The Holland Brothers are “a good-time, beer-drinking act,” specializing in a mix of old country and blues styles, says Mark Holland. So the trio, consisting of Mark, his brother Mike, and bassist Billie Feather, were a natural fit for the Meadowmont Music Series, a small Chapel Hill event now in its second year.
But after being hired to play, the band suddenly found itself disinvited due to the content of a single song, one that is not in the trio’s collective repertoire and which they were not even planning on playing. Ultimately, after being besieged by emails charging censorship, Meadowmont reversed course. But the episode highlights the sensitive atmosphere surrounding the mixture of politics and public events, one that promises to be ongoing in the arts-unfriendly Trump years.
About a month ago, Rollie Olin, a volunteer for the Meadowmont Music Series, contacted the brothers about playing at the event, and they agreed. Things got complicated soon thereafter. Mark Holland posted a new song—an entirely solo effort—on the website of their record label, something he and his brother often do. Called “Trump Fools,” the song grew out of his frustration with current political climate. A sample verse goes, “Look at all the sheep/Lambs to the slaughter, y’all/He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing/And his hands are small.”
As he usually does, he sent out an email to his contact list to let people know he’d posted a new song. Inadvertently, Rollie Olin had been added to the contact list, and shortly thereafter, Olin sent an email saying that the series is “a nonpartisan event” and that, because of his concerns about the song, the Holland Brothers’ performance had been canceled.
Because Olin had used the term “we,” Holland figured he was speaking on behalf of Meadowmont. He responded, “I respect it if that’s your decision, but the fact is, that song isn’t a Holland Brothers song and wouldn’t have been performed anywhere. It’s just performed by me as a solo artist.”
After a few days had passed without a response from Olin, Holland, incensed, posted about the situation on Facebook. As people began to weigh in via the post’s comment thread, a clear consensus developed: the cancellation was ridiculous. Holland wrote back to Olin to let him know that the local community was supporting the band and that Chapel Hillians in general are deeply opposed to censorship; others wrote their own dissenting emails to Olin.
Finally, Holland heard from Bill Ferrell, manager of Meadowmont Community Association. When they talked, Holland explained to him that they had no plans to sing “Trump Fools,” and that “we’re about as nonpartisan an act as you can get.” Holland says Ferrell was sympathetic and only wanted to make things right again. Soon enough, the Brothers were back on the bill.
“Bill was outstanding to intervene. He showed great respect for art and my right to create whatever I wanted to and post it,” says Holland. Ferrell himself did not want to comment on the situation, but Holland notes the irony of the whole episode, even with the happy ending.
“This song is gonna get a lot more attention than it normally would have received,” he says.