(CNSNews.com) - A community music festival in Columbia, S.C. is drawing fire because of taxpayer funding for an event featuring artists who perform songs with questionable lyrics about rape, sex and disparaging racial remarks.
The Three Rivers Music Festival is generating concern among some local residents because children 10 and under will be admitted free of charge and because of a subsidy by the city government of as much as $250,000.
However, there are questions about how much tax money is being spent on the event. Festival Media Coordinator Dawn White said, "This year, the city donated $37,000. They have been giving money for the festival since its first year three years ago.
But The State, a newspaper in Columbia, reports the city will pony up $250,000 for this year's event after paying $430,000 last year.
The paper also reported the city lost $100,000 last year because it handed out too many complimentary tickets.
Columbia city spokeswoman Alicia Utsey refused to comment on the financial relationship the city has with the festival, which opens April 5.
Another concern is the group that is headlining the event. OutKast, a rap group, is the showcase artist in the three-day event, which features more than 75 artists.
Curtis Loftis, a local resident of the Columbia area, said the lyrics and message of OutKast songs should not be part of a community festival where young children are admitted free.
According to Loftis, lyrics to some OutKast songs are so bad, they cannot be reported in the local media because of decency standards.
"The problem we've got is that you can't put [the lyrics] in the newspaper, you can't say that on the TV or the radio. So, most people have no concept," he said. "My parents have been citizens of this town for 50 years. They've never heard of OutKast. They would never know to go look them up. They just don't know."
Upon viewing the rap group's lyrics at the band's Internet website, CNSNews.com found disparaging racial references, along with references to sex, rape, and drug abuse.
"I don't consider myself a prude, but appalling is the perfect word," Loftis said.
Aside from the city's part in paying for the music festival, a number of private corporations have also signed on as sponsors.
The festival's Internet website, www.3riversmusicfestival.org, lists Pepsi, Budweiser, Blue Cross Blue Shield of South Carolina, Cingular Wireless and local banks and businesses as sponsors for the festival.
But Loftis worries that "when the sponsors all signed on ... they didn't know who was going to be there. They just signed on because it was a public event."
The issue of using tax money to fund a three-day concert caught the attention of one of the nation's leading tax organizations.
Grover Norquist, executive director for the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for Tax Reform, agreed with local critics who don't agree with using tax money to subsidize the event.
"I don't think state or local government should use taxpayer dollars to fund or subsidize things that belong in the private sector, whether it was the New York Philharmonic or the opera or Marilyn Manson," Norquist said.
He compared the economic impact on the community to that of a city building a baseball stadium. Businesses around the ballpark will benefit the most.
Arguments that such events provide economic benefit across an entire community provide all the more reason to say, "well, obviously we don't need the taxpayers to fund this, since it generates revenue for these businesses, they should cheerfully pay for it," Norquist said.
"There are music festivals from Woodstock on that function perfectly well without a dime of taxpayer dollars," he said.
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