UPDATED: More Details Needed in Disturbing War & Treaty Cotton Plant Story

This story has been updated.

UPDATE: The organizers of the Coca-Cola Sips & Sounds Music Festival have responded to the accusations by The War & Treaty with the following statement.

“We are disheartened that the artists were ever uncomfortable at last weekend’s event. There was no purposeful harm intended, and we sincerely apologize. Their concern was met with immediate action, including a heartfelt in-person apology, removal of the decor and a personal conversation with the artists by event organizers to assure them this was an honest mistake. The plant was part of the existing décor utilized by the venue well in advance of this event, long before the space was assigned to any artist and was removed immediately.

Original article below:

Heading into the the 4th of July weekend, a disturbing story published in The Hollywood Reporter finds the Black country soul duo The War & Treaty accusing the Coca-Cola Sips & Sounds Music Festival in Austin last weekend (June 29th and 30th) of racism. When the duo arrived in their dressing room at the Circuit of the Americas raceway, somebody had placed a cotton plant on an end table. The duo took it as a racist action.

Michael Trotter Jr. published a quick video highlighting the cotton plant on his Instagram story.

“Anger is what I felt. Disrespect is what I felt. Sadness is what I felt,” Michael Trotter tells The Hollywood Reporter. “Sadness not just because of what that plant represents to people that look like me but sadness for myself because I am a son of this country. I served this country honorably in the United States Army 16th Infantry, 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division. I’m wounded for that service. I’m very vocal about my wounds and my scars, and I felt betrayed.”

Tanya Trotter went on to say that the incident hit her hard as the daughter of a sharecropper.

“My grandfather actually bought the plantation that he picked cotton on in New Bern, North Carolina. My family actually still lives there. So when you see these things, you look at it and you’re like, ‘Wow, even though my grandfather bought the plantation, there’s still a lot of pain rooted for people that didn’t get an opportunity to change it into economic development for their families.’ I didn’t want to sit in there and educate because it’s not my position to educate anybody on what cotton is and what it represents in this country. It just shouldn’t happen. Beyond it just being about racism, it’s broader now. It’s now a safety issue because we have to feel safe coming to these festivals.”

The accusation by The War & Treaty should be taken seriously. Even if the placing of the cotton plant was completely inadvertent, it doesn’t diminish the duo’s experience that clearly has left them rattled and disturbed in a way that the country music community should not tolerate. At the same time, the seriousness of the accusation also means the situation needs serious investigation, and deep scrutiny to find out why the cotton plant was placed in the dressing room, if it was intentional or malicious, and how to prevent such situations from happening again in the future.

Who Are The War & Treaty?

The War & Treaty have been active in the country and Americana space since 2014, performing at the Grand Ole Opry countless times, participating in major award presentations such as the ACM Awards, the CMA Awards, and the Americana Music Awards. They signed to a major Nashville Music Row record label in UMG Nashville in 2022, and are regularly booked at major country music festivals. For Black performers in country music, The War & Treaty have been comparatively successful.

The History of The War & Treaty and Country Music

The War & Treaty are not known to be ones to cause a stir simply for their own promotion, including throwing accusations of racism out against individuals or the country music industry. If anything, they have been a “go along to get along” duo fighting natural headwinds in country music to take advantage of opportunities not bestowed to the vast majority of country artists. Regardless of the origin story of the cotton plant and the deeper implications, this concern is not coming from a duo that looks to make everything about race, or to play up the adversity they have faced in the industry.

What is the Coca-Cola Sips and Sounds Festival?

The Coca-Cola Sips and Sounds event was an extremely poorly-curated corporate event promoted by a major American brand trying to ingratiate itself to consumers as the public trends away from soft drink consumption.

“We’re looking to use this investment and this event to help drive our business objectives,” says Ryan Keen, Senior Marketing Manager, Coca-Cola. “We’re really hoping to connect with consumers, locally, in this Texas market as a way to localize our national and global Coke music campaigns. We want to figure out how to make that more relevant to the fans and consumers.”

To use the vernacular of the time, Coca-Cola Sips and Sounds was a “woke” event. Headliners Maren Morris and Kelsea Ballerini have been two of country music’s most outspoken performers on social/political issues in the last few years. Black performers The War & Treaty and Devon Gillfilian, and Latin performer Sammy Arriaga speak to the purposeful attempt by the festival to present a racially diverse lineup.

The idea that the promoters of the Coca-Cola Sips and Sounds Festival who are actively trying to promote their brand and a corporate DEI-based perspective on country music purposely placed a cotton plant in the dressing room of The War & Treaty to taunt them in a racist act is extremely unlikely.

If the cotton plant was placed in the dressing room in a purposely racist act by an individual or a group of individuals, whomever is responsible should be publicly named and reprimanded, and the promoters should offer an apology and course of action to make sure similar scenarios never happen again. If it was a completely inadvertent mistake, a detailed explanation of how the cotton plant was placed still needs to be given.

Were cotton plants placed in all of the dressing rooms or in other dressing rooms, or just the one for The War & Treaty?

UPDATE: The War & Treaty said on X, “No other dressing room had it. We were the only black band and regardless of what it is used for in that state it represents something totally different to people who look like us.”

For the record , Black artist Devon Gillfillian also did perform on the weekend as well.

What Is The Circuit of the Americas?

The Circuit of the Americas or COTA is an international Formula 1 raceway that is accustomed to hosting international races and dealing with the intricacies of many various customs, religions, and races. This is not a NASCAR raceway operated by good ol’ boys in the deep South. It is an international raceway in a generally liberal community in Austin, TX.

Is This the Fault of “Country Music”?

The Hollywood Reporter article starts, “Though Black artists have made major strides on the recent country music scene, racism in the genre still exists. For Americana-country husband-and-wife duo The War and Treaty, it came last week at the Coca-Cola Sips & Sounds Music Festival in Austin, Texas.”

The War & Treaty are signed to a Nashville major label. They perform on the Grand Ole Opry regularly. They performed on the ACM Awards in 2021, the CMA Awards in 2022, and had a major hit with Zach Bryan in 2023 with “Hey Driver.” They have been nominated for both the ACM and CMA Vocal Duo of the Year, and won the Duo/Group of the Year from the Americana Music Association twice. The War & Treaty have been completely embraced by the country music industry.

Too often country music is dealt with as a monolith. If someone placed the cotton plant in the dressing room as an intentional racist act, this would be the fault of the individual first, their superiors second, and the promoter third. “Country music” has embraced The War & Treaty.

The Concern of Overreaction

Similar to the Bubba Wallace noose incident at the Talladega Superspeedway in 2019 that ultimately was investigated by the FBI as a hate crime and debunked, the cotton plant in The War & Treaty’s dressing room could boil down to a simple misunderstanding. That doesn’t take away their feeling of fear or the duo’s interpretation of the incident. But before indicting entire organizations or genres of music, a detailed investigation should be done to figure out who placed the plant in the dressing room, and why. Otherwise, similar racist could run the risk of being cast off as “boy who cried wolf” scenarios.

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