obtain a license for gaming machines, which some feel could have been potentially complicated by any anti-Trump sentiment associated with their name. Speaking Rock is not positioned as a casino; rather, it’s “Drinks, food, & fun! Open 24/7.” The venue’s legal issues stem from the fact that it was opened in 1993 as a casino by the Tigua people of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo Native American tribe under federal — but not state — guidelines. The state sued, and a legal battle has gone on ever since.
What does all that have to do with Filter? After venue production manager Scott Brown informed Patrick he couldn’t use the flag imagery, “He said, ‘[Speaking Rock] has been in court for 30 years and it’s all about whether or not we can have a gaming license on our reservation. We do allow gambling,’” the singer recalls. “So I’m like, ‘Yeah, this is a casino,’” Patrick continues. “But [Brown was] like, ‘This is not a casino. This is an entertainment complex and we’ve got a huge meeting with someone very important in Washington, D.C. tomorrow and we cannot have anything go wrong with this.’” While Patrick wondered what role his band could possibly play in the venue’s gaming license, he said, “I get the feeling the threat is them not liking us because we said something about [Trump].”
Patrick says he told Speaking Rock officials he wouldn’t use the image and returned to his hotel to prepare for the concert — only to hear from his tour manager that the show was canceled and he and the band’s equipment were being ejected from the property. Patrick does admit that he initially exaggerated the number of security officers who were involved — in his first published interviews he claimed there were 30, but admits now that it was more like five. (He also admits the band was paid in full for the cancelled Speaking Rock show; as it was a free concert, no attendee refunds were required.)
Brown was not available but comment, but Speaking Rock general manager Karl Maahs, who says he has not spoken directly with Patrick, disputes several of the singer’s contentions. Maahs acknowledges that the venue has “been involved in a longtime legal battle. But the reason for cancellation was [Patrick’s Facebook] post causing people to [complain] well before the concert even started. And what he wanted us to do with the flag, even if we were not in a legal dispute … both of those things would have canceled the show.”
Maahs noted that two of the venue’s production employees working with Patrick on the show’s imagery were military veterans uncomfortable with manipulating the flag in such a manner. “The legal issues didn’t factor into the cancellation,” he says. “Our employees have common sense, so someone probably told him we don’t want this unnecessary attention.”
Maahs also says he was not aware that Patrick offered to scale back the flag usage on stage. “Even in his own first two of three posts on his own Facebook page, he never mentions anything about saying that,” Maahs says. “He told Scott and the staff that he could say or do anything he wants, that it’s his show, and he never backed down from that position.”
Patrick disagrees. “I agreed — begrudgingly — because I didn’t want to piss off the Tribal Council in any way shape or form. I decided to play ball because of the huge lawsuit that Scott mentioned.” Patrick also says he has rarely received such pushback from a venue. “There’s this song we have called ‘American Cliche,’ and toward the end I just started ad-libbing this thing where I say Donald Trump quotes, but in a German accent— ‘Ve must builds ze wall,’” he says. “And we played a rodeo in Colorado and I started goosestepping. We got some [flack] but honestly, the venue was really cool. They were like, ‘You gotta say what you gotta say.’”
In the wake of the Speaking Rock incident, some Filter fans support the band’s right to free speech, others don’t. Facebook comments range from “How about you perform with your amazing talent and music but leave out the politics” to “I am never setting foot in Speaking Rock ever again and I will let them know it. Trump lost by 40 points here. You are a great band and I support you 100%.”
Despite it all, Patrick says he’d be happy to return to the venue. “We were expecting to have like a really amazing time [at Speaking Rock],” he says. “I loved Speaking Rock — the PA system was insane. Sound check was supposed to be for half an hour, but we played a full hour because it sounded so good.”
Both say there has been no contact between the band and the venue since the incident, and Speaking Rock’s Facebook post about the cancellation — which said the show didn’t happen due to “safety concerns with Filter’s performance tonight” and also noted, “we all have our own political views and want to respect everyone’s opinion, but our shows will not be a platform for it” — has since been removed.
“We didn’t feel comfortable, even before getting threats,” Maahs concludes. “[Patrick] can come in and post whatever he wants, say whatever he wants, and leave town the next day. But we were very certain that he was going to upset our staff and the customers we have to work with and live with every day.”