Promoter Nick Janicki says that when he first proposed his Blacklisted festival to the California Department of Parks and Recreation late last year, he could not have anticipated that the event — a music and arts fest featuring politically outspoken artists such as moe., Citizen Cope, Beats Antique and Talib Kweli — would suffer what he sees as an an eponymous fate. “The irony is mind-boggling,” he says.
According to Janicki, Blacklisted was blacklisted.
Janicki had planned for the festival to take place in late July at the new Los Angeles State Historic Park, in the shadow of Chinatown. But Janicki now plans to change locations, due in part to criticism from the local community.
George Yu, president of the Chinatown Business Improvement District, says Janicki should have known that the community might not be thrilled about the proposed event — after all, in some of the event’s marketing materials the word “slaughter” was superimposed over the People’s Republic of China flag.
“He’s supremely arrogant,” Yu says. “He wants to do an anti-China event. Can you imagine having an anti-Mexican event in Boyle Heights? They’d kick his ass.”
Janicki says Yu's anti-China accusations could not be further from the truth. He says the intent of the festival is to spread awareness about injustices occurring in China, such as organ harvesting and censorship within the country and beyond, sanctioned by the Chinese government. “My feeling is that I have a moral and ethical obligation to tell people about what’s happening in China,” he says.
Janicki says he described Blacklisted in his permit application as a festival and benefit concert sponsored by the likes of Alt Power Productions, Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting and his own Blacklisted Studios. (On Janicki’s LinkedIn page, he describes Blacklisted Studios as “a production company aimed at giving a voice to the voiceless. We focus on humanitarian events. Our most recent endeavor is the Blacklistedconcert.com that is illuminating the genocide of Falun Gong in China. We are seeking sponsors and musicians and are devoted to saving orphans caused by the persecution in China.”)
Janicki himself practices Falun Gong, a spiritual movement that borrows the qigong practice of the Buddhist school, as well as from Taoist tradition. He claims that the majority of organ harvesting in China affects practitioners of Falun Gong. “The numbers are staggering," he says. "You have about 200 to 250 people a day being murdered for their organs. … That’s almost $1 billion a month in profits. Billions of dollars can buy a lot of silence.”
Yu says he is against any presence of Falun Gong, which he describes as a “cult,” at the event. Janicki says it is “impossible” to banish Falun Gong from Blacklisted, since it's the festival's central cause. As a result, Yu officially refused to give the festival his and the Chinatown BID’s support.
According to Sean Woods, superintendent of California State Parks' Los Angeles sector, the event is still on the table but has yet to be permitted. “We are holding back on the permit," he says, "but the ball is in their court.” He says the Chinatown BID is one of many community stakeholders Janicki should approach for buy-in as part of the event planning process.
Woods also says that the permit is being held back because the event has transformed into something different from what was first pitched. “The concern for the state is that it has gone from a music festival or concert to a political event, which could increase policing and change the costs,” Woods says. “Are there people going to be protesting, or is it a concert? It changes the whole dynamic.”
Asked if there are any current or past plans to host protests at Blacklisted, Janicki says: “Nope. Never.”
“This is where it gets very confusing for me,” Janicki says. “I have email confirmations [from California State Parks special events coordinator Larry Fulmer] that the date was locked in on Jan. 17. I had sent an email [on Dec. 28] saying, ‘The permits are in, are we good to go?' And I got an email back saying, ‘Yes, everything is locked in and we’re good to go.'”
Janicki admits he never received a signed copy of his permit back but that he took Fulmer’s email as confirmation enough.
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Janicki stands by the way in which the event was originally proposed in his permit application submitted nearly six months ago. “We have 20 artists that have scheduled around this and are also putting a lot on the line to be a part of this,” he says. “I have several hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been invested. … It’s a big deal for everyone involved.”
In the meantime, Janicki has worked to secure a new venue: the Reef, the DTLA convention center that hosted Entertainment Weekly's Popfest last summer. The new venue has three acres outside with a main stage, plus a second indoor stage — plenty of space to accommodate Janicki's original plans for interactive workshops, meditation spaces, a candlelight vigil and, of course, music.
“We’re not trying to take the park back,” Janicki says. “We don’t want to harm the Chinese community — we absolutely don’t want to do that. We want Chinatown to prosper. We’ll go somewhere that we’re welcome.”