On Oct. 19, Q-Notes picked up the story of a popular, regional Country singer in the Piedmont and southwest Virginia and the anti-gay lyrics he used when singing a legendary Country song at a small town fall festival. The story appears in this print issue, as well.

Reidsville’s WGSR 47 first reported the story and was able to talk to Reidsville City Manager Kelly Almond, who took exception to what he described as “tasteless” and “inappropriate” language used by Matt Boswell and his Hillbilly Blues Band.

At the city-sponsored event at a downtown, city-owned venue, Boswell inserted his own lyrics to Merle Haggard’s “Are the Good Times Really Over for Good?”

Boswell sang, “Well you’ll never take my guns, and I’ll pray anywhere that I please./My daddy always told me, if you were able, and didn’t work then you don’t eat./All you Wall Street bankers, as far as I’m concerned, you can all go to Hell./And you can’t get married, you stupid gays and queers, so why don’t you go somewhere else?”

Upon viewing recordings of the performance, Almond wasn’t happy.

“It was absolutely unacceptable and certainly unacceptable at a city-owned venue and city-sponsored event,” he told Q-Notes.

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Almond said Boswell wouldn’t be welcome at any future city-sponsored events. He told WGSR, “I can assure everyone involved that, if this language was used, this person or anyone representing him, will not play another city event. Market Square, and indeed all city venues, are places meant to bring people together, not divide them. We certainly support tasteful, patriotic acts. We also have to respect everyone’s Free Speech rights. However, we don’t have to pay for it or include it in a city sponsored event, and we will not.”

Since then, two Reidsville City Council members have voiced their support of Almond’s decision.

Reaction from LGBT community members and straight folks has been mixed. Many have applauded Almond and his decision to ban any future appearances by Boswell. Others say the situation is a Free Speech issue, and that Boswell’s rights have been trampled.

I am a Free Speech advocate. I’m a lover of the First Amendment. Without it, I’d not have a job and I wouldn’t have been able to freely speak out and be involved in activism and advocacy through high school and college. The First Amendment is a necessary and treasured part of America.

But, we should be clear: This is not a Free Speech issue.

Let me repeat that, just for good measure: This is not a Free Speech issue.

Boswell is free to say whatever he likes, wherever he likes and whenever he likes in his private life. But when he is paid to perform, he is beholden to the desires and wishes of those who pay him. If the purchaser of his talent, in this case the City of Reidsville, decides she doesn’t like the talent or is uncomfortable with the content of his talent, the purchaser has every right of their own to choose not to pay for his talent again. That’s what City Manager Kelly Almond has done.

Tomorrow or any day past, present or future, Boswell has the right and the freedom to travel back to Reidsville and set up his own stage in the town’s square and sing to his heart’s content. He could include whatever lyrics he wanted. Just not on the city’s dime.

Almond and the City of Reidsville deserve praise for their decision to use taxpayer funds in such a way that honors and includes all citizens and taxpayers of their community. While no bastion of liberal or progressive politics, and certainly no extremely LGBT-friendly place, Reidsville has proven that it is a town where, at the least, citizens and community members will be treated kindly. They’ve taken a stand and said taxpayer funds won’t be used to call citizens “stupid” and tell longtime neighbors, friends, sons and daughters to “go somewhere else.”

Reidsville and Rockingham County should be proud of their leaders and their commitment to treat all citizens with respect and civility.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.