***UPDATE: Webster Public Relations Closes After Numerous Sexual Assault Claims against CEO Kirt Webster***
Kirt Webster, who is the President and CEO of the prolific Webster Public Relations firm based in Nashville, has been accused of sexual assault and molestation by a former artist. In great detail, Austin Rick, who performed under the name Austin Cody in the late oughts, has enumerated numerous instances where he says Kirt Webster sexually assaulted him, in part with promises that he could help further Rick’s career if he complied, and bribed and intimidated Rick to keep the behavior quiet.
The allegations first surfaced via Facebook on October 27th as part of the “#metoo” movement.
“My name is Austin, and I know that men don’t talk about these things as often, but I have been victimized by a very powerful businessman over the period of a year. I didn’t know what to do and how to say no, because he held such power over my music career and overtly reminded me of it,” the Facebook statement said in part.
“In 2008, Kirt Webster, the CEO of the powerful ‘Webster Public Relations’ did terrible, terrible things to me,” Rick’s statement continues. “He sexually assaulted me repeatedly, he drugged and sexually violated me, he offered me publicity opportunities and magazine columns in exchange for sexual acts. He paid me to keep my mouth shut. And he did everything under threat that he’d make sure nobody in the industry ever heard my name again. It took me a year to escape from him and get away to where he couldn’t find me or reach me any longer — although he still continued to harass me via phone and text messages.”
Austin Rick says he decided to come out publicly to expose the type of behavior he was subject to in hopes it would not happen to others in the future, while finding some sense of relief for himself.
The importance, power, and the magnitude of Webster Public Relations and Kirt Webster in country music and beyond cannot be understated. Above the large stable of artists Webster Public Relations represents in music—including legends like Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, and Tanya Tucker, more contemporary artists such as Kid Rock, Justin Moore, and William Michael Morgan, and artists outside of country such as Cyndi Lauper and Kenny G—Kirt Webster is seen as a significant power player in Nashville. He was the recipient of the British Country Music Awards “International Services To Industry Award” in 2016, as well as other industry distinctions over the last decade.
Webster Public Relations especially has a heavy presence among older, more traditional country artists. It is not unusual, for example, for Saving Country Music to receive half a dozen press releases from Webster Public Relations daily. It is arguably the biggest, most active public relations firm in all of country music, with the motto “Perception Is Reality.” Just a selected list of artists represented by Webster Public Relations includes:
• Aaron Lewis • Bellamy Brothers • Big & Rich • Bill Anderson • Billy Ray Cyrus • Bradley Walker • Brenda Lee • Charlie Daniels • Charlie Pride • Collin Rate • Confederate Railroad • Craig Wayne Boyd • Conway Twitty (estate) • Crystal Gayle • Cyndi Lauper • Deborah Allen • Denny Strickland • Dolly Parton • Don McLean • Don Williams (estate) • Exile • Frank Foster • Gary Morris • Gene Watson • Hank Williams Jr. • Jake McVey • Janie Fricke • Jared Blake
• Jennie Seely • Jimmy Fortune • John Anderson • John Conlee • John Michael Montgomery • Johnny Lee • Justin Moore • Kenny Rogers • Kentucky Headhunters • Kid Rock • Lee Greenwood • Leroy Van Dyke • LoCash • Lorrie Morgan • Lucas Hoge • Mark Chesnutt • Moe Bandy • Olivia Lane • Ray Scott • Rhonda Vincent • Rodney Carrington • Roy Clark • Sam Moore • T. Graham Brown • Tanya Tucker• TG Sheppard • The Judds • The Oak Ridge Boys • Wanda Jackson • Williams Michael Morgan
A representative of Kirt Webster has released a statement, admitting a consensual relationship between Austin Rick and Webster, but denying all other allegations.
“As a single adult, Mr. Webster has had multiple relationships over the course of his professional life, all of which have been consensual,” says the statement. “This includes a brief relationship with Mr. Rick. It saddens Mr. Webster that nine years later, after Mr. Rick’s music career has been stagnant, Mr. Rick has taken the opportunistic approach of mischaracterizing that relationship and posting untrue allegations.”
However in detailed statements to The Nashville Scene‘s Steve Cavendish first published Tuesday (10-31) afternoon, Austin Rick goes into more specific detail about a total of three instances when he claims Kirt Webster sexually assaulted him, and insists it is not for publicity and he has no desire to re-enter the country music industry.
“I started working with Kirt, and before I knew it, it didn’t take long before I was trapped in a hellhole that I could not get out of,” Austin Rick tells The Nashville Scene. “I trusted him completely, and he wanted to make me a star just long enough to sexually molest and abuse me. And I remember one time he told me, ‘I want there to be fireworks in your career, but only if there’s fireworks between us.’ And that was like pretty early on in our relationship.”
Austin Rick also accounts an instance where he went to a party at Webster’s house, and while in a hot tub, had his genitals fondled by Webster, later waking up in Webster’s bed with Webster kissing him. “I know I was sexually assaulted, I don’t know if I was raped,” Rick says. “When I woke up in his bed, I knew after that I had to leave.”
There was another incident where Austin Rick says he was forced to strip naked so Webster could judge if Rick was capable of posting in Playgirl Magazine. “I had to strip naked so he could give me a blow job,” he says.
Rick, a native of Maryland, moved to Nashville in 2008 to pursue a career in country music, leaving after about a year. He worked briefly with producer Brett Beavers, opening shows for Big & Rich, Jason Aldean, Gretchen Wilson and Trace Adkins among others, and performed on the Grand Ole Opry. But then Rick “escaped” after his experiences with Kirt Webster, and has never attempted to pursue a musical career again.
Austin Rick worked briefly in law enforcement after leaving Nashville before joining the Army. He was discharged from active service after injuring his knee in a training exercise. Rick then attended the College of Southern Maryland, graduating with a 4.0 GPA, and then attended graduate school at the University of North Carolina, writing his thesis was on the sociology of religion, and graduating this spring.
Austin Rick insists he has no desire to get back into country music now, and this is far from a publicity stunt. He claims that since his experience in Nashville, he has overdosed and attempted suicide numerous times. “I just need people to truly know what actually happened to me down there, during that time.”