This story has been updated.
On Tuesday, April 15th, the city of Calgary in Alberta, Canada faced the city’s worst mass homicide in its history when the son of a veteran Calgary police officer stabbed five people to death at a house party. Four men and a woman were fatally stabbed in an unprovoked attack that transpired at roughly 1 AM. 22-year-old Matthew Douglas de Grood, a student at the University of Calgary, has been charged with five counts of first degree murder, and is in police custody. Two of the stabbing victims, Zackariah Rathwell, 23, and Josh Hunter, 22, were in a local band called Zackariah and the Prophets, and had just held a CD release party the prior weekend.
The tragedy has sent shockwaves throughout the Calgary community, including the music community, in an incident that may pale in comparison to some of the body counts of American massacres, but in the rather non-violent culture of Canada, it is nothing short of horrific.
American pop country super duo Florida Georgia Line played a concert in Calgary the following day, Wednesday (4-16) at the Scotiabank Saddledome, and according to numerous reports, broached the subject of the tragedy on stage in such an uninformed and callous way, it has created a big backlash against the band in Canadian media outlets.
Taking the point in the Florida Georgia Line criticism is a writer for the Calgary Herald named Mike Bell. The reporter was at the concert, and was so incensed by the flippant nature with which Florida Georgia Line handled the tragedy, he decided to forgo a traditional concert review and write a scathing piece bemoaning the American duo’s behavior.
…early into their set, they open their mouths and, in what’s supposed to be some casual between song banter to show that, yeah, they actually know which town they’re playing in, that they’re in “CALGARY!”, they mention, in vague, terribly awkward terms, a shooting that went on in this city a couple of days ago or something.
I’m sorry. Here’s where I diverge from the script, the unspoken, unwritten contract between reviewer and reader, here’s where I put the collective aside and impose the personal experience on the professional.
Remember the Calgary tragedy was a stabbing, not a shooting, and apparently that wasn’t the only detail Florida Georgia Line got wrong. According to Mike Bell, it would have been better if the duo hadn’t broached the subject at all. But since they did, their fumbling of the information came across as insult to the Calgary crowd.
In the 20 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve written positive reviews of bands I wouldn’t cross the street to spit at, those who “aren’t my cup of tea” as some might say. I’ve also written negative reviews of bands I admire and actually go home and listen to on my time….But what I’m not paid to do is forget about something that happened in the city I’ve called home for all of my life, the city that I actually care about and understand somewhat the pain it’s going through.
I don’t get being so entirely oblivious, so utterly callous that you can’t even get the basics of a tragedy right. A really, really fresh tragedy. That’s on the cover of every newspaper in the city, on every newscast, and on the lips of every citizen….It would be like showing up as the waters were just receding, then calling last year’s flood an earthquake. It would be like calling, to take it to the extreme, 9/11 a really big tornado or sharknado. Or something.
Calgary Herald reviewer Mike Bell goes on to give his assessment of the Florida Georgia Line concert as,
Florida Georgia Line were at the Saddledome. They played some songs on stage for a bit. There was sound. There were lights. And there were opening acts.
It was a concert.
Though Saving Country Music has been unable to obtain the specific comments Florida Georgia Line made, and they weren’t included in the Calgary Herald article, numerous concert attendees are quoting the duo as saying, “We know that this city is in mourning, we heard about a shooting…. or a murder.. that happened in the city a couple weeks ago… or a couple days ago here in Calgary. And you know what? I think we need to give a special shout out to those people that are going through the hard times. This one’s for you guys.” (see update below) The quote is attributed to Tyler Hubbard of the duo.
The piece was also reposted by other prominent Canadian newspapers in the same syndication network, including The Ottawa Citizen and The Edmonton Journal. Apparently the subject is also making the rounds on numerous Canadian country radio stations and other media outlets.
A Facebook account attributed to Florida Georgia Line lead singer Tyler Hubbard (though not verified to truly be the singer) responded in the comments section of the Calgary Herald article, saying,
wow… i’ve never had someone twist a genuine statement that was me trying to show love and support for the families that have gone thru such a tragedy. If you ask me mike… you’re the one that’s being disrespectful by blowing this out of proportion. You’ve absolutely put words in my mouth that never even came out and i’m offended. But hey what can ya do.. just keep trying to make people happy and love life. good luck brother.
that being said … to the people of Calgary, if i offended y’all i’m truly sorry.. there is no tragedy that i would take lightly, especially in this case so i apologize if i said something that come off that wrong way but that was definitely not my intention. Y’all rocked last night and we love you guys. Hope we put some smiles on some faces.
Later on their Twitter account, Florida Georgia Line Tweeted, “Last Night In Calgary was incredible. Our fans are amazing. Our hearts go out to all of those affected by the tragedy there.
****UPDATE 4/18/2014: Partial video of the incident has surfaced, though the first portion is cut off. Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard can be heard saying, “…a couple of weeks ago, or a couple of days ago here in Calgary. And you know what? I think we need to give a special shout out to those people that are going through the hard times. This one’s for you guys.”