Them’s Fightin’ Words

Corey Smith’s sold-out concert at newly opened Track 29 in Chattanooga, Tenn., Sept. 9 turned out to be memorable in more ways than one. Venue reps ended the show abruptly in what the country singer claims is censorship.

Smith told Pollstar that through his tour manager, venue reps asked prior to the show that he not play his anthem, ‘Fuck The Po Po,’ which criticizes some members of law enforcement, if a specific official with the Chattanooga Beer Board should be there. The reason why, in Smith’s opinion, goes back several years.

The song and its angry lyrics were written in 2003 after the performer had a bad experience with local law enforcement where he lived. Smith said he was performing the song at Chattanooga’s Rhythm and Brews club in 2006 when a patron poured a beer on a police officer named John Collins as he was doing a bar check. Collins is now an official with the city’s Beer Board, which handles liquor licenses.

The suggestion didn’t sit well with Smith.

“I got the sense that as a new club, [venue staff] were being put under pressure by the Beer Board. There’s definitely a conflict here,” he explained. “Why would it matter if that officer was in the room? That’s why I didn’t comply.

“For them to tell me that because a city official is in the room, I don’t need to play that song in view of [about] 1,400 people who had bought tickets, that felt like a form of coercion.”

More than halfway into his set, Smith said the situation took an unexpected turn.

“When I walked off stage prior to playing ‘Po Po,’ I was told that if I played that song, I would never be allowed to play at that venue again and they were going to pull the plug,” he told Pollstar. “When I asked why, I was told the head of the [Beer] Board was there and he was putting them under pressure.”

A video posted on YouTube by a fan shows what happened next as Smith introduced “Fuck The Po Po,” saying he was “not trying to offend anyone. I’m just trying to explain the story of what happened to me.”

“I thought, ‘When they hear my remarks, everybody in the room’s going to know that this is in no way inflaming the audience [or] inciting any violence toward police officers. There’s no way they’ll pull the plug on this,’” Smith said.

But as he starts to sing the song, his mic is abruptly shut off. When the band left the stage, fans voiced their anger.

In a statement on Track 29’s Facebook page, club owners Josh McManus and Adam Kinsey apologized but said public safety was the issue.

“Our team made that decision with the intent of protecting our audience, our talent, and the long-term viability of Track 29 to bring great live entertainment to Chattanooga,” the statement said. “Rest assured that we had no intention of limiting any artist’s creative license or right to speak freely.

“All decisions were made for safety and safety alone. We will always keep the health and well-being of our patrons, talent and staff as our utmost concern.”

Collins’ attorney, Gerald Tidwell Jr., issued a statement to the city’s Times Free Press saying his client was at the venue but denies any involvement.

“At no time did Officer John Collins order, suggest, ask or in any way try to get the management at Track 29 to cut Corey Smith and his performance. And he does not know if anyone else did or, if they did, why they did,” Tidwell told the paper.

Smith, however, thinks time will tell.

“Based on information I had, the information I received from the club, and based on my history with this particular person, I felt the city of Chattanooga was censoring the content of my show. Unless I get information to the contrary, I’m going to feel that way,” he said. “I certainly didn’t want this, I didn’t ask for it but I do have to respond to it. I hope the truth comes out.”

And true to form, along with posting an official statement on his website, Smith’s response includes his latest song called “Chattanooga,” available here in a zip file.