For two years, the thoroughly underground glamor den and music venue RowdyDowdy has offered DIY scenesters in Atlanta a hip space to host gigs. Indeed, until July 28th, the space was set to host the Big Thing, a one-day festival featuring some of the city’s most beloved indie acts. However, despite its outsider-friendly veneer of eclectic art and drag outfits, RowdyDowdy lost the gig after some allegations came to light that Friday morning. And the way affairs stand now, several artists and promoters may not return to their venue unless the “Dowdy Girls,” as the owners dub themselves, address the accusations.
Jay Douglas, the perpetually busy artist and diplomat about town who organized the Big Thing, announced the decision to change venues the afternoon before the fest was set to take place. “Recently, it was shared with me that the original venue had booked someone accused of assault for a separate show,” he said on the event’s Facebook page. “The person in question is also closely associated with the venue who, despite being well aware of the accusations levied against him, have no qualms with booking him.” After an impromptu group discussion with other artists and vendors from the Big Thing’s bill, Douglas decided to shift his show away from the RowdyDowdy to a house venue.
While Douglas and other performers from the Big Thing won’t disclose the identity of the offender, or the band in question, Douglas did elaborate on the circumstances. Turns out, the whistleblower alerted him Friday morning that RowdyDowdy had booked the alleged abuser for a gig on Labor Day weekend. “The band [of the accused individual] had previously been removed from a show at RowdyDowdy earlier in July, but managed to be considered for this one in the near future,” Douglas told us.
Other artists in the group chat could vouch for previous cases where the Dowdy Girls have supported “problematic or potentially harmful” musicians. One writer who wishes to remain anonymous — we’ll call her “Nancy” — said she’s heard of “at least three separate times that they have unapologetically booked abusers, despite being informed by actual victims of the abuser themselves that they would feel unsafe at the venue.” One anonymous performer — we’ll call her Joan — had heard of accumulating rumors of “Dowdy not holding true to being an appropriate DIY venue for marginalized artists, but nothing concrete” until the offending band was booked a second time.
“As someone who’s been active in Atlanta’s DIY scene since I was about 13 years old, it’s safe to say that I’ve definitely had my ‘fair’ share of sexual harassment and assault experiences (not to mention general microaggressions),” said Nancy. “It’s not fair to have to choose between seeing some of the amazing art Atlanta has to offer and avoiding abusers. Venue owners, promoters — anyone running a show — should make this a priority.”
According to Douglas and other musicians, the RowdyDowdy has engaged in other odd practices beyond just inviting suspicious persons to their space. “[Rowdy Dowdy] has always been trying to milk money out of the DIY community under the guise of wanting to facilitate its growth,” said one performer.
Both Nancy and Joan claim to have experienced shady deals that back up those accusations. Last month, the former hosted a fundraiser event at RowdyDowdy with her best friend to raise funds for the Transgender Law Center, and when she tried to claim those funds, she said the venue began to rebuke and ignore her requests.
“I want to give them the benefit of the doubt in saying that they were really just busy and had work,” said Nancy, “but it really seemed like they were trying to prolong the entire ordeal to see if we’d still even try to get the charity money. [My friend] ended up having to go meet them at some sort of bar and then drive back to Dowdy to pick up the money after numerous unanswered texts, Facebook messages, and calls to multiple owners of the venue. I’m not going to say it was strange that they locked us out of the venue before counting and giving us our portion of the money but… it was strange.”
As for Joan, she said she had to grind through a similar ordeal when RowdyDowdy refused to pay a touring band on a gig she recently hosted, even though the show seemed to have raked in plenty of profits from the sizable crowd. “They didn’t respond to my first polite requests to get the touring band something, and it was pulling teeth to get the situation resolved,” she said. “When I heard other accounts of business being handled poorly from Dowdy’s side, I realized they’d made a habit of trying to one over artists and bands who might not know any better.”
While several of the artists have harbored their suspicions about RowdyDowdy, most of the offenses outlined in this article came to light within the past two months. “This is a pretty recent discovery to most people in Atlanta’s DIY scene,” said Nancy. “Because the venue is run by queer owners, it would be assumed that they would be more focused on making sure their venue is safe for everyone, including women.” Plus, as she pointed out, the RowdyDowdy actually have boosted women, people of color, and queer artists in the past; beloved locals such as Coco & Clair Clair, LONER, Bitter, Kudzu Kids, and NEWMONEY have all graced the Dowdy stage at some point.
However, now that the Dowdy Girls’ alleged transgressions have come to light, Douglas and company plan to boycott RowdyDowdy for any future engagements. “I think the venue, or any venue for that matter, should genuinely be considerate of who they book,” he said. “I think they owe it to their patrons and artists to listen. And pay us.”
UPDATE: In response to the allegations levied against them, RowdyDowdy has issued the following statement:
Addressing the allegations levied against Rowdy Dowdy, the band in question was booked for a show earlier this year before the allegations of abuse came to our attention. As soon as they did, we asked this band not to play. More recently they were booked again by a third-party promoter without our knowledge. We again asked the band to not play. We will also be remanding our booking procedures to ensure that this mistake will not take place in the future. Rowdy Dowdy does not condone abuse and we do not support abusers.
We will also be reexamining our payment structure to ensure that performing artists will receive compensation for their time and hard work while keeping Rowdy Dowdy afloat so we can continue to support art and artists as we have for 4 years.
The Dowdy Gurls